Biological Death

We consider an unusual understanding of death – a biological one. Prof. Tyler Volk describes organisms tuning their lifespan to their surroundings, the theory of “fly now die later,” and painting a personal understanding of death with help from biology.



Tyler Volk – New York University Biology Dept. He is biology professor and Environmental Studies Director and has been active in what might be called biosphere theory, or Gaia theory (with “biosphere” or “Gaia” defined as the system of atmosphere, ocean, soil, and life). Are there unifying scientific principles that govern diverse phenomena within the biosphere? Past work in Gaia theory has primarily focused on the state of the global environment that surrounds living things, for example, on the chemistry or temperature of atmosphere or ocean. He has been suggesting another approach. This involves close attention to how organisms fit into and in fact make the chemical cycles, the so-called biogeochemical cycles. A potential universal metric for these cycles is the “cycling ratio.” This is the ratio of an element’s flux into the photosynthesizers within a system (either the biosphere system or subsystems within) relative to the flux of that same element across the system’s boundary into the system. Volk explores how this metric could be useful for biosphere theory, as a way of comparing systems with life across different scales of space, essential nutrients, and evolutionary time.

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