@InvaderXan @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug
Not even kidding it's witchy as heck.
I attended a talk about bacterial chlorophyll years back, which has independently converged on essentially the same structure as plant chlorophyll (which is already whoa), and the quantummy optimisations in there were extremely mind-blowing. Life is amazing.
@cathal @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug
It seems like things in nature are more and more amazing the longer evolution has been working on them. And, since it first appeared, evolution has had 2.5 billion years to optimise photosynthesis.
That’s 18% of the total lifetime of the Universe. Which is quite a thing to think about! ☀️
@InvaderXan @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug
How so? It does bug me that efficiency overall is low, but IIRC the bottleneck isn't chlorophyll, it's carbon fixation using the unstable energy available from chlorophyll, hence why C4 plants have higher efficiency. But it does appear to be a simple case of "efficient photosynthesis is hard", rather than a "deliberate" lack of optimality?
Very simply, nature is not greedy.
Plants take what they need and no more. Chlorophyll is as efficient as it needs to be. It avoids the strongest part of the solar spectrum to avoid oxidative damage which could easily damage sensitive living tissues. In fact, most plants have mechanisms to stop them from absorbing too much light.
The idea that things need to always get the highest possible returns is very human, and not shared by nature.
As for the collective good, this is not a trait of photosynthesis, but of plants as a whole. They're evolved to share resources symbiotically with other organisms, microbes, fungi, and other plants.
This way, plant-dominated ecosystems like forests involve exchange of resources, so that organisms with more nurture organisms with less, and vice versa.
@InvaderXan @animo @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug 🤔 I'd approach this from a different angle, and say that: Just as there is little reason to make Chlorophyll more efficient when the bottlenecks are carbon fixation and oxidation-ceilings, there's also little reason to fix those issues when the systemic bottleneck is often something more earthy like water, minerals, or fighting disease.
These limiting factors probably lean much more into why plants cooperate so much with allies. Once dug, minerals tend to circulate in the ecosystem, so if I give a bit of sugar to that comfrey and its leaves drop near me carrying lots of potassium it dug up with its taproot, we're both better off.
@InvaderXan @animo @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug I also would guess that it's a matter of how much blind effort (evolution) is needed to get to a stage where efficiency in photosynthesis begins to climb again: evolution works poorly on plateaus. So I imagine that managing gasses to prevent the carbon fixation system from suffering feedback (as C4 plants do, but better still), and also managing oxidative stress and solar damage, would require a plant cell to do a lot more internal moving and shuffling of resources. Or for plant tissues to be more active about compartmentalising stuff.
And I think plants have basically not done much evolving in that direction. When plants move, they don't use cells with smaller or hinged walls and actin filaments, they just use ion-mediated osmosis to swell up some cells real quick. It's a terrible hack, evidence that evolution towards movement in plants is very lazy and far, far behind. My hunch is: that's part of the problem.
@animo @InvaderXan @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug As ever, I think it's always a question of:
* What is the immediate pay-off for selfish behaviour
* What is the long-term cost of selfish behaviour
* To what extent, if at all, can an organism or system compare and optimise between the above questions
Evolution does a poor job generally of this, but I think over long enough time-scales ecosystems do start to exhibit cooperation. Or, at least, to avoid excessive exploitations.
In _theory_, intelligent life ("you") can look at the system and deliberately balance selfishness versus mutualism. In practice, _many_ intelligent life forms ("us") just create another layer of the same question. Le sigh.
@animo @InvaderXan @GwenfarsGarden @douginamug Evolution is mindless, until it creates minds. For example, animals can select one another as mates based on their apparent fitness. So instead of a pure survival-of-the-fittest, there is now a new element: a brain. It's survival of the fittest-and-most-outwardly-optimal. So in animals, learned strategies enter evolution such as deliberately punishing parasites.
Can plants influence their evolution in this way, by choosing mates or reactively penalising parasitism? Hard to know, but the assumption would be "no".
I would assume then, that evolution in plants is still a random process guided by an unthinking and brutal optimisation: death or life. But plants live long, their relationships with other plants can last their whole lives. And they are sexual, so they can evolve parallel traits at once. So I think evolution does slowly work for them towards cooperation and conflict resolution, also.
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