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Chronobiology

The study of time in living organisms is known as chronobiology. It focuses on the numerous temporal cycles that all organisms employ in their individual and species survival strategies.

These cycles are necessary because of some basic facts of life. First, all organisms are liable to die: even those species that seem immortal, such as lobsters, can have accidents. Therefore, there has to be a reproductive cycle in order to ensure species survival. Second, all known species live on our planet, which rotates once a day and orbits the Sun once a year, processes that impinge directly on the fortunes of all organisms. There are therefore cycles that are conditioned on a daily basis, known as circadian rhythms, and cycles that are conditioned by the seasons.

Another cycle predicated on the dynamics of our planet are lunar cycles. We note that ‘Lunar cycles had, and continue to have, an influence upon human culture, though despite a persistent beliefthat our mental health and other behaviours are modulated by the phase of the moon, there is no solid evidence that human biology is in any way regulated by the lunar cycle’ [Foster & Roenneberg, 2008]. On the other hand, there is evidence of lunar cycles in fish, birds, and mice [Zimecki, 2006].

Biological time travel

In a sense, all biological organisms travel in time, that is, the forwards direction. But some species of plant seem to do it rather spectacularly. Plant species such as foxtail (Setaria) produce seeds that do not automatically germinate the next year but remain dormant until conditions are conducive for survival. In other words, ‘. . . there is an active selection of the final destination of this time travel, as opposed to the passive travel through space, exhibited by tumbleweeds, sycamore seeds, or plant seeds ingested by animals’ [Smith, 2002].

 
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