Curiosity › Science › Chemistry › [Ask a Geek] Is my great grandmother somehow connected to her table?
Tagged: Molecular Biology
If all things are created of molecules, and nothing is solid, does the table that my great grand-mother used to use every day still carry her essence?
Is my great grand-mother some-how connected to that table now?
This question is asked by a geekswipe reader through the ask page and is posted here on behalf of the reader.
Right after reading this, I remembered the words of Carl Sagan, “We are made of star stuff.” I thought I could pen down my own version of this answer here.
Let’s make a quick microscopic picture so that we can ease into the macroscopic world.
All things are indeed created by molecules. To be precise, all things are made up of elementary particles like electrons, quarks, and constituent particles like protons and neutrons. The combination of these protons, neutrons and electrons in a stable configuration as an atom creates different elements and compounds. Atoms of these elements and compounds together make different molecules, existing in different phases, influencing and reacting with one another. A beautiful harmony the universe plays!
A human is made up of different kinds of molecules in humongous numbers, forming complex shapes, performing complex chemical reactions, carrying information, replicating, all inside a very sophisticated biological system, which is the result of billions of years of evolution.
A tree is similar to a human. It is equally sophisticated as a human system, and it has its own number of different molecules and compounds orchestrating a different kind of biochemical stuff. When you make a table out of the wood from the trees, you still retain the chemical composition of the wood, except without the ‘life’ part of it.
The chemicals that are so common in wood are carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. A human body has a similar composition too. We are mostly made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen as well.
Now if we look back the timeline of our solar system, we can understand the origin or source of all these elements around us. Some magnificently violent supernova had bestowed us all the elements necessary to create the sun and the planets and possibly life we know today.
The oxygen atom in our body comes from the atmosphere, which is actually produced by the trees by photosynthesis. The carbon in the trees comes from the environment as well. But we breath out that carbon into the atmosphere in the first place as carbon dioxide. In a grand scale, all these atoms had come from that solar nebula that formed Earth.
When your great grandmother was using the table, she was closer to the table. Not for a day, but for years, I assume. The atoms in her skin would have wanted to interact with the atoms in the table whenever she touched, but repelled quite enough by the electrostatic forces. Her DNA would have been all over the table once due to her presence. So would the table still carry her essence? Or technically, will she have affected the table in a way that would have changed the wooden table’s composition according to her comfort?
In a way, yes. She would have passively affected the chemical composition of the table but in subtle ways. The table might have unique marks made by her or might show some signs of wear and tear from her prolonged use.
To answer the final question – “Is my great grand-mother some-how connected to that table now?” – Yes, the table is connected to your great grandmother in the same way the table is connected to the universe. But as you are a descendant of her, sharing her genes, the table is connected to you and your great grandmother in a special way.
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