• Maria Khan

Living Along With Adversity

Few days ago, I was reading an article posted on Quanta Magazine’s website. They have a wide range of articles on recent research and findings in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. There was an article on microbiologists’ search for life in subsurface areas. ‘Subsurface’ here refers to areas beneath the earth’s surface or beneath the ocean floor. The biosphere is generally considered to be part of the earth’s land, sea and atmosphere inhabited by living things. But decades of study and research have yielded that microbes, for example bacteria, thrive in parts of earth which were excluded from the biosphere – beneath the seafloor and even beneath the earth’s crust.

Geoscientists and geo-microbiologists have dug hundreds of meters below the ocean floor and deeper still into the earth’s very crust right up to the upper mantle. And, astonishingly they have found rocks hundreds of millions of years old. In the crevices and pores of these rocks, microbes themselves millions of years old, are teeming with life.

Why is it astonishing? Why has it amazed scientists? They say that they have found life as they “didn’t know it”. These environments deep below the surface are composed of sediments and rocks which have been isolated from sunlight and other surface environmental factors for millions or even billions of years. This is why, the energy-generating process of photosynthesis which supports life on the surface of the planet is not sustainable deep below in rocks found in subsurface regions. What then nourishes these microbes who have absolutely no exposure to sunlight? The fact is that, “These rocks have pores and cracks and fissures through which seawater circulates — and with it, organic matter that microbes can feed on.” Marine scientists call it the “hidden hydro-geosphere”. Another alternative used by microbes to get energy is through the process of radiolysis, a chemical reaction during which radiation is released by rocks in the surrounding water. This produces hydrogen which microbes can feed on. A combination of rock and fluid flow is all that is needed to sustain life in these depths.

While reading this article I was reminded of a verse from the Quran in which God Almighty says: “He has created horses, mules and donkeys, so that you may ride them, and also so that they may be put on show, and He creates other things beyond your knowledge.” (16:8)

Astronomers are trying to discover life in other parts of the universe beyond our solar system. They are on the lookout for systems that have life-supporting properties as the earth. But on the planet earth itself there are regions which are undiscovered and have thrown up great surprises. Because even though these regions are devoid of usual life-sustaining factors, life has find a way, an alternative process or mechanism, through which it can survive there. Surely, God’s world is so baffling that we human beings can keep uncovering aspects which leave us completely astounded!

I realized another aspect of life as I gained the above piece of knowledge. That is, there is a divine principle at work in animate life: ‘Life finds a way’. Even in the most stringent and hostile conditions as we saw above, there was not only a glimmer of existence, but a whole region brimming with life! We can extend this principle to the human world. Even in the most adverse situation, there is a way out. There is not only a way out of the adversity, but rather a successful way of surviving along with the adversity. The microbes have found an alternative mechanism other than photosynthesis to get their energy deep below the surface of the earth, away from sunlight. We, too, in the most unfavourable circumstances can find a means to live on, a principle that can keep us firm on our path and enable us to remain productive in extreme situations.


© 2020 Maria Khan