Replies to Cosmic Ancestry, 2018-19
Cometary Panspermia | From: Chandra Wickramasinghe | 04 July 2019
With a veritable surge of new discoveries by many individuals and groups who are now assisting in the progress of astrobiology, it is worth recounting a history of relevant events that I myself have witnessed throughout a long career. When I began my research in astronomy in 1960 interstellar dust (the material that makes up a percent of the mass of the galaxy) was thought to be made of inorganic ice crystals. The origin of life was then regarded as being fully explained by the classic Miller-Urey experiments of the 1950’s, so abiogenesis – the transition from non-life to life - was firmly set on Earth. Together with mentor and long-term collaborator Fred Hoyle I was the first to challenge the prevailing Oort-van de Hulst theory that ice grains can indeed even condense under interstellar conditions; and in 1962 we proposed the theory of carbon grain formation and of carbon dust in the outflows of carbon stars (1).
In 1974 I was also the first to propose an organic polymeric composition of interstellar dust (which we first thought was dominated by polyoxymethylene and later by polysaccharides) based on early infrared observations of both interstellar and circumstellar dust (2-4). Fred Hoyle and I were the first to attribute the famous 2175A bump in interstellar extinction to aromatic molecules in space (5); and shortly after this we began to discuss the idea of prebiotic organic molecules in space (6).
Following the pioneering astronomical observations by D.T. Wickramasinghe of a broad 3.4 micron absorption profile in the spectrum of GC-IRS7, Fred Hoyle and I next proposed our theory that biologically relevant organic dust was omnipresent in the galaxy (7) and that these were most likely to be derived from biology itself.
Not long afterwards we launched our theory of cometary panspermia and this was prompted to a large extent by D.T. Wickramasinghe’s first infrared observations of a comet - comet P/Halley. All this was followed by further arguments and theorising that eventually led to us proposing that comets are the main incubators/amplifiers of microbes in the galaxy and throughout the cosmos (8,9).
By 1986 the concept of astrobiology as an emergent scientific discipline was actually proposed by us in public lectures and publications and nurtured in its formative years. In the past 2 decades after Fred Hoyle’s death, I personally (together with a small team of collaborators) have continued to accumulate and review an every-increasing body of new data from diverse fields that supports the cosmic life theory that we had diligently nurtured for over 5 decades. A small sampling of the relevant publications are given in references (10)-(13). In total, there is a grand tally of over 250 peer reviewed journal papers, with more than 50 published in the journal Nature. A recent reappraisal of some the supportive data for life as a cosmic phenomenon is to be found in a recent publication by Edward J. Steele et al (14)
As I enter the 80th year of my life I am gratified by the convergence of a vast body of scientific research that seems to overwhelmingly support the ideas that Fred Hoyle and I had nurtured over many decades. On the other hand, an endemic failure to acknowledge, or even reference, our prior published work stands out as a sad commentary on modern scientific conduct and integrity.
Yours sincerely, Chandra Wickramasinghe
1. "On graphite particles as interstellar grains", F. Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe, Mon.Not.Roy.Astr.Soc., 124,417,1962
Einstein's Unfinished Revolution | to author Lee Smolin | 02 May 2019from Brig: [... ...] If you wonder, my main interest is panspermia. This interest has led me to a profound skepticism about the mainstream theory of evolution. I end up thinking that quarantined life can't originate, nor advance after that, so it must be unquarantined. And eternal, in the past at least. If so, the standard big bang theory must be flawed. Neither darwinists nor creationists are willing to consider that possibility. Why can't they be more like you quantum physicists, willing to question every assumption?????
Einstein's Unfinished Revolution by Lee Smolin, Penguin Press, 09 Apr 2019.
Michael Behe: Darwin Devolves | from William Smith | 14 Apr 2019Hope you enjoy this lecture
Eric Metaxas interviews biochemist Michael Behe: one-hour YouTube video, posted 29 Mar 2019.
15 Apr: Dear Bill -- Thanks for this link. As you know, I pay some attention to Behe, have reviewed his books, and exchanged emails with him. After _Darwin Devolves_, I tried again to interest him in actually engaging the other side in productive dialog. I hoped that could lead to experiments which, both sides agreed, would be fruitful and perhaps decisive about where life comes from and how life evolves. I did not succeed in interesting him.
It seems obvious that both sides are preaching to the choir, and the lack of dialog will leave the questions gridlocked. In the YouTube interview, Behe was asked, What would they say?, and he gave his version of an imagined, unproductive conversation.
He briefly mentioned panspermia, very dismissively, evoking laughter. He repeated the standard critique -- it just pushes the question to another planet.
And he complained again that materialist scientists can't logically believe that minds are real. (Why can't my mind ...be an emergent property of my genome?)
David Raup said, in 1997, "On the creation-evolution debate, I foresee continued conflict. Both sides will continue to lie, cheat and steal to make their points." (My link to the interview, with Steve Brusatte on "Dino Land," has died.) Behe confirmed this. He spent lots of time on the dishonesty of darwinists. Then, when asked about the timing of receiving tenure vs coming out for ID, he said with a wink, "My momma didn't raise no fool." More laughter.
Behe wants to use science to prove that life violates the laws of science. I believe this is a logical impossibility. He claims that Occam's Razor favors Intelligent Design. What?!
Strictly within hard, materialistic science, panspermia answers where life comes from and how life evolves. Behe agrees with panspermia that it couldn't have happened in the available time on Earth. Including all of the (standard big-bang theory) time and space multiplies the opportunity by 10^20 or so. That should help.
He also would say that some of life can't be explained even with that much opportunity. As you know, I agree about that. But if physical existence is eternal, life can be simply a "given" about the world, like matter, energy, space, etc. So, life "in the first place" becomes a non-issue. All we need for this is a modification of the big bang theory, which allows us to remain fully scientific. But Behe promotes the standard big bang theory at every opportunity.
Behe is not dumb, but his valid insights are having little influence. He seems fine with that.Thanks again for the link. Best regards. | Brig Klyce
02 Mar 2019: Our review of Darwin Devolves.
Darwin Overthrown | to Suzan Mazur | 09 Apr 2019
Dear Suzan – Thank you for the [review copy of Darwin Overthrown]. ...My early thoughts are, in random order —
I like Fodor a lot, as you do, but I found him hard to understand about natural selection. It seems entirely possible that cold weather could induce – by amino acid substitutions, regulatory changes or some epigenetic thing – sheep to grow longer wool. But he would not concede even that (the example with him was giraffe necks). And his refusal was an insistence that we don't know which trait is "selected for." I think it is often obvious. His logic here eludes me.
14-29 Jun 2010: correspondence with Fodor.
I am keenly interested in how evolution works. I am not especially interested in the funders' possible hidden agenda. I care about the experimental results.
I pay close attention to origin-of-life research, but it looks to me like alchemy – trying to make gold from lead – it will never work. I know this seems to put me into metaphysics, but I claim complete skepticism. I think the universal assumption that life must "originate" depends too heavily on the big bang theory, which is too new and too fluid to have that much authority. All the real-time evidence makes the origin-of-life look impossible. If it's impossible, that does NOT mean that science has to be abandoned – a very tyrannical assertion.
I am also only mildly curious about synthetic cells. If they get far enough along to begin writing (evolving?) genetic programs, I will tune in closely, because:
The origin-of-life problem has two aspects. 1) hardware – DNA, RNA, proteins, cells, etc. 2) software – the programming that genomes contain, the more difficult part. You note somewhere that the simplest cell has (300?) genes. Right. I have proposed computer testing to see if any truly new functional programs, of any kind, could be ...automatically invented in computer models. So far, none. Meanwhile, all the current research pertains to hardware only. Even there, very little to show.
I can point you to hundreds of examples of HGT in all domains. The HGT deniers will lose.
I love reading about all these researchers, a few of whom I know pretty well. Dimitar Sasselov and I don't always agree, but I am crazy about him. ...I met Andrew Pohorille when NASA's Center for Computational Astrobiology was announced. It was going to be a "very inclusive" community. I tried to interest him in a research project, but, no interest. A year or two later, when I sat by him at lunch, he behaved as if I carried the plague....Brig Klyce | www.panspermia.org
Darwin Overthrown: Hello Mechanobiology, by Suzan Mazur, Caswell Books, 2019.
...conserved genes behind complex multicellularity... | with Làszlò Nagy | 25 Mar 2019
from Brig: Just a comment or query – on my first hasty runthrough, I see that many genes were duplicated, re-regulated, co-opted, etc., and that's how their hosts evolved their multicellular capabilities. The genes appear to be older than expected. When you use the word "origin," you are really referring to the first time they are noticed, and not to any observed events of gradual composition. Is this accurate so far?
from Dr. Nagy: Yes, when we talk about the origin of a gene (family) we mean the node in the phylogenetic tree to which the emergence of the family maps.Transcriptomic atlas of mushroom development reveals conserved genes behind complex multicellularity in fungi by Krisztina Krizsàn et al., PNAS, online 22 Mar 2019.
...the scientific process is prone to human frailties, including vanity, envy, competition, greed, and narcissism. Anyone who claims that these things don't exist in science is either lying or willfully ignorant. Mark C. Serreze, Science, 23 Mar 2018
Nano-Review of "The Story of Earth" by Hazen | from James Powers | 04 Sep 2018
Hi Brig, I just finished Hazen's book. My nano-review:
I liked the beginning few chapters and I liked the last couple of chapters. I have issues with what is between. It is a well written, informative, entertaining book that represents the mainstream state of the science. I appreciate that there are no footnotes or references. However, I have issues with his interpretation of the facts and his assumptions. He is a rock-ologist and I am a bug-ologist; we don't see eye to eye.
My issues require a longer analysis. There is new information for me to digest. I agree:
The Story of Earth by Robert Hazen, Penguin Books, 30 Jul 2013.
05 Sep 10:48AM I do need to explain my Stable Isotope objection. FYI – The moon, comets, chondrite meteors and the solar photosphere all have a dC13 ratio much higher than the Earth. I assume that the first atmosphere also had a ratio that reflects the solar system C12/C13 ratio. It is larger than the Peedee Bentonite Zero Standard. I haven't calculated yet, however I think with a couple of assumptions, I can estimate the amount of Carbon stored in the Earth's crust. Here is a slide from a previous PPt. Jim Powers | Napa, CA ....
Liquid Water Lake on Mars | from Richard Hoover | 25 Jul 2018
Astronomers are now making comments about it being too cold (except the water is liquid) and too salty (Except halophilic archaea growing in supersaturated brines) for life. These astronomers apparently have no knowledge of microbial life in Cryopegs or in Don Juan Pond of Antarctica.
We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars, the related story, posted 25 Jul 2018.
Contact-binary comets | from Dave Carlson | 24 May 2018
Dear Brig Klyce, I greatly admire your website. I particularly like the article, Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? I suspect the anomalously-old convergence date based on gene divergence is telegraphing something more profound than we yet realize.
I recently read, Cause of Cambrian Explosion -- Terrestrial or Cosmic?, which discusses the importance of radioactive melting of water ice in large minor planets >1000 km. I spy another 'aqueous differentiation' (melting of water ice) mechanism inadvertently revealed in a recent arXiv publication:
The Plutino population: An Abundance of contact binaries (2018) suggests that a sizable fraction of Plutinos, and by extension other minor planet populations, have experienced binary merger, which would catastrophically melt saltwater oceans in their cores, albeit briefly following binary merger. The Jupiter-family 'rubber ducky comet', 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is the poster child of contact binaries.
I've long suspected that the prevalence of contact-binaries in the asteroid and comet population, and now Plutinos, are evidence for minor planet formation by gravitational (streaming) instability, which tends to form similar-size, similar-color twin-binary pairs in wide binary orbits. Then wide binaries presumably evolve into contact binaries by way of sustained orbital perturbation, causing gentle binary spiral-in mergers, as over against orbital collisions, which cause craters and fragmentation.
contact binaries presumably by binary spiral-in mergers, by way of sustained orbital perturbation. In the case of Plutinos and KBO cubewanos, the relevant orbital perturbation presumably occurred during the late heavy bombardment.
Dave Carlson | Philadelphia
indisputable? | from John Lattanzio to Ted Steele et al. | 20 May 2018
Hi All -- to describe octopuses origins beyond the Earth as "indisputable" seems to be a bridge too far....!
I would say its not impossible and may be plausible. But far from "indisputable"..... Am I missing something??
Again - as someone new to the field - claiming beyond what can be truly defended to a skeptic does not do any good. If ne claim is seen as rubbish then people don;t listen to the rest. That is bad...
The fault is theirs! But humans are humans....we have to work with them :-)
JL | Professor John Lattanzio | School of Physics and Astronomy | Monash University | Victoria 3800 AUSTRALIA
20 May 2018 | 3:44 AM | from Ted Steele
1. The Murchison meteorite (landed in Murchison, Victoria in 1969 and was immediately recovered, and curated in the city museum in Melbourne). It has eukaryotic fossils, at > 4.5 billion years old - older than the Solar System. EM Scans of internal sliced structures independently assessed by highly reputable workers show distinct biological cells and microfossils (some look like fruiting bodies typical of slime molds). A critic must now give an explanation that avoids Panspermia for that finding. There are other carbonaceous meteorites with microfossils examined the same way. Contamination has been ruled out (Pflug and Heinz 1997, Hoover 2005, 2011, Miyake et al 2010). Thus eukayotic life is external to the Earth and at least >4.5 Billion years old.
2. The infra red extinction spectrum for interstellar cosmic dust in our Milky Way galaxy has the same signature as freeze dried E. coli (a common complex living cell). All our knowledge of the Universe, delivered by the scientific discipline of "Astronomy" has been built this way - get the spectrum (emission, absorption) in the laboratory on Earth- then focus the telescope on a cosmic source/object and ask - What is the spectrum or signature? Does it match that found in the Earth-based laboratory? All our chemical and physical knowledge of the Sun, other planets, comets, other stars etc. has been built up this way. Newton built his grand synthesis that way. As did Galileo and Kepler. Hoyle and Wickramasignhe predicted the match before they secured the astronomical observations (with Chandra's brother Dayal Wickramasinghe and DA Allen at the ANU in Canberra):
The same match is seen in cometary ejecta tails (Halleys). We cover all this in the review (see Fig 1 and associated text, Hoyle et al 1982, 1984, Wickramsinghe DT and Allen 1986). Again, a critic must provide a better explanation that avoids Panspermia, that is , better than that published by Hoyle, Wickramasinghe et al. In 40 years no astronomer or physicist has provided a better explanation, but many astronomers have observed the match. It is an exact match - you cannot get better than that in Science.
I got involved with Chandra and his colleagues because I knew that anyone calling themselves a "Scientist" and looking at the "extraordinary data" with a purely cool objective eye would draw the same conclusions as me. As a biologist am deeply immersed in RNA and DNA editing mechanisms, the Octopus RNA editing data reported last year ( I was at the GRC meeting and know the group) now place the Octopus in the class of "extraordinary genetic data"- so while some may want to pull their punches, I certainly won't. Now is not the time to be timid, as we have not published a timid paper. The prescience of the Russian space scientists detecting bacteria ( their DNA sequences) in the cosmic dust on the external surface of the ISS is another class of "extraordinary data" ( as is the Tardigrades).
Cause of Cambrian Explosion - Terrestrial or Cosmic?, links to the subject paper, posted 21 Mar 2018.
from Lattziano | 8:59 PM: Its a scientific discussion. Not a war. JL
from Dayal Wickramasinghe | 21 May: ...Here is how I see it (others may have different ideas).
It is possible to find non biological explanations for almost all aspects of astronomical data relating to interstellar dust when looked at in isolation. This is manly because we only have remote spectroscopic /extinction observations to play with. We have acknowledged this in our paper.
The question then is are the non-biological interpretations more plausible? We have discussed some of these and their short comings in our paper. In assessing the relevance of the biological interpretation we have to draw on the many arguments put forward by HW over the decades. The "recent" discovery of large numbers of "Earth type" planets in habitable zones makes the Copernican argument very strong.
The question then boils down to how much of the stuff out there COULD be of biological origin. If we bring in the detritus of biology into the picture (and the missing dust issue) plausibly a good proportion of it. It is hard to tell. Then comes the million dollar question - what is the source of this material assuming it exists? In our paper we discuss Proto-planetary systems with comets as the major sites of replication. The studies of comets, starting with Haley, have provided some support for this hypothesis.
We need a smoking gun. Could come from in situ cometary studies or of studies of dust falling on Earth. It may even come from studies of evolutionary biology on Earth as discussed in the Steele et al. paper. ...Cheers, Dayal
from Chandra Wickramasinghe | 21 May: I agree with Dayal. But I must add that if there is a competition between biology and non-biology in producing organics, then it is biology that always wins. This is our experience on the Earth. Furthermore, there is no evidence worth anything that supports the standard story, and Earth-origin of life is beginning to look crazy; the oldest evidence of microbial life has been pushed further and further back to almost the time when the Earth's crust was molten (Australian outcrop data, 4.2 billion years ago). And despite billions of dollars worth of effort no success in abiogenesis experiments in the laboratory. The other point is that even if life started miraculously on the Earth, it is inevitable that it is now spread from Earth throughout much of the galaxy. Episodes of impacts on the Earth splashing out biomaterial is well documented, and the solar system has come within shooting distance of very many exoplanets/protoplanets in the 240 million orbit around the galactic centre.
So my point is "life anywhere means the same life everywhere", and life must be a galactic/cosmic phenomenon with a deeply connected biosphere.
But of course we must all work within the constraints of the sociology of science. The "band wagon" has a momentum that takes much effort and persuasion to stop....
from Brig Klyce | 21 May: Dear John et al. – I apologize if this is intrusive, but, if life on Earth arrived by panspermia, the neighboring planets would have also been exposed. So there would be evidence of at least past life like ours on Mars, for example. For this I think there is a smoking gun, the fossil photographed on Mars by the Microscopic Imager camera of the Opportunity rover on 27 Feb 2004. The list of features, in my opinion, leaves no room for "reasonable doubt." (Segmenting, branching, triangular crotch, cup or "crown" structure enclosing something granular, similar sizes, and – newly noticed, to me at least – a calyx and remnant stalk.) John, if you are not aware, please take time to look. Croppings, text and original photo posted or linked at http://www.panspermia.org/whatsnew83.htm#20151028, recently updated.
That said, I agree, the gentler tone will not weaken the case. Thanks, all.
first civilization | from George Nickas | 20 Apr 2018
Brig, the question posted on Panspermia about another civilization on Earth pre-dating our own is interesting but a better question is how many civilizations have there been in the universe, which pre-date our own. The sheer statistics of it I believe suggest that humans are likely very much a johnny-come-lately in the vast arena of the cosmos. Here is one such answer to the question supporting that view.
There Have Probably Been Billions of Alien Civilizations by Rob Quinn, Newser.com, 07 May 2016.
What signature would our civilization leave?, the related posting of 16 Apr 2018.
Origins of Life | from Zach Burton | 24 Mar 2018
Hi Brig, ...It was great to meet you in Galveston. That was a great meeting.
I've written a book on ancient evolution of life that might be of interest to you....
Best regards, Zach Burton | Professor | MSU Evolution Since Coding (2-page book-promotion PDF)