COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved

What'sNEW Archives, October-December 2002

Tierra December 31: No evolutionary progress in a closed system! That's the lesson we observe in a new report by biologists using Tierra, a renowned computer model, to study evolution.

Gabriel Yedid and Graham Bell begin by redefining micro- and macroevolution: "In the short term, natural selection merely sorts the variation already present in a population, whereas in the longer term genotypes quite different from any that were initially present evolve through the cumulation of new mutations." They are more interested in the latter kind of evolution, and the speed of computers allows them to explore it. They want to know if "replaying the tape of life" would lead to the same outcome every time. They decide that it would not, because lineages in Tierra differ — over time the graphs diverge.

We too are more interested in the latter kind, because we want to know if sustainable macroevolutionary progress is possible in a closed system such as Tierra. To make macroevolutionary progress, the genome must acquire meaningful new programs and thus grow larger. A lineage undergoing such progress would produce a graph that slants upward over time. But all of the genomes in Tierra become smaller over time — every graph slants downward.

If darwinian evolution can produce sustainable macroevolutionary progress, closed-system experiments in biology or computer models should be able to demonstrate that capability. So far they don't.

Gabriel Yedid and Graham Bell, "Macroevolution simulated with autonomously replicating computer programs" [abstract], p 810-812 v 420 Nature, 19/26 Dec 2002.
Philip Gerrish, "Evolution plays dice" (commentary), p 756-757 v 420 Nature, 19/26 Dec 2002.
Evolutionary Optimization, a page from Tom Ray's Tierra website, 3 Aug 1995.
Computer Models of Evolution and the four "Next" pages after it are related CA webpages.
Testing Darwinism versus Cosmic Ancestry is a related CA webpage.
Thomas Ray, the author of Tierra, comments, 4 Jan 2003.


Life's Origin December 24: Life's Origin, edited by UCLA's J. William Schopf, describes the very latest mainstream views on this subject in six new essays by eight renowned scientists. The meta-message is that the science is progressing very rapidly now and breakthroughs are likely to answer the remaining questions at a steady pace. Panspermia is briefly mentioned in three of the essays, but in every case "it simply relegates [the origin of life] to an undefined setting in some unknown place at some indeterminate time elsewhere in the cosmos" (John Orò, p 14). The glossary mistakenly defines "panspermia" as Arrhenius's radio-panspermia, although other kinds of panspermia are described in the text. But none of the contributors ever doubts that life can originate from nonbiological matter by natural means, and the strongest version of panspermia is completely ignored.

The most realistic essay, in our opinion, is "The Origin of Biological Information," by The Salk Institute's Leslie E. Orgel (although the essay is actually about the origin of the molecular chemistry that carries the information). Orgel believes that the RNA World may have been preceeded by simpler pre-biotic chemistry. "However, if there were two or more 'worlds' before the RNA World, the original chemistry might have left no trace in contemporary biochemistry. In that case, the chemistry of the origins of life is unlikely to be discovered without investigating all the chemistry that might have occurred on the primitive Earth, whether or not that chemistry has any relation to biochemistry. At present we can only speculate" (p 152-153).

The historical information in the book is quite interesting, but the "plausible scenarios" in it are as tenuous as ever, and the gaps between them are as large as ever. Therefore we think the book's meta-message is false. To us, Orgel's comment about one scenario he doesn't like applies to the entire origin-of-life subject: that the needed steps can be realistically strung together "is in desperate need of experimental support." [Thanks, Stan Franklin, for pointing us to this book.]

Life's Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution, J. William Schopf, ed., University of California Press, 2002.
Panspermia Asks New Questions is a related CA webpage.
The RNA World is a related CA webpage.


December 20: Radioactivity and water will support bacteria. Newly discovered species of bacteria have been found under these conditions 3.5 kilometers underground in South African goldmines. The same conditions exist on other planets, like Mars, so they could harbor the same kind of life. Microbiologist Tullis Onstott, of Princeton University, announced the finding at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, last week. [Thanks, Jerry Chancellor.]
...Radioactive bacteria live deep in the Earth - and maybe elsewhere, by Tom Clarke, Nature News Service, 9 Dec 2002.
Bacteria... is a related CA webpage.


FEMS December 17: Germs recovered in the high atmosphere have been cultured. The samples were recovered by specially-designed equipment aboard a balloon at altitudes up to 41 km. "Two bacteria (Bacillus simplex and Staphylococcus pasteuri) and a single fungus, Engyodontium album (Limber) de Hoog were isolated from the samples." The report is accepted for publication by the microbiology journal FEMS Letters and is posted on their website. [Thanks, Jerry Chancellor and Stan Franklin.]
M Wainwright et al., "Microorganisms cultured from stratospheric air samples obtained at 41 km," [
abstract], doi:10.1016/S0378-1097(02)01138-2, p 161-165 v 218 n 1, Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Letters, 2003.
Microorganism Isolated In Space, SpaceDaily, 18 Dec 2002.
Microbes from edge of space revived, by Jenny Hogan, NewScientist.com news service, 17 Dec 2002.
...New evidence supports theory of life beginning in space, by Steve Mitchell, UPI, 17 Dec 2002.
Microbes Rain Down from Space..., by Robert Roy Britt, Space.com, 17 Dec 2002.
Scientists find evidence of life in space, by Steve Mitchell, The Washington Times, 17 Dec 2002.
An Atmospheric Test of Cometary Panspermia announces and describes the balloon and sampling system.


The Economist December 13: The Economist explains bioinformatics. The latest issue explores the fast-growing relationship between biology and computers. The article emphasizes medical applications of new technology, but fundamentals and research methods are also described in some depth. [Thanks, George Stratton.]
"The race to computerise biology" [
link], The Economist, 12 Dec 2002.
What Is Life? is a related CA webpage.
Human Genome Search... is a related CA webpage.


December 11: Tasgish Lake meteorite has unfamiliar organic globules. The meteorite fell 18 January 2000, in Canada's Yukon Territory, where pieces of it were quickly found and stored in a manner that makes contamination unlikely. A team at Johnson Space Center publishes the new analysis in today's International Journal of Astrobiology. They note that the globules are similar to ones produced experimentally at Ames Research Center in the past few years. Might the organics be post-biotic instead of pre-biotic? As principal researcher Mike Zolensky says, "It's interesting to speculate...."
NASA
Researchers Find Possible Precursors to Early Life on Earth in Meteorite, Release: #J02-122, Johnson Space Center, NASA, 11 Dec 2002.
Tagish Lake — A Meteorite from the Far Reaches of the Asteroid Belt, Planetary Science Research Discoveries, 12 Dec 2002.
Comets... is the related CA webpage. Search for "Tagish."


Marvel December 9: Mars Updates — NASA announced that Marvel is one of four finalists in competition for the first Mars Scout Mission for the 2007 launch opportunity. Marvel stands for Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout. "By the end of this decade, Marvel could either detect and localize any existing life and active volcanism on Mars or put extremely stringent limits on their existence," said Marvel team leader Mark Allen, atmospheric chemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The other three Mars Scout mission concepts selected are: Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars, the Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey, and Phoenix. Final selection will be made by late next summer. A number of other recent Mars developments may also be of interest: [Thanks Ron Baalke, Larry Klaes, Sciquest and Marsbugs.]

NASA Twins Plan Martian Ramble, NASA, 9 Dec 2002.
Ice packs red planet, by Tom Clarke, Nature News Service, 10 Dec 2002.
Robots to scrutinise Mars' rocks, by Tom Clarke, Nature News Service, 10 Dec 2002.
Candidate Mission Would Scan Mars Atmosphere for Signs of Life, JPL, NASA, 6 Dec 2002.
NASA selects four Mars Scout mission concepts for study, NASA, 6 Dec 2002.
Dark Streaks on Martian Slopes May Signal Active Water, by Agnieszka Baier, The University of Arizona, 9 Dec 2002.
Exposed Water Ice Discovered Near the South Pole of Mars, U.S. Geological Survey, 5 Dec 2002.
New CU-NASA Research Belies Previous Idea that Mars Was Once Warm, Wet Planet, University of Colorado at Boulder, 3 Dec 2002.
James N. Head et al., "Martian Meteorite Launch: High-Speed Ejecta from Small Craters" [abstract], p 1752-1756 v 298 Science, 29 Nov 2002.
...Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.


John MacDonald November 28: Chimps to humans by viral infection? Evidence that viruses played a big role in the evolutionary step from chimps to humans was announced in June. Since then the mechanism has gained wide notice. In November, Discover published a followup story, and the University of Georgia's The Red & Black published an interview with the principal researcher, John MacDonald. [Thanks Stan Franklin.]

Did Viruses Make Us Human?, by Kathy A. Svitil, Discover, Nov 2002.
DNA reveals human-chimp split, by Blaine Ney, The Red & Black, 26 Nov 2002.
2002, 1 August: "Evolutionary advance...," CA's first notice of the research.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]
2002, 27 August: "Red and Black article" — email from Klyce to MacDonald requesting clarification.


November 25: Bacteria could survive interplanetary travel, says Gerda Horneck, of DLR German Aerospace Center in Köln.
Surviving the Final Frontier, by Stephen Hart, Astrobiology Magazine, 25 Nov 2002.
Bacteria... is a related CA webpage.


photosynthesis November 24: Photosynthesis evolved by gene transfer. This is the essential conclusion of a recent whole-genome comparison that sought to ascertain how photosynthesis came into being. The thesis sentence of that study, published in Science, reads, "On the basis of genomic comparisons presented here, we propose that horizontal gene flow has played a major role in the evolution of bacterial phototrophs and that many of the essential components of photosynthesis have been among these horizontally transferred genes." ASU's press release says, "The analysis revealed clear evidence that photosynthesis did not evolve through a linear path of steady change and growing complexity but through a merging of evolutionary lines that brought together independently evolving chemical systems — the swapping of blocks of genetic material among bacterial species known as horizontal gene transfer."

This result further supports the evolutionary mechanism that we promote. For a discussion of the reasoning behind our claim, please see our newly added webpage, "Testing Darwinism versus Cosmic Ancestry."

Jason Raymond et al., "Whole-Genome Analysis of Photosynthetic Prokaryotes" [abstract], p 1616-1620 v 298 Science, 22 Nov 2002.
Elizabeth Pennisi, "Bacteria Shared Photosynthesis Genes" [summary], p 1538-1539 v 298 Science, 22 Nov 2002.
Photosynthesis Analysis Shows Work of Ancient Genetic Engineering, Arizona State University, 21 Nov 2002.
Stitching Together Green Genes, Astrobiology Magazine online, 27 Nov 2002.
Two World-Altering Chemical Processes..., SpaceDaily, 17 Feb 2003 — "A critical part of the emerging evolutionary picture seems to be 'horizontal gene transfer' — genetic change that occurs by the exchange of genetic material between bacteria. This process allows for sudden evolutionary leaps that are perhaps not possible through gradual genetic change and natural selection."
Testing Darwinism versus Cosmic Ancestry is the new CA webpage that discusses these and other similar results.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]
New genetic programs... is a related CA webpage.


November 7: "The universe is full of microbes." This point is the only one on which Peter Ward and Charles Marshall agreed in their recent debate hosted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Ward, coauthor of Rare Earth, thinks intelligent life is quite rare in the universe, while Marshall, a Harvard paleontologist, says it's not rare. [Thanks, Larry Klaes.] Boston Globe
Jascha Hoffman, "...Scientists debate the existence of intelligent life beyond Cambridge" [
first paragraph], p D1, Boston Globe, 3 Nov 2002.
Bacteria... is a related CA webpage.


Annefrank seen by Stardust November 4: CIDA is not miscalibrated, according to Dr. Jochen Kissel of Max Planck Institute, Garching. In April, 2000, his team reported the detection of large organic molecules by the Cometary Impact Dust Analyzer aboard the Stardust mission. NASA subsequently expressed doubt about the result, saying the instrument might have given a false reading. We wondered if Stardust's recent flyby of asteroid Annefrank (pictured) had offered an opportunity to test CIDA's calibration, so we emailed Kissel and NASA to ask. No, CIDA collected no particles during the flyby of Annefrank. But Kissel defends the startling results of April, 2000, in his email, linked below.

CIDA miscalibrated? — the email exchange with Kissel, 4 Nov 2002.
The Physical and Chemical Properties of Interstellar Dust...CA's webpage with Kissel's English translation of his team's German article announcing CIDA's detection of large organic molecules in interstellar particles, May 2000.
STARDUST Successfully Images Asteroid Annefrank During Dress Rehearsal, JPL, NASA, 4 Nov 2002.


November 4: Bacteria can survive high-speed impacts, according to Mark Burchell from the University of Kent at Canterbury, England. He is one of several researchers performing experiments that turn bacteria into microscopic crash test dummies. [Thanks, Michael Paine, Jim Galasyn and Larry Klaes.]
Bacterial Blasting Across Space, by Morris Jones, SpaceDaily, 4 Nov 2002.
Scientists hurl rocks to study space bacteria, by Sue Vorenberg, The Daily Camera, 25 Nov 2002.
Bacteria... is a related CA webpage.
Comets... is a related CA webpage.


Geological Society of America November 2: Cyanobacteria may not be as old as we thought. A team led by Carrine Blank of Washington University has recently analyzed 38 genes from 53 species of extant bacteria, including cyanobacteria. "By mapping out the rates of change in the slowest-changing genes, Blank was able to generate a bacterial evolutionary history that shows cyanobacteria branching off last." Until now, we thought that cyanobacteria first appeared as early as 3.5 billion years ago, when they began to release free oxygen into the biosphere. According to the new analysis, cyanobacteria first appeared 2.3 billion years ago, in which case the source for the oxygen that produced the banded iron formations would have to be some other organism or process. The report was presented in Denver on 29 October, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. [Thanks, Stan Franklin and SciQuest.]

All such reconstructions using comparative genomics depend on some uncertain assumptions: 1) molecular clocks are reliable, and 2) the ancient species was genetically similar to the modern species. Furthermore, bacterial phylogenies can be scrambled by horizontal transfer. The interesting question to us is, Where did the genetic programs for photosynthesis come from? Blank's analysis is not aimed at this question. We suspect the programs were installed by horizontal transfer in a genetically open system.

Evolution Upset: Oxygen-Making Microbes Came Last, Not First, GSA Release 02-44, The Geological Society of America, 25 Oct 2002.
Gaia is a related CA webpage.


book cover November 1: The Emergence of Life on Earth, by Iris Fry — If you are a non-scientists who wants an overview of origin-of-life research, this book is for you. Fry's reporting is thorough and wide-ranging, including, for example, Immanuel Kant's views on the subject. "The very possibility of the emergence of life from inorganic matter seemed absurd to Kant" (p 182).

Our main objection is that she is tightly bound by the gridlock of darwinism versus creationism throughout the book. For example, she writes, "The various hypotheses currently advanced advanced by origin-of-life researchers... do not yet seem to suggest a convincing solution to the problem of the emergence of life. But no origin-of-life scientist considers that a reason to forsake the naturalistic worldview for the creation one " (p 8). Why is that the alternative? In conclusion she writes, "No single scenario has so far led to a reproduction in the laboratory of a possible synthesis of a living system. Researchers, however, do not regard this state of affairs as cause to abandon the scientific ship" (p 216). Nor as cause to re-examine any of their assumptions, apparently. She mentions Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, usually citing their most controversial passages. But panspermia, to her, is merely a variant of creationism.

Ranging into philosophy, she distinguishes methodological naturalism from ontological or metaphysical naturalism. But she never doubts the assumption — shared by darwinists and creationists — that life must have originated from nonliving matter in the finite past. She seems unaware that the assumption is, (as she disapprovingly quotes Bradley and Thaxton) "no more than 'a philosophical commitment quite apart from experience'" (p 204). [Thanks, Stan Franklin.]

Iris Fry, The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview, ISBN 0-8135-2740-6, 256 pages, 8 b+w illus., $24.00, Rutgers University Press, 2000 [publisher's promo].
Evolution vs Creationism is a related CA webpage.
David Darling replies, 4 Nov 2002.


conference logo October 31: Biastronomy 2002: Life Among the Stars, a symposium hosted by the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, was held 8-12 July, on Hamilton Island, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Seventy speakers and over two hundred participants discussed "space chemistry, the formation of planets, planetary atmospheres and surfaces, the search for planets around other stars, origins of life on Earth, the search for primitive life elsewhere in the solar system, obstacles to the evolution of intelligent life; and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)," reports Michael Paine in Sky and Space.
Bioastronomy 2002: Life Among the Stars, conference homepage.
Life Among the Stars, by Michael Paine, Sky and Space, Oct/Nov 2002; hosted on the Internet by CC-Net. (Search the linked page for the string, "From Sky and Space".)


Ruddy Freckles on Europa October 30: Europa acts like a planetary lava lamp, potentially transporting organisms up toward the surface, according to Dr. Robert Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The accompanying image, combined from two photos taken by the Galilleo mission, shows numerous hummocks and pits, each about 10 kilometers (6 miles) across. Episodic surges of warm water from deep under the ice produce these, says Pappalardo. To us the red pits look like erupted versions of the white hummocks. If so, the red pigmentation could be evidence of single-celled life similar to Chlamydomonas, transported to the surface or activated there by the erupting water. Pappalardo's report and other recent ones about Europa have been presented during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, 27-30 Oct, in Denver, CO. [Thanks, Ron Baalke.]
Red Freckles on Europa Suggest 'Lava Lamp' Action, JPL, NASA, 30 Oct 2002.
Europa's Freckles, Astronomy Picture of the Day, 1 Nov 2002.
...Life on Europa or Other Moons?, a CA webpage, lists "What'sNEW" on this subject.


The Guardian October 30: Paul Davies thinks life came from Mars. [Thanks, Larry Klaes.]
It's true, men really are from Mars, by Paul Davies, The Guardian, 29 Oct 2002.
...Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.


Thin ice on Europa October 27: The ice on Europa may be 20 kilometers (13 miles) thick, according to a team led by Robert Pappalardo at the University of Colorado, Boulder. If so, "Motions of glacial ice may transport ocean material, and any life it might contain, to the surface." Knowing the thickness of the ice would help NASA design future missions to look for life there. [Thanks, Newshub and Larry Klaes.]
Colorado U. space team studying ...potential life on ...Europa, EurekAlert! 25 Oct 2002. ("...13 miles....")
Life on Europa might be detectable, by Dan Whipple, UPI Science News, 30 Oct 2002. "Pappalardo said his model of Europa's geology suggests the ice covering is only about 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) thick." (We're confused.)

October 24: Ice only 10 kilometers (6 miles) thick would favor life on Europa, according to Richard Greenberg and his team at the University of Arizona. They believe Europa's icy shell is this thin because some of the terrain seen by Galileo resembles ice blocks that once drifted in open water; and where ice plates have collided, the resulting tectonic uplift or horizontal compression seems weak, as if the ice were thin. The team believes that sunlight and flowing water might enable life such as seaweed and jellyfish to survive in cracks in the ice.
Thin ice opens lead for life on Europa, by David L Chandler, New Scientist Online, 20 Oct 2002.
...Life on Europa or Other Moons?, a CA webpage, lists "What'sNEW" on this subject.


October 3: The chance for life in ice-covered oceans on distant moons is reconsidered. New calculations by Christopher England of NASA JPL indicate that liquid water and an energy source, the essentials for life, may be available on more moons in the solar system than we thought previously. And earlier, geologist A. D. Fortes of University College London explores "the possibility that all of Titan's current atmospheric methane and free nitrogen is of biogenic origin." Wow. [Thanks, Jim McGee and Larry Klaes.]
Life may swim within distant moons, by David Whitehouse, BBC News Online, 1 Oct 2002.
Exobiological Implications of a Possible Ammonia-Water Ocean Inside Titan, by A. D. Fortes, University College London, 1999.
...Life on Europa or Other Moons?, a CA webpage, lists "What'sNEW" on this subject.

COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved