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By Nasif Nahle, biologist
July 27, 2004Updated on October 5, 2006

To define biological death, we should know what is life. On other pages of this WebSite (Biology, Astrobiology and Abiogenesis) I wrote that we do not have a direct definition of life, but from direct and indirect observations of the thermal state of the living structures, we can say that life is a delay of the spontaneous diffusion or dispersion of the internal energy of the biomolecules towards more potential microstates. Such energy state, or quality of the living matter, is impelled by protons in a field of energy. This energy state allows to some specialized complex structures to bond to a specific Energy Field, where they can capture the energy from the environment and use it for their growth, reproduction and evolution.

This definition of life is the more realistic starting point to develop the topic on death. There are many evidences at nature that demonstrate that life is not a super-energy, nor the divine breath of life (which at last would be something). The last idea is fully inconsistent with the own sacred scriptures. God breathes (air?) and He can breathe a mysterious “breath of life” into the nostrils of His creatures. What did He infuse to those organisms which have not nostrils but have life?

Life is not a divine breathe, but an energy potential (an energy field) experienced by a restricted organization of matter that cannot be transferred, infused, or introduced, but continued. Life only can be kept by the structures which have derived from preexistent living structures.

Unambiguously, life occurred once in our planet and it was an intrinsic quality of the first living single cell that evolved from a protobiont. After that, life has been preserved by all the species which evolved from that archeobiont. The first living cell appeared as the consequence of a single deterministic natural process. There were not millions and millions of archeobionts there, but only a unique living cell from which we all living beings have developed. Probability is the right word.

Probability is also the path of death, but this probability refers only to our ignorance about the initial conditions that activate the process of death. But, what is death?

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DEATH

Death is the state of a thermodynamic biosystem in which it cannot get and organize autonomously the energy from the environment. Consequently, a dead biosystem discontinues the autonomous forcing of the energy to transform it into internal energy that could be used in the progression of the processes that permit the same biosystem be maintained like a quasi-stable biosystem in a given environment.

One would fall in an error of interpretation when the brain of a human survives when the person's body already has died. From a strictly biological perspective, any biosystem that at any moment is absolutely unable to get and manipulate autonomously the environmental and its internal energy is a dead entity.

Let's take a look at HeLa cells. HeLa cells prompt us to many philosophical conflicts. For example, the cells taken from the donor are still alive; however, we say that the donor has DIED. But Henrietta Lacks (the donor) has not died biologically because each living HeLa cell contains the specific genetic code of Henrietta Lacks -and no one else's- and can autonomously get energy from the culture media to use it in metabolic processes and reproduction. Consequently, if only one cell stays alive, then Henrietta Lacks has not died like a biotic entity, because some tissues of her body have not died. To worsen the dilemma, with the advances of the modern Biology, Henrietta Lacks can be cloned from a single of her cells with undamaged DNA.

Then, the biological entity called Henrietta Lacks has not died, although the person Henrietta Lacks has died. If somebody clones to Henrietta Lacks in the future, then the person Henrietta would emerge from death because the genetic copy would be the own mind and the body of Henrietta... it does not matter how she be nurtured and how she be educated. Plausibly, her personality would be different, but the biological person would be almost identical to the original Henrietta, with the same biological aptitudes, the same genetic tendencies, the same organic requirements and the same cognitive capabilities, unless the scientists modify her genetic code before cloning it.

Death always occurs as a deterministic event because all living beings will die. I am sure that you, my neighbor and I will die. The dreams about an eternal life are just that, dreams. Eternal life is not possible because the trajectory of the entropy is settled on time. To the extent that time flows, the global entropy of our universe enlarges. As the arrow of time is irreversible, the arrow of entropy is also irreversible.

Death is a final state of any biosystem that is intimately linked to a state of maximum entropy (whenever it be still an integrated biosystem); thus, death is an irreversible final state. Thus, dead organisms, humans included, will never return to life because they would be violating the Law of Entropy. THE LAW OF ENTROPY CAN BE TEMPORARLY BLOCKED, BUT IT CAN NEVER BE VIOLATED.

Given that the Global Entropy always increases, it comes also the unavoidable and logical deduction that the increase of the Global Entropy will cause the collapse of all biosystems in the known Universe. The Universe is not a static thermodynamic system, so the earliest idea on the thermal collapse, or thermal death of the Universe, may possibly never happen. However, the last assertion is not valid for living systems, which, in the long run, will vanish totally from the known Universe.

We cannot think that there is something eternal in the Universe, given that there is an arrow of time which determines the trajectory of the Global Entropy. If we try to go back on the arrow of time, we would find that there was an initial moment at which the time was equal to zero, or when the entropy was equal to zero. Entropy would never permit the existence of something eternal in the Universe. When scientists insinuate that the Universe has always existed, we are not saying that the Universe have always been at its present state, but to the statement that this Universe could have been generated from a different or identical previous Universe; also, we are indicating that the energy has always existed, although not precisely as it is organized at present.

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BIOTIC FIELD

The meaning of Biotic Field is restricted exclusively to which we already have demonstrated by means of experimentation on the exercise of serious disciplines, like Biophysics and Molecular Cell Biology. The concept is like this:

Biotic Field is an Electrodynamic Field experienced by the biomembranes of prokaryotic cells and the biomembranes of the mitochondria and chloroplasts in eukaryotic cells, which is due to the effects exerted by the fluctuations of the Electromagnetic Field on in-motion electrically charged particles (Electrons, Positrons and Protons) at such biomembranes.

Summarizing the previous concept: Biotic field is an Electrodynamic Field experienced by the biomembranes of prokaryotic cells and by the biomembranes of mitochondria and chloroplasts of eukaryotic cells.

An Electrodynamic Field is any field generated by the effects of the fluctuations of the Electromagnetic Fields on in-motion charged particles. The term talks about the effects of the fluctuations of the Electromagnetic Fields on the behavior of electrically charged particles.

There are not such furtive particles, like "biotons", implied in the life energy state. If this were the case, then “biotons” would not be another thing but the same photons behaving on an exceptional and unnatural way. Nevertheless, the photons implied in the life energy state do not behave differently from photons implied in all the known natural processes. In addition, no particle implied in the life energy state displays capricious behaviors: No particle implied in the state of life displays an unusual behavior.

The term "field" in Classic Physics means: The exact amount of energy so that some physical processes occur spontaneously, which implies a potential for a physical phenomenon occurs. Also, it is defined as the assignation of a quantity to each point of the space; for example, the exact amount of energy in a point of the gravity field, the amount of energy in a point of the false void, the amount of energy in any point of an electrodynamic field, the density of energy in any of the fields of Higgs, the amount of energy assigned for the ELECTROCHEMICAL GRADIENT in a space of a biomembrane, etc.

The Biotic Field includes the amount, position, and momentum of the energy used by a thermodynamic biosystem when experiencing life. [Momentum is the product of mass and velocity (p=m.v)].

Then, when I speak about the Biotic Field, I allude simply to the exact amount of energy assigned to a given space where life can be experienced by biosystems. Evidently, the biotic field only applies to points in the Universe where living beings can subsist. The subsistence of a biosystem depends on the conditions at that point of the space and on the molecular array of the own biosystem. When we assign an amount of energy for an Electrochemical Gradient to be formed we are applying the concepts of the “Truly New Physics”. Now, we biologists have the benefit that we have not to look for special particles acting on the Biotic Field. Fortunately, Biologists know well what kind of particles are implied in life. Perhaps, in the future we will discover how pions, bosons, Higgs’ particles, and other particles behave in the Biotic Field and we have a complete quantum theory of life; in the meantime, we must adjust ourselves simply to which it has been verified experimentally so far. Biology has been constructed on a basis of strict realism.

In order to be alive, a thermodynamic system must maintain a quasi-stable set of microstates in order that it can delay the diffusion of its local energy towards more available microstates at the Gravity Field (where all the heat released through the transformations from one form of energy into another form disperses to). From this fact, you can distinguish that the Biotic Field exists as a unit different, but not independent, from the Fundamental Fields of nature, on this case, from the Gravity Field. The amount of energy assigned to the Biotic Field is not the same amount assigned to the Electromagnetic Field of a conductor, etc.

Considering all the thermodynamic systems, from Archaeobacteria to the mitochondria and chloroplasts of the eukaryotic cells, the density of the energy available for life, released by the passage of a proton through a specialized biomembrane, varies from 5 to 12 kcal/mol. This amount of energy is enough to produce an electrochemical gradient of 220 mV (0.22 V), which is an Electrodynamic Field, or a Biotic Field, if we consider that it occurs on a living system. One photon carries an amount of energy near to 52 kcal/mol. Chlorophyll makes use of 9.2 kcal/mol per each photon absorbed, which is the amount of energy required for the shift of an electron to one higher level of energy (chlorophyll requires of twelve photons to produce one mole of Glucose). The lasting 42.8 kcal/mol from one photon are released to the environment in the form of thermal energy (heat). On the other hand, the mitochondria require an amount of about 7.4 kcal/mol of energy to start up the electrochemical machinery of life.

By definition, a Biotic Field is an Electrodynamic Field which biomembranes experience. Electrodynamic Field is any field produced by motion charged particles and by changing Electromagnetic Fields. The concept refers to the effects of the fluctuations of the Electromagnetic Field on the behavior of motion electrically-charged particles. There are not living beings where there is not Biotic Field. For example, Mars has the characteristics needed to give support to microorganisms, from the extremophiles variety, which could face temperatures under zero. The problem on Mars resides on both its atmosphere and its soil, which have chemical substances that impede the synthesis of biomolecules, therefore, it is implausible the existence of living beings on Mars. To date, we have not found on Mars the smallest indication on thermodynamic systems that could be linked to the Biotic Field. Ecologists know what I am referring to.

The magnitude of the available energy, contained by photons, assigned in the space-time that is used by the living beings to maintain its thermodynamic autonomy is the biotic field. The quantification of the internal energy (the energy associated to the molecular movements into a thermodynamic system) is possible by means of potentiometric ultramicroelectrodes for biomembranes, which detect and identify the membrane’s potential in living cells.

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REFERENCES:

Congress of Natural Sciences. 18-22 September 2006. Autonomous University of Aguascalientes. Aguascalientes, Mexico. Conference on Astrobiology. Visiting lecturer: Nasif Nahle. http://biocab.org/Astrobiology.html

Gawiser, Eric, Silk, Joseph. Extracting Primordial Density Fluctuations. Science 1998 May 29; 280: 1405-1411.

Kestenbaum, David. Gentle Force of Entropy Bridges Disciplines. Science; March 20, 1988. V. 279: pp. 1849.

Lodish, H., Berk, Arnold, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. Pp. 617. W. H. Freeman and Company; 1999, New York, New York.

Nahle, Nasif. What is Life?. September 1, 2004.

Time's Arrow: Particles cannot go back to the future. CERN Bulletin 47/98; 16 November 1998.  Obtained on July 27, 2004, from http://bulletin.cern.ch

Field in Classic and Quantum Physics. Wikipedia. Page visited on April, 2005:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_%28physics%29#Classical_and_quantum_
fields

Miralda-Escudé, Jordi. The Dark Age of the Universe. Science, June 20, 2003; 300: 1904-1909.

Guth, Alan H., Lightman, Alan P. The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. Perseus Books Group, 1997, New York, New York.

Wightmann, R. M. Probing Cellular Chemistry in Biological Systems with Microelectrodes. Science. March 17, 2006; Vol. 311, pp. 1570-1574.

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CONTENTS:

WHAT IS LIFE?THE MEANING OF DEATHBIOTIC FIELDSREFERENCES

RECOMMENDED READINGS ON HUMAN THERMODYNAMICS
BIOLOGICAL DEATH
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