Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not as cool as it sounds

So recently I ran across a story that suggests that all life on earth may be the result of a prehistoric zombie plague. No, really, that's pretty much exactly what's being suggested:

Life on Earth could have grown from the broken remains of alien viruses that, although dead, still contained enough information to give rise to new life.

Scientists have speculated that life could have come to Earth from space — a notion called panspermia — since the 1870s, when Lord Kelvin suggested microbes could have ridden here on a comet or meteor. Others have suggested tiny organisms could cross the galaxy embedded in dust grains, which could be nudged from one planetary system to another by the slight pressure of stars’ radiation.

However, most astrobiologists think that same radiation spells a death sentence for delicate microbes.

“That essentially kills panspermia in the classical sense,” said astrobiologist Rocco Mancinelli of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

But maybe not, says astronomer Paul Wesson, a visiting researcher at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada. In an upcoming paper in Space Science Reviews, Wesson argues that even if the actual microbes are dead on arrival, the information they carry could allow life to rise from the charred remains, an idea he calls necropanspermia.

First off, definite props for the term "necropanspermia." There's nothing like suggesting that life on earth is the result of an interstellar undead plague to get the research dollars rolling in. Second, I do find this suggestion very interesting- I mean, when we're talking about very simple forms of life, like self-replicating molecules, even fragments of more advanced forms might serve as useful templates. In effect, life didn't arrive from space, but the basic mechanics of life did- the method without the content, if you will. If nothing else, this is an interesting variation on a theme.

The painful part, however, comes later when we meander agonizingly into the area of intelligent design:

The key lies in how much genetic information survives the trip, Wesson says. An organism’s genetic information is encoded in the sequence of nucleotides in their DNA. This information can be measured in bits in the same way as computer processes. Bacteria like E. coli, for example, carry about 6 million bits of information in their DNA.

Random chemical processes couldn’t produce enough information to run even a simple cell. Over 500 million years, random molecular shuffling would produce only 194 bits of information, Wesson says.

One possible way around this paradox is the idea that life on Earth was seeded by biological molecules that already had a large information content that survived the journey even though the molecules themselves were killed.

And, unfortunately, this is very much akin to the sort of absurd arguments that Wild Bill Dembski likes to advance- life is too improbable, therefore it can't have arisen naturally. Now, what I suspect is that Wesson is simply arguing by analogy that random chemical processes are unlikely to give rise to enough DNA to run an extant cell, but it sounds like he's saying that natural evolution is impossible. And not only is that incorrect, but it's going to give the quote miners hard-ons like you wouldn't believe. So, for the record, panspermia is neat, but intelligent design is stupid.

As for me, I just kinda want to cry, since one of my favorite things (i.e. zombies) has officially been stapled to one of my most detested (i.e. stupid theologically-motivated pseudoscience).

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Blogger Fanatic-Templar said...

Doesn't this only push back the problem? Even if he suggests that life [i]here[/i] developed from alien seeding, that same alien origin had to develop on its own originally. Or have been seeded from some other alien life that had developped on its own. Or so on. There's got to be an origin at some point.

So why does he think it more likely that this origin was somewhere else rather than here?

Friday, November 12, 2010 11:20:00 AM  

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