Living Matter

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Living Matter


(1) The aggregate of living bodies of biosphere organisms, which are expressed numerically by elementary chemical composition, mass, and energy. The term “living matter” was introduced by V. I. Vernadskii. Materially and energetically the biosphere is connected with living matter through the biogenic migration of atoms that occurs with breathing, eating, growth, and the multiplication of organisms. Living matter is exemplified by autotrophic organisms (green plants and autotrophic microorganisms), heterotrophic organisms (plants without chlorophyll, all animals, and human beings), and mixotrophic organisms, which live on ready-made organic compounds, although they are also able to synthesize them.

Living matter is very active, chemically and geologically. It is scattered in myriads of individuals that are continually dying and being born, expending a large amount of active energy. In the biosphere, living matter does a great amount of work and constitutes a great geological force of planetary character determining the face of the earth. One manifestation of the geological work is living matter’s part in creating organogenic sedimentary rocks (for example, coal, bitumen, limestones, and petroleum), which are called the Vernadskii biogenic material of the biosphere. Bio-inert substances are also formed with the participation of living matter: almost all the water of the biosphere, the soil, the weathering crust, and so forth. The role played by living matter as a geological factor is evident in its control of all the basic chemical changes in the biosphere.

The biogeochemical functions of living matter may be divided into five groups: gaseous, concentration, oxidation-reduction, biochemical, and finally, the biogeochemical functions of human beings. All the functions are carried out in the external medium, except for the biochemical, which take place inside the organisms. The gaseous composition of the atmosphere is determined by the gaseous functions of living matter; the predominant mass of gases on our planet is biogenic. The result of the action of living matter is to create its basic gases (N,, O,, CO,, H,S, CH4, and others). The concentration functions of living matter include accumulation by the organisms of biogenic elements from the surrounding medium. The composition of living matter is clearly different from that of the inert matter of the planet. The living matter contains a predominance of light atoms (H, C, N, O, Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, K, Ca). These elements are present in all living organisms, forming there the chemical compounds primarily encountered in living matter. The amounts of certain elements in some organisms are tens, hundreds, and even thousands of times more than in the external medium. This results in nonuniformity of the biosphere’s chemical composition. The oxidation-reduction functions of living matter lead to most substances being chemically converted. Biogenic oxidation and reduction processes predominate on the earth’s surface. The biochemical functions are connected with the growth and multiplication of organisms, which lead to an increase in their number and in the mass of living matter. The pressure of living matter on the ambient medium, called by Vernadskii the pressure of life, is an expression of the energy of growth and multiplication and is different in different groups of organisms. Other manifestations of the biochemical function of living matter are processes connected with the decomposition of organisms after death, that is, the conversion of living matter into inert matter. These processes give rise to the biogenic and bio-inert materials of the biosphere. The biogeochemical functions of humanity, which are primarily conditioned by human technological activity (technogenesis), are a form of creation and conversion of materials in the biosphere that is connected with its transition to a new state, the noosphere, when man becomes a new geological force on the planet.


(2) A term introduced in the 1950’s by the Soviet biologist O. B. Lepeshinskaia to designate a noncellular substance from which the cells of animals, plants, and microorganisms can supposedly be formed, even today. In this meaning, the concept of living matter is not scientific; it has been replaced by a more precise term—”precellular, or noncellular, forms of life.”

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.