In all sorts of circumstances, life finds a way

eva headshotReading Chris Samoray’s deep dive into the surprising new marine habitat created by human pollution, I found myself repeating Jeff Goldblum’s famous line from Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.” It’s one of those short memes that sticks with you, but the extended passage from Michael Crichton’s book is perhaps even more apropos: “Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

Most articles about the plastic plaguing our oceans describe the threats to marine life. Those dangers could be considerable, given the huge amounts of trash fouling our seas. But the unexpected ways that living things respond should also give us pause. Of course microbes — those adaptable, ubiquitous and entrepreneurial creatures — have found a way to take advantage of our carelessness, sailing the seas on bits of nutrient-coated plastic. As Samoray writes in his feature, the consequences, good or bad, are still unknown, but the plastisphere certainly offers a fascinating new niche to investigate.

The relentlessness of microbes, and the unintended results of human activity, also fuel the spread of and worry over Zika virus, as Meghan Rosen reports. The virus hails from Africa and spread to Asia decades ago. Until recently, it received little attention, producing seemingly few symptoms in those infected. But air travel has given the mosquito-borne Zika (and related viruses such as dengue and chikungunya) a passport to wander the globe. Scientists suspect the ongoing Zika outbreak in Brazil is driving the increasing incidence of a serious birth defect, now recognized as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Cases of microcephaly have skyrocketed in the areas hardest hit by Zika. Researchers are now trying to find ways to combat the virus.

Humans, of course, are also included in the life that finds a way — whether trying to genetically re-create extinct species, battle a dangerous virus, deal with ocean pollution or even explore the most distant of territories, such as Uranus and Neptune. Christopher Crockett contemplates how we might tackle that last one in “Secrets of the Ice Giants.”  

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