The Autobiography Of Carbon: Adventures On Earth (Part 2)

I am Carbon, as you might know. This is the concluding part of the story of my life. If you haven’t read the first part, I would request you to read it before proceeding.

On A New Planet, In A New Cauldron

I was bored by the inactivity of it all. The lava flows had ceased, the sulfur was gradually subsiding. Even though the atmosphere still had copious quantities of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide, it was less pungent than earlier. The story of the miracle, as I saw it, started in the oceans.

I had traveled the oceans and found it to be violent. Near the shores, however, the water was calm at places. I once saw some green slime lying around on the rocks which is from where I’ll begin the story of the miracle of life. I didn’t know where the slime came from I’d know later (and hold on for that!).

Algae: They grew all over the place

Things were still slow. I continued seeing this green slime (let’s call it algae) everywhere. I saw different varieties of the green slime some had a different tint of green, some were bluish! New creatures emerged in about 50 million years soft sponges. I bore witness to the first creature that could move with the help of tides.

Things were happening now the great drama was getting more characters.

I watched the sea being filled by a plethora of new creatures creatures so strange that you’d not believe me! They moved in wiggles, their skin was slightly hardened. They were flat and quite good through the water. The seas were filled; the variety was amazing; the miracle was happening. I was lucky to have arrived on this planet!

First Stop: Inside an Insect

I left the ocean as a molecule of carbon dioxide. The view from the air was a huge change in perspective. I could see that the lands were barren except for a few mounds of green vegetation here and there.

The Eye Of A Fly

There were no strange creatures that would change! I was sucked in by a blade of grass. I was made (or, rather, ‘photosynthesized’) into food they call it glucose’ in their tongue. The huge glucose molecule, (and I learned that they get much bigger than that!) in which I was lodged, was swept through the transport system. I ended up in a part of the stem. By this time, the lands were also seeing the influx of strange creatures. All of them had six legs and called themselves insects’. They would dominate the air for a very long time. Few of these fed on grass and I was happily chomped up by one of them. I was assimilated into a molecule of insect protein a staggeringly complex molecule in which I held a key part of linking two chains of amino acids together. The best thing about this was the view the molecule I belonged to was a molecule in the eye.

The New Rulers: Lizards, Big and Small

I’ll leave a few details out, for the fear of being too long. Insects don’t live for too long and I soon ended up as a part of the matrix in the shell of an egg. The owner of the egg was a particularly fine woman of a species that had come out from the water and had lost all dependences on it. They were lizards reptiles’ was their general name. The egg hatched the young one was born and looked ugly. I stood in horror as it was soon eaten up, but such is the rule of the jungle. The egg shell disappeared in the ground; I was released in the air. I was again absorbed by a green plant by now much bigger. The speed of change was staggering!

It was a thrilling experience to be a part of the leaf that was chomped off by the greatest land animal that ever lived on the earth! Brontosaurus it called itself and it was majestic! The dinosaurs were the masters of the land now! The creature lived to a ripe old age and I stayed with it till death. It’s strange how déjà vu this feels like! The cycle of life must go on for all creatures, big or small!

Brontosaurus: An Artist's Impression. The real thing was so majestic.
The Tyrant Lizard King

Let’s skip a few  million years and come to a remarkable association I had with a legendary creature. I was then in the body of a herbivore. I heard the most terrible cry as it was hunted down by a huge animal with great teeth. I would later be a part of a tooth. The hunter was a terrible lizard, renowned as a master hunter who terrorized all appropriately called Tyrant Lizard King, Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The Great Change

The world had changed so much in the last billion years! A more radical change was waiting! A flash of light, a huge clap of thunder, a searing blast of wind, a wave of destruction, a scene of utter annihilation! The Earth was struck by a meteorite. One of the biggest extinctions had come about! Not even the Tyrant King survived! I was whipped up in the atmosphere and taken half the way across the globe. The water bodies were now separated by wide stretches of land. The very distribution of land masses had changed!

Out of the ashes would come out birds! Apparently, the one lineage of the dinosaurs had survived the catastrophe and had taken to the skies! It suddenly seemed an alien world!

The arrangement of the continents had changed.

Paucity of space and time forces me to skip ahead a few million years again. Two legged creatures had evolved by this time. Humans were soon beginning to take over the role of the dinosaurs in dominating the world. They didn’t have any large teeth, neither claws, nor strong skin. They had weird looking balloon-like heads and it was this that they used to control the world around them. I guess, dear reader, you know about all this, since you’re also human.

The apparatus for the Urey-Miller Experiment

Part Of A Great Experiment

Answers, answers, answers I got one very recently and it was profound. I was in a carbon-dioxide molecule and was put inside a flask with many other types of molecules, such as ammonia and sulfur derivatives. I suddenly remembered my days on early earth. What was happening? This was unnatural! How did the ancient atmosphere come back? A streak of lightning answered the question. This was some experiment! One streak followed the other! Soon, a remarkable thing started to happen. Molecules came together to form dark clumps of amino acids on the sides of the flask. Someone had re-created the origins of life!! I was bonded into an amino acid as well! This would later be revealed to me as one of the greatest experiments undertaken by humans amino acids, and later maybe self-replicating proteins, created in a flask! Genesis! Creation! Life! I understood where the algae I had seen earlier came from! (Refer to the Urey-Miller experiment done in 1954, the year DNA was discovered.)

Final Words

Feel proud, dear reader, of your association with the stars. Here, I’ve just told my story! You have a huge number of other elements, oxygen, iron, potassium etc. Each has a story to tell. Iron was formed in far more drastic conditions than mine. We come together to form you! We are related to the vast cosmos in the deepest way possible. Each cell in your body, the very arrangement of elements in complex molecules and far grander structures that you carry (like your brain) carries the history of time, the wisdom of ages and the story of our place in the Universe. That’s the greatest story that can be told!

It has been half a century since that proud moment of the experiment. I now sit in the neuron of an individual of the human species, one of average height and mediocre intelligence, directing his hands, along with a million other neurons, to type out my story. I now instruct them to put the ending dot, the dot right here, this last one.

Published by

Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.