Science & Physics

Life’s top 10 greatest inventions

an image of the DNA sequenceLife is an amazing thing. However often some of us bemoan the monotony of our brief, fleeting existence, we are the privileged byproduct of an amazing lineage of creatures that have lived out their lives in the ignorant, yet no-less important goal of giving rise to the likes of you and me.

And out of that part-random, part-environmental process of trial & error, mother nature has fashioned 10 inventions which have defined almost all life as we know and understand.

The ten greatest evolutionary inventions are: multi-cellularity, the eye, the brain, language, photosynthesis, sex, death, parasitism, super-organisms and symbiosis.

On multi-cellularity:

“Yet bigger and more complex isn’t necessarily better. As King points out, unicellular life still vastly outnumbers multicellular life in terms of both biomass and species numbers. ‘So you could say unicellular life is the most successful, but that multicellular life is the most beautiful and dramatic.’”

On the eye:

“So what happened in that magic million years? Surely eyes are just too complex to appear all of a sudden? Not so, according to Dan-Eric Nilsson of Lund University in Sweden. He has calculated that it would take only half a million years for a patch of light-sensitive cells to evolve into a compound eye.That’s not to say the difference was trivial. Patches of photosensitive cells were probably common long before the Cambrian, allowing early animals to detect light and sense what direction it was coming from. Such rudimentary sense organs are still used by jellyfish, flatworms and other obscure and primitive groups, and are clearly better than nothing. But they are not eyes. A true eye needs something extra – a lens that can focus light to form an image. ‘If you suddenly obtain a lens, the effectiveness goes from about 1 per cent to 100 per cent,’ says Andrew Parker, a zoologist at the University of Oxford.”

On the brain:

“The more complex functions of the human brain – social interaction, decision-making and empathy, for example – seem to have evolved from these basic systems controlling food intake. The sensations that control what we decide to eat became the intuitive decisions we call gut instincts. The most highly developed parts of the human frontal cortex that deal with decisions and social interactions are right next to the parts that control taste and smell and movements of the mouth, tongue and gut. There is a reason we kiss potential mates – it’s the most primitive way we know to check something out.”

While not exactly an over-a-cup-of-coffee read, I found this New Scientist article well worth the time

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “Life’s top 10 greatest inventions”

I think they missed a few really good ones.

a) Skeleton
b) Warm-bloodedness
c) Motherly/Parental care

But an interesting read, nonetheless.

I’d say there’s a lot to be said for being cold blooded, also.

Most people would think being cold blooded is a recipe for a lumbering diesel-powered life style.

Not so.

Reptiles are among the most successful life forms on Earth.

I remember watching a documentary on Indian crocodiles and these guys know how to survive…

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