Bigger isn’t always better— our cells learned this long ago. From the beginning of time, multi-cellular organisms have grown in size according to some mysterious internal mandate. Single-cell organisms have also evolved while remaining mostly microscopic. Meanwhile, their more ‘sophisticated’ counterparts grew larger and developed intelligent brains, so they can do questionable things like elect Donald Trump.
In the original Star Trek series from the ‘60s, the Enterprise encounters an alien race that call themselves the First Federation. After Kirk’s Enterprise destroys a hostile probe, the vastly superior First Federation flagship Fesarius appears, threatening complete obliteration of the Enterprise. The Fesarius resembles a huge single-cell organism.
Obviously, Star Trek is taking creative license in depicting a single-cell organism so impossibly large. Nature has taught us that single cell organisms are exclusively microscopic, right? Maybe not …
The Corbomite Maneuver
At the end of the episode, titled “The Corbomite Maneuver,” a baby genius, Balok, is revealed to be controlling the Fesarius, and maybe even the entire First Federation. The episode stands the test of time and is a masterful ‘60s-marijuana-geek cultural landmark.
Growing Supersized Cells
It took billions of years for a single-cell organism to evolve into a modern day human. Over that time period, nature has created a stupefying array of life forms. The Stentor, a single-cell organism, can grow to be up to 0.08 inches long (Wow, can you say ‘Pornhub’?!).
Myxomycetes, also known as a slime mold, is a fascinating single-cell organism that can permanently fuse itself into another of its kind, creating colossal blobs up to three feet long.
According to Lieutenant Spock, the Fesarius is one mile in diameter. Biology can, and does, bend its own rules concerning single-cell organisms; perhaps even to those dimensions.
Not from a human, Ani! Creating large single-cells is not something humans know how to do. Single-cell organisms have tremendous and mysterious abilities, and we are just starting to recognize and understand them. Part of the tragedy of pollution is that it is purging biological diversity, and we don’t even know how much the sins of today limit the science of tomorrow.
Humans are decades, if not centuries, away from understanding the principals of single-cellular biology, e.g., why slime molds merge. Despite not fully understanding our subject, we are boldly going where no one has gone before with gene-editing technology like CRISPR and stem-cell research. We’re not trying to make Fesarius. We’re more trying to make Frankenstein — and I think we all remember what happened to the beast on Enoch.
Powering Supersized Cells
The most obvious impediment to a super-size single cell is the inefficiency in operation. A bigger cell means more demand for energy and waste regulation, and that typically requires groups of cells specializing and working together.
Nature has no general answer to the conundrum of powering large single cells. Humanity, however, has some ideas on the subject.
In Star Wars canon, Darth Sidious, apprentice to Sith master Darth Plagueis, asks whether him and his master are “grand enough” to undertake a villainous coup; his master responds, “You should ask, are we crude enough … to succeed, we must become as beasts.”
Nature is perhaps not as crude as man. We’ve discovered one particularly powerful and dangerous means of creating energy, which shows how we can both defeat and be defeated by nature. Nuclear power was once presented to America and the world as a final solution to energy. Fast forward to the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, which irradiated the hell out of the entire Pacific Ocean, and Godzilla is going to definitely destroy Tokyo any day now. #Tokyo2020Olympics!!!
Humans contributed a wholly unnatural legacy to the creation of energy on Earth when they split and then later fused the atom. If a single-cell organism could harness nuclear power, we could direct it to grow — even to the scale of the Fesarius.
The most unfathomable element surrounding the Fesarius is that it’s flying (and shuttling a megamind baby) through space.
We know that single-cell organisms have great potential, but evolution takes an eon. Provided that single-cell organisms had the size and power of the Fesarius, could they function in space? The answer is possibly yes.
French scientists recently discovered that single-cell organisms are capable of habituation.That’s when an organism uses newly introduced information to change its habits. Without even a rudimentary brain, you would think an organism would just … do.
Researchers created a bridge for a single-cell organism to cross in order to get to food. After the slime crossed the bridge a few times, the bridge was doused with a harmless but bitter foreign substance. At first, the slime would not cross the bridge until it was removed, and then the slime would proceed. Eventually, though, the slime attempted to cross the bitter substance, and it learned that the bitter substance was completely safe, and then began crossing the bridge freely.
Clearly, if a being without a brain can learn, it is the human notion of intelligence that is wrong. Slime molds are not a lower intelligence; they are a very different intelligence. Could an organism of a different intelligence and heartier constitution live in space?
What’s genius to one species is instinctive to another. In the video below, the same slime that showed habituation designs a better Tokyo metro.
The Fesarius Project
I can say with almost certainty that we will never produce the Fesarius. For one, our babies are still imbecilic. No baby geniuses, no dice! The key to developments in the direction of the Fesarius are in nanotechnology and biology. In this strange life on Earth, it’s a fitting paradox that the answers to our biggest, Fesarius-scale questions, are nano. With more advanced understanding of cellular biology and nanotechnology, maybe we can create the Fesarius. Who knows what humanity is capable of? I’ll tell you who: Balok — and he’s not talking until you have a glass of his favorite drink, tranya …
Yeah, he’s not talkin’…