Cosmic Ancestry is a theory about evolution and the origin of life on Earth. It holds that life on Earth was seeded from space, and that life's evolution to higher forms depends on genetic programs that come from space. (It accepts the Darwinian account of evolution that does not require new genetic programs.) It is a wholly scientific, testable theory for which evidence is accumulating.
The first point, which deals with the origin of life on Earth, is known as panspermia, which means "seeds everywhere." Its earliest recorded advocate was the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, who influenced Socrates. However, Aristotle's theory of spontaneous generation came to be preferred by science for more than two thousand years.
On April 9, 1864, French chemist Louis Pasteur reported his experiment disproving spontaneous generation as it was then held to occur. In the 1870s, British physicist William Thomson and German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz reinforced Pasteur and argued that life could come from space. And in the first decade of the twentieth century, Swedish chemist and Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius theorized that bacterial spores, propelled through space by light pressure, were the seeds of life on Earth.
But in the 1920s, Russian biochemist Alexander Oparin and English geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, writing independently, revived the doctrine of spontaneous generation in a more sophisticated form. In the new version, the spontaneous generation of life no longer happens on Earth, takes too long to observe in a laboratory, and has left no clues about its occurrence. Supporting this theory, in 1953, American chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey showed that some amino acids can be chemically produced from amonia and methane. The Miller-Urey experiment is now famous, and the paradigm of Oparin and Haldane still prevails today.
Starting in the 1970s, British astronomers Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe rekindled interest in panspermia. By careful spectroscopic observation and analysis of light from distant stars they found new evidence, traces of life, in the intervening dust. They later proposed that comets, which are largely made of water-ice, carry bacterial life across galaxies and protect it from radiation damage along the way. One aspect of this research program — that interstellar dust and comets contain organic compounds — has been pursued by others as well. It is now widely accepted that space contains the "ingredients" of life. This development could be the first hint of a huge paradigm shift. But mainstream science has not accepted the premise of modern panspermia, that whole cells seeded life on Earth.
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe also broadened or generalized panspermia to include a new understanding of evolution. While accepting the fact that life on Earth evolved over the course of about four billion years, they say that the genetic programs for higher evolution cannot be explained by random mutation and recombination among genes for single-celled organisms, even in that long a time: the programs must come from somewhere beyond Earth. After arriving, in bacteria or viruses for example, they could be multiplied and become widespread by various means of horizontal gene transfer (HGT). In a nutshell, their theory holds that all of life comes from space. It incorporates the original panspermia much as the general theory incorporates the special theory of relativity.
On a different track, in the early 1970s, British chemist and inventor James Lovelock proposed the theory that life controls Earth's environment to make it suitable for life. The theory, which William Golding suggested he call Gaia, has gained a small but growing, sometimes cultish following. However, seen from a Darwinian perspective, the Gaia theory looks teleological. It is hard to imagine how purposeful Gaian processes that take millions of years could be discovered by trial and error. In response to such criticism, Lovelock has retreated slightly from some of his earlier bold claims for Gaia. Here we endorse Lovelock's theory at its original strength. We propose that Gaian processes are not blindly found and peculiar to Earth, but are pre-existent and universal — life from space brings Gaian processes with it. We suggest that Gaian processes are necessary for higher forms of life to emerge and succeed on any planet.
We are calling the union of Lovelock's Gaia with Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's expanded theory of panspermia Cosmic Ancestry. This account of evolution and the origin of life on Earth is profoundly different from the prevailing scientific paradigm. The new theory challenges not merely the answers but the questions that are popular today. Cosmic Ancestry implies, we find, that life can only descend from ancestors at least as highly evolved as itself. And it means, we believe, that there can be no origin of life from nonbiological matter. Without supernatural intervention, therefore, we conclude that life must have always existed. Although these conclusions cut across the boundaries between science, philosophy, and religion, we believe they are grounded in good evidence. And new data that support many aspects of Cosmic Ancestry are coming in rapidly. In the following pages we will explain how these and other recent developments support Cosmic Ancestry:
|We may become accustomed to the idea that life is eternal, and hence that it is useless to inquire into its origin — Svante Arrhenius, 1908, Worlds in the Making.|
19 May 1995: two scientists at Cal Poly showed that bacteria can survive without any metabolism for at least 25 million years; probably they are immortal.
24 November 1995: The New York Times described bacteria that can survive radiation much stronger than any that Earth has ever experienced.
7 August 1996: NASA announced fossilized evidence of ancient life in meteorite ALH 84001 from Mars.
27 October 1996: geneticists showed evidence that many genes are much older than the fossil record would indicate. Subsequent studies have strengthened this finding.
29 July 1997: a NASA scientist announced evidence of fossilized microscopic life forms in a meteorite not from any known planet.
Spring, 1998: a microfossil that was found in a meteorite and photographed in 1966, was recognized by a Russian microbiologist as a magnetotactic bacterium.
Fall, 1998: NASA's public position on life-from-space shifted dramatically.
4 January 1999: NASA officially recognized the possibility that life on Earth comes from space.
19 March 1999: NASA scientists announced that two more meteorites hold even stronger fossilized evidence for past life on Mars.
26 April 2000: the German team operating the mass spectrometer on NASA's Stardust mission announced the detection of very large organic molecules in interstellar space. Nonbiological sources for organic molecules so large are not known.
19 October 2000, a team of biologists and a geologist announced the revival of bacteria that are 250 million years old, strengthening that case that bacterial spores can be immortal.
13 December 2000: a NASA team demonstrated that the magnetosomes in Mars meteorite ALH 84001 are biological.
June 2002: Geneticists reported evidence that the evolutionary step from chimps to humans was assisted by viruses.
2 August 2004: Very convincing photos of fossilized cyanobacteria in a meteorite were reported by a NASA scientist.
25 January 2005: J. Craig Venter endorses panspermia.
10 May 2007: E. O. Wilson endorses panspermia.
18 April 2008: Richard Dawkins acknowledges the plausibility of panspermia.
7 April 2009: Stephen Hawking endorses panspermia.
2 May 2009: Freeman Dyson speaks favorably about panspermia.
3 March 2011: NASA's Richard Hoover publishes excellent images of microfossils in carbonaceous meteorites.
January 2013: A meteorite that fell, 29 December, in Sri Lanka, is seen to contain fossilized diatoms.
21 Dec 2017: Robert Zubrin endorses panspermia with logic and data.
18 Jan 2018: NASA designates a Planetary Protection Officer, "responsible for the protection of Earth from potential contamination by extraterrestrial life forms...."
2019: Harvard astronomers acknowledge: comets travel between stars, and asteroids can traverse the galaxy.
2021: Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is acknowledged as the only source for "new" genes in bacteria.
The case for Cosmic Ancestry is not yet proven, of course. The best reason to notice it is that the mainstream darwinian paradigm does not satisfactorily account for sustained evolutionary progress and the origin of life. We will highlight flaws in the darwinian account, especially the lack of proof in biology or even computer models. But our primary purpose is to present Cosmic Ancestry as a viable, fully scientific account of apparent evolutionary progress and the emergence of life on Earth.
What'sNEW (New developments in Cosmic Ancestry also appear throughout the website.)
28 Jul 2022: James Ephraim Lovelock died, 26 July 2022.
15 Jan 2022: Bacteria in the very high atmosphere could escape....
10 Mar 2021: New genes can be acquired only via HGT....
...life may have started on Mars by Nicole Karlis, Salon, 08 Feb 2021.
Pioneering Astrobiologist: Fred Hoyle (pdf), poster by students at the International Space University, 2020.
...The etymology of astrobiology by Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb, International Journal of Astrobiology +arXiv, 01 Jul 2020. Lots of obscure and extraneous references, but no mention of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe?
NfoLD is a NASA Astrobiology Research Coordination Network dedicated to advancing the science and technology required to search for evidence of life beyond Earth, anounced 05 Dec 2019
Comets and Interstellar Objects Could be Exporting Earth Life... by Matt Williams, Universe Today, 19 Oct 2019.
09 Jul 2019: Astronomers and cosmologists are beginning to promote the likelihood of interstellar panspermia.
23 Jun 2019: ...exchange of materials between solar systems could be an important mechanism for spreading life throughout the galaxy.
Could Life on Earth Have Come from Another Star System? by Mike Wall, Space.com +NBCNews, 03 May 2019.
21 Dec 2018: New research points to panspermia.
11-15 Oct 2018: ...panspermia is not exclusively relegated to solar-system sized scales....
29 Jun 2018: Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia, 25 Jun 2018.
...a brief history of panspermia and ...the return of panspermia | local pdf by Stephen Fleischfresser, Cosmos, 23 and 26 Apr 2018, re:
Cause of Cambrian Explosion - Terrestrial or Cosmic? by Ted Steele et al., Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology [alternate url | local pdf], online 13 Mar 2018.
Astrobiologist Named NASA Planetary Protection Officer, Indiana University +Newswise, 18 Jan 2018.
21 Dec 2017: Mars advocate Robert Zubrin favors panspermia.
06 Jan 2017: Either life developed here super-fast or it came full-on as DNA life from afar — Gary Ruvkun, SETG.
A better theory of intelligent design by Jacob Haqq-Misra, Boston Globe, 11 Sep 2016.
02 Feb 2016: Does the Gaian bottleneck solve Fermi's paradox?
Institute for the Study of Panspermia and Astroeconomics: ISPA, established 2014.
The Rosetta Mission Asks: Did Comets Bring Life to Earth? YouTube video posted by NASA JPL, 5 Nov 2015.
Panspermia and the Drake Equation..., Lethbridge Herald, 16 Aug 2015.
What if ...We came from space? (1st two paragraphs), New Scientist, 5 Aug 2015.
29 Jul 2015: ...Life which arose via spreading will exhibit more clustering than life which arose spontaneously.
...Aliens May Have Sent Space Seeds To Create Life On Earth by Lee Speigel, Huffington Post, 13 Feb 2015.
Why 19th Century Scientists Believed That Life Originated In Space by Mark Strauss, io9, 23 Dec 2014.
8 July 2014: Life has made Earth the way it is to a large extent. ...The Living Worlds hypothesis is simply extending the idea to other planets — David Grinspoon
Jamie Hamilton Wallis, Evidence of Panspermia: From Astronomy to Meteorites (20 Mb pdf), PhD Thesis at Cardiff University, 2014.
9 Jan 2013: The Russian Academy of Sciences will conduct biological experiments in space.
The Panspermia Paradox by Caleb A. Scharf, Astrobiology Center, Columbia University, posted on Scientific American, 15 Oct 2012.
25 Sep 2012: ....Life on Earth may have originated beyond our solar system.
"Astrobiology: Frontier or fiction" (2 separate articles): Antonio Lazcano, "Maintaining the plausible" and Kevin P. Hand, "The last great experiment" [html], doi:10.1038/488160a, p160-161 v488, Nature, 9 Aug 2012.
24 Jun 2012: ESA's research on the International Space Station is giving credibility to theories that life came from outer space....
13 Apr 2012: Physicists estimate that life from Earth could have seeded other planets.
19 Mar 2012: ...Whether the course of Evolution can... be represented as an unpacking of an original complex.... William Bateson, 1914.
10 Oct 2011: Neopanspermia and pathospermia are new terms introduced in a paper available online today.
13 Sep 2011: The Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology (BCAB)....
Earth Could Spread Life Across The Milky Way by Tammy Plotner, Universe Today, 1 Sep 2011.
24 Aug 2011: Panspermia is more likely than we thought, a new analysis reveals.
Unscientific ambivalence over Panspermia, Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, 13 Aug 2011.
14 Jul 2011: A new video about panspermia includes a range of topics....
Origins and Evolution of Life: An Astrobiological Perspective [publisher's promo], Muriel Gargaud, Purificación López-García and Hervé Martin, eds., 526 pages, ISBN-10: 9780521761314, Cambridge University Press, Jan 2011.
The Biological Big Bang. Panspermia and the Origins of Life [amazon.com promo], N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, ed., 718 pages, ISBN-10: 9780982955222, Cosmology Science Publishers, 3 Dec 2010.
28 Feb 2011: A two-hour TV program about panspermia and related topics is available on the Internet.
25 Jan 2011: Chandra Wickramasinghe has a new article about panspermia, available online.
The DNA Sequencer That Could Go To Mars by Matthew Herper, Forbes.com, 14 Dec 2010.
2 Nov 2010: The software problem for the origin of life is not ignored, for once....
13 May 2010: A brief history of panspermia... is available online.
10 May 2010: We Are Not Alone, a new book about astrobiology.
9 Apr 2010 How life might travel through space? (Points to a video about rotifers.)
Margaret R. O'Leary, Anaxagoras and the Origin of Panspermia Theory [publisher's promo], iUniverse, May 2008.
2 Mar 2010: Thomas Alva Edison believed life on Earth came from space.
26 Feb 2010: Neil deGrasse Tyson endorses panspermia in a ten minute video.
4 Feb 2010: Chandra Wickramasinghe reviews the case for panspermia in a new article.
14 Oct 2009: Instead of life originating here on Earth..., perhaps it came from somewhere else....
12 Jul 2009: Phobus-Grunt will fly specimens of Earthly life to Mars and back.
9 Jun 2009: A brief introduction to panspermia ...is available online.
6 May 2009: Freeman Dyson thinks panspermia is more likely if life can adapt to the vacuum of space.
7 Apr 2009: Stephen Hawking endorses panspermia in a recorded presentation at Arizona State University.
4 Mar 2009: James Lovelock's newest book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia
18 Feb 2009: Mosquito survives in outer space.
Origin Of Life: The Panspermia Theory by Sonali S. Joshi, Northwestern University, 2 Dec 2008.
10 Sep 2008: Tardigrades survived ten days in space on the European Space Agency's Foton M3 mission last September.
21 Jun 2008: Panspermia is considered in depth....
22 Apr 2008: Richard Dawkins endorses panspermia in a movie about Intelligent Design.
22 Apr 2008: Three YouTube videos about panspermia
15 Nov 2007: We could have alien origins, according to ESA.
Panspermia, Wikipedia.org, revised 2 Oct 2007. "The panspermia hypothesis was dormant until 1743 when it appeared posthumously in the writings of Benoît de Maillet."
Fraser Cain interviews Dr. Pamela Gay [find link to MP3], Astronomy Cast, 4 Sep 2007. (Amino acids, or nucleotides?!)
Andrew Lawler, "Astrobiology Fights for Its Life" [summary], 10.1126/science.315.5810.318, p 318-321 v 315, Science, 19 Jan 2007.
10 May 2007: E.O. Wilson thinks panspermia is likely.
Are we all Martians?, by Sandrine Ceurstemont, FirstScience.com, 2 Feb 2007.
Did Life Begin In Space?, by Kathryn Garfield, Discover Magazine, Nov 2006.
Indiana Princeton Tennessee Astrobiology Initiative.
9 Aug 2006: Life may have arrived from outer space on a comet — BBC.
Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie University (redirected to the University of New South Wales).
16 May 2006: NASA's Astrobiology program.... a four-part essay tells the story.
2 May 2006: Once one planet comes down with life, they all get it. — Jeff Moore, NASA.
14 Apr 2006: Astrobiology legitimately broadens the terms of exobiology....
7 Feb 2006: Gerda Horneck of the German Aerospace Center has spent her career studying panspermia.
30 Jan 2006: More survivors of the Columbia disintegration have been found by biologists at Texas State University.
20 Dec 2005: Life as We Do Not Know It, by Peter Ward.
9 Nov 2005: Lichens survive in space aboard ESA's Foton M-2 mission.
Limericks about ballistic panspermia (funny!), The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form, 2005.
28 Oct 2005: Panspermia is reconsidered in Scientific American.
8 Jun 2005: NASA and LITU — recent elaborations on two astrobiology research programs.
Instant Expert: Astrobiology, by Stephen Battersby, NewScientist.com, 18 Apr 2005.
5 Apr 2005: Chandra Wickramasinghe's scientific autobiography.
Detritus of life abounds in the atmosphere (not necessariy from space), by Fred Pearce, NewScientist, 31 Mar 2005.
29 Mar 2005: Micro-organisms could be transported....
20 Jan 2005: Panspermia is how life is spread throughout the universe — J. Craig Venter.
16 Dec 2004: A history of astrobiology from a NASA perspective.
Panspermia on RedOrbit.com, [n.d.] publicised 19 Oct 2004.
Life In The Universe Could Be Just About Everywhere, by Dan Whipple, SpaceDaily.com, 6 May 2004.
24 Apr 2004: John Rummel is NASA's planetary protection officer (The New York Times).
24 Feb 2004: Nature notices panspermia.
Centro de Astrobiología, 28850 Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid Spain.
William Safire, "Look Up There" [text], The New York Times, 7 Jan 2004. "...Life: Where does it come from?..."
2003, November 15: Microorganisms may have spread throughout the galaxy.
2003, October 22: The origin of the word "panspermia".
Anne McIlroy, "Life theories" [text], p F8, The Globe and Mail, Canada, 4 Oct 2003.
2003, August 25: For travel between planets... panspermia seems entirely possible.
2003, July 26: SETI looks at panspermia.
2003, June 21: A transcript of Thursday's Internet chat about about Cosmic Ancestry is available.
"The Indestructable Worm" [abstract], p A34, The New York Times, 7 May 2003. "If a tiny soil worm could do it, why not a hardy bacterium?"
2003, March 23: Wales television features Chandra Wickramasinghe.
Panspermia, by David Darling, The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight.
Panspermia, by Brig Klyce, ISCID Encyclopedia of Science and Philosophy, posted 10 Feb 2003.
2003, January 29: A discussion of panspermia.
Astrobiology Magazine, Responsible NASA Official: Helen Matsos.
Panspermia Theories: Annotated Bibliography..., by Norman Redington and Karen Ræ Keck, M.I.T.
2002, June 6: Two New Astrobiology Journals.
2002, March 11: Tardigrades in space?
"What if we are all space aliens?", Popular Science, 2001.
...Carl Sagan Center To Focus On Life In The Universe, by Leonard David, Space.com, 13 December 2001.
the Astrobiology Society of Britain, formerly UK Astrobiology Forum and Network.
2001, August 20: Sir Fred Hoyle died today. He was 86.
2001, August 13: Pseudo-panspermia is becoming mainstream.
2001, August 2: Web article about panspermia.
Robert Zubrin, "Interstellar Panspermia Reconsidered" [link], Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 2001.
The absence of free-living microorganisms simpler than bacteria on Earth is evidence that life did not originate on Earth, but immigrated.
2000, October 30: Panspermia is reconsidered....
Panspermia theoretically possible, say scientists, NASA, Ames, 13 January 2000.
1999, December 23: Lord Kelvin's address to British scientists, in 1871.
John Gribbin, "Panspermia revisited" [link | pdf], arXiv:astro-ph/9909013v1, 1 Sep 1999.