It all began very simply. Late in the afternoon of January 18, 2010, a massive solar flare erupted from the sun, spewing intense radiation, neutrinos and ionized plasma. The plasma quickly fell behind the neutrinos and radiation in the race toward the third planet of the system, Earth. A little more than eight minutes passed before the home of mankind was irradiated.
About two hundred miles northeast of the Hawaiian Islands, the wide surface of the azure Pacific ocean slowly rose and fell in the stately rhythm of ocean swells. A drifting patch of algae took a direct hit from the ultraviolet radiation and over a million trillion strands of DNA mutated in a vast panoply of random rearrangement. More than ninety-nine percent of these changes were instantly fatal and the cells housing the mutant DNA simply died. Some survived the change for an hour before a vital metabolic pathway was compromised. Of the one percent that remained, ninety-nine percent had DNA changes that were a wash.
In all living things, there are long segments of DNA that seem to code nothing important and in a hundred thousand years, the descendent cells would simply be termed genetic drift, which occurs in all living things.
Three changes were vastly more important and rather significant. The first affected the cell walls and caused the algae cells to link together much more strongly. While that linkage was barely strong enough to be measured on an individual basis, on a macro scale the algae formed sheets of cells, creating between fifty and a hundred layers together with bonds that were actually quite tough.
The second mutation limited the first in a peculiar way. Sheets of the algae were limited to no more than ten or eleven square feet of surface area before van der Waals forces caused the mat to cleave. They also gave the algae mat a rough hexagonal shape. Consequently, the sheets that formed remained small enough not to be disrupted by random wave action.
The third and final mutation increased the pace of cell activity and reproduction was ratcheted up several orders of magnitude, but only if sufficient nutrients – water, carbon dioxide and sunlight – were available. Phosphorus, nitrogen and other trace minerals became only marginally important for the speed of cell division.
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