'Necropanspermia' suggested as a way of seeding life on Earth

Nov 12, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
The 'Great Comet' of 1996, Hyakutake. Image credit: NASA

(PhysOrg.com) -- Panspermia is a mechanism for spreading organic material throughout the galaxy, but the destructive effects of cosmic rays and ultraviolet light tend to mean most organisms would be destroyed or arrive on a new world broken and dead. Now Paul S. Wesson, a visiting researcher at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada, suggests the information contained within damaged organic material could seed new life. He terms this process necropanspermia.

Many possible forms of panspermia have been proposed in the past, beginning in 1871 when Lord Kelvin suggested life could be transported within comets or meteors. With all of the proposals a major problem is that and kill or inactivate and break the chemical bonds binding molecules such as DNA and RNA together. Microorganisms eventually become inactivated or killed even if shielded within rock such as a comet, meteor or grains of space dust, and while they may possibly survive a journey within the solar system, they would be extremely unlikely to survive a lengthy trip from outside the solar system.

Calculations by other researchers have suggested it is not possible for random chemical interactions to produce the found on Earth, since over a period of 500 million years the random in a primordial "soup" of would only produce 194 "bits" of information, which is far short of the estimated 120,000 bits in a typical virus.

Wesson speculates there are two ways to explain life originating on Earth. One is that the chemical interactions were not random but governed by "some directed molecular process," and the other is that life on Earth was seeded by organic material that had already developed genetic content elsewhere. Since the processes of panspermia are so destructive, Wesson says the most likely form the organic material would take is dead or inactivated virus-like material carried in grains of space dust.

Wesson says the dead material could be resurrected if the environment of the new world is hospitable, and he points out that some micro-organisms "possess remarkably effective enzyme systems that can repair a multitude of strand breaks." His paper is unclear, however, on the mechanism by which dead bits of genetic material could be resurrected.

According to Wesson the necropanspermia theory could be tested by means such as searching for in the outer solar system, and by laboratory experiments to determine "if genetic 'rubble' can reconstitute itself to form viable replicating molecules."

Explore further: Image: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

More information: Panspermia, Past and Present: Astrophysical and Biophysical Conditions for the Dissemination of Life in Space, by Paul S. Wesson, Space Science Reviews, DOI:10.1007/s11214-010-9671-x

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User comments : 47

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DamienS
4.4 / 5 (19) Nov 12, 2010
Wesson speculates there are two ways to explain life originating on Earth. One is that the chemical interactions were not random but governed by "some directed molecular process"

Yeah, the "some directed molecular process" is called the laws of physics.
furlong64
4.6 / 5 (10) Nov 12, 2010
Yeah, this is a dumb article. Wesson must have missed first-year chemistry in college. These processes are far from random.
Squirrel
4.4 / 5 (19) Nov 12, 2010
Necropanspermia requires an original event of creation somewhere that does not come from elsewhere to start the process off--even if it the seeds of life can the spread cosmically. But if life originates without necropanspermia on one occasion it could occur on others also without it as well--including here on Earth.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.6 / 5 (10) Nov 12, 2010
Necropanspermia requires an original event of creation somewhere that does not come from elsewhere to start the process off--even if it the seeds of life can the spread cosmically. But if life originates without necropanspermia on one occasion it could occur on others also without it as well--including here on Earth.

Misclicked the rank, sorry about that. I agree, you'd need to have an instance of abiogenesis somewhere in order to get to necropanspermia.

Most probable happenstance is abiogenesis.
bkeen2010
not rated yet Nov 12, 2010
Organic Life has been distributed already. As long as the components are there. As far as new ways to distribute that requires new research.
BKeen2010
Webmaster
axemaster
5 / 5 (5) Nov 12, 2010
BKeen2010, Lord Webmaster, your comment makes no sense.

And yeah, I agree that this article seems kinda dumb. Seems like either way you need organic material to create life. Panspermia of course brings up the issue "if not here, then where" since the life had to start somewhere... which brings us back to square one.
VK1
1.4 / 5 (22) Nov 12, 2010
This is one sick study. If you really want to get down to the gritty we are all compiled dead organic matter. Amino acids are recycled, we eat other living things. Our bodies are made of the same atoms molecules and compounds (ie amino's) that were present during early earth.

The configuration of the amino's is the result of environment, meaning, any compounds that seed the planet after the organisms that impact the earth disintegrate will reintegrate to the configuration suited to the environment (ie earth).

When you eat steak you don't turn into a cow, your body breaks down the proteins into constituents and from there they are reassembled into a usable configuration.

Life is environment specific. When the environment changes life evolves. Evolution can be a long process but it can also be almost instantaneous, it is dependent on outer stimuli, and, inner needs.
Husky
4.8 / 5 (4) Nov 12, 2010
what he suggests is that our primordial soup probably couldn't cook up the recipy for life, but if you add some E.T "damaged seeds" to the soup it becomes tasty enough for life, wich begs the question why E.T primorsial soup could have cooked up life while not on earth, surely there is not that much difference in physics or am i missing something that he fails to point out? I do believe that the late heavy bombardment with meteorites might be a contributing factor of ingredients but to call it the silver bullet without a smoking gun barrel is ambitious to say at least
mabirch
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
"Calculations by other researchers have suggested it is not possible for random chemical interactions to produce the genetic information found on Earth, since over a period of 500 million years the random chemical reactions in a primordial "soup" of amino acids would only produce 194 "bits" of information, which is far short of the estimated 120,000 bits in a typical virus."

Is this saying that the physics and chemistry known to apply to the issue of abiogenesis isn't shown to produce the 'information' necessary for abiogenesis to occur on earth?
dtxx
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 12, 2010
Life is environment specific. When the environment changes life evolves. Evolution can be a long process but it can also be almost instantaneous, it is dependent on outer stimuli, and, inner needs.


I'm sorry zephir, are you suggesting lamarckian evolution there?
VK1
1.2 / 5 (19) Nov 12, 2010
@dtxx,

No.
Au-Pu
1.3 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
Forms of living organisms will have formed everywhere the conditions were suitable and by suitable I do not mean Earthlike. Life can and does arise in all manner of environments.
We need only look at our deep ocean ridges and view the teeming life forms there. That environment is hostile to all other life forms we are accustomed to, especially our oxygen dependent types and others like us who can only tolerate such a narrow temperature band. By our narrow standards they are alien life forms.
Perhaps some should read a book by Prof. Fred Hoyle and Wrickramasingh (I think thats the spelling) on their proposed explanation of pandemics.
tkjtkj
5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2010
Calculations by other researchers have suggested it is not possible for random chemical interactions to produce the genetic information found on Earth, since over a period of 500 million years the random chemical reactions in a primordial "soup" of amino acids would only produce 194 "bits" of information, which is far short of the estimated 120,000 bits in a typical virus.


I must inject here a lil factoid .. Those of you who have heard my previous rants on PhysOrg can skip of this one ..
We must be careful not to imply that viruses are alive. A virus is not a 'free-swimming DNA/RNA strand' but,rather, is protein-encased. This means that virus information can be seen as 'primordial emails', serving as data carriers to communicate genetic qualities among those truly-alive creatures who can accept the information. It had to be living cells that made this process more efficient by being the machinery increasing the efficiency of this form of communication.
DamienS
5 / 5 (6) Nov 12, 2010
For those interested in the origins of life, here's an excellent source:
http://www.americ...-of-life
In this article we present a view gaining attention in the origin-of-life community that takes the question out of the hatchery and places it squarely in the realm of accessible, plausible chemistry. As we see it, the early steps on the way to life are an inevitable, incremental result of the operation of the laws of chemistry and physics operating under the conditions that existed on the early Earth, a result that can be understood in terms of known (or at least knowable) laws of nature. As such, the early stages in the emergence of life are no more surprising, no more accidental, than water flowing downhill.
dtxx
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 12, 2010
@dtxx,

No.


Please explain your "inner needs" comment in a non-Lamarckian context then.
Grizzled
3.7 / 5 (7) Nov 12, 2010
Necropanspermia requires an original event of creation somewhere ... But if life originates without necropanspermia on one occasion it could occur on others also without it as well--including here on Earth.

A couple of observations. One: given a few billion worlds to try it on, chances of success on at least one are obviously better. Yes, it could have been Earth but that makes the assumption that - Two: all the worlds are/were equal. This is presumably not so. It's quite possible that some worlds could have conditions much more favorable to the process.
DamienS
5 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
It's quite possible that some worlds could have conditions much more favorable to the process.

I don't know how much more favourable you can get, as life took hold on Earth pretty much as soon as the surface cooled enough (within a few hundred million years).
Grizzled
3.8 / 5 (4) Nov 12, 2010
Neither do I but it seems odd to imagine our planet just happened to be the best suited out of all the untold billions out there.
FainAvis
4.7 / 5 (7) Nov 12, 2010
So is the article trying to say life originated on another planet, the planet wept a trail of resurrectable organic material of superhomeopathetic dilution, and our lifeless planet, passed thorough that thin contrail in space, and provided some nice little niche environment to pamper the dead stuff to life?

Nah. Apply the rule of Ockham. Mother Earth did it for herself.
Decimatus
2.4 / 5 (5) Nov 13, 2010
Neither do I but it seems odd to imagine our planet just happened to be the best suited out of all the untold billions out there.


Nothing really points to that being the case.

The odd thing you should think about is, why am I viewing the world through these eyes and not someone else's eyes?

What ties my sentience to this body and not his/hers?

Why am I lookling up at a blue sky instead of purple/green/yellow/infared?

Maybe there is no reason, maybe your consciousness is a illusion you are fooled into believing.

Or there could be some level of existence that we continue on in after our body dies.

If it is just a billion billion planets with countless sentient beings going about a brief, and final, chemical/electrical existence, we honestly live in a very strange universe indeed.
Ethelred
not rated yet Nov 13, 2010
Perhaps some should read a book by Prof. Fred Hoyle and Wrickramasingh (I think thats the spelling) on their proposed explanation of pandemics.


Well Paul Wesson DID go to Cambridge. Where they both worked.

Ethelred
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2010
Neither do I but it seems odd to imagine our planet just happened to be the best suited out of all the untold billions out there.

If you won the lottery, would you think it was odd or would you simply be happy that you won the lottery?
frajo
3.5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2010
It's quite possible that some worlds could have conditions much more favorable to the process.

I don't know how much more favourable you can get, as life took hold on Earth pretty much as soon as the surface cooled enough (within a few hundred million years).
We know of new islands created by volcanic events. As soon as their surface temperature cooles enough life takes hold there. But it comes from the old, pre-existing environment.
Something similar happens when new black smokers are formed. The life suddenly seething there comes from the pre-existing environment.
frajo
4.5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2010
Neither do I but it seems odd to imagine our planet just happened to be the best suited out of all the untold billions out there.
If you won the lottery, would you think it was odd or would you simply be happy that you won the lottery?
I did win the lottery and I immediately felt privileged by injustice.
js81pa
1 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2010
@dtxx,

No.


Please explain your "inner needs" comment in a non-Lamarckian context then.

Anyone that doesn't believe in Lamarckian evolution needs to research epigenetics. This is NOT the only explanation for evolution and survival of the fittest, natural selection etc. also play a significant part, however, I am a big believer in altering the brain through thought permanently affecting hormones that not only affect our psyche but affect other things. Testosterone, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, estrogen, cortisol can be affected by our thoughts and every day activities. If we can permanently wire our brains to release these chemicals in certain quantities and our genes are then changed, could we then carry these genes on to our offspring via epigenetics? Prove me wrong, this is my hypothesis that I'm sure someone else came up with already because our population is huge and I am not an "official scientist" to do the study.
js81pa
1 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2010
If time travel is possible, I would argue that the genetic code could travel to another planet and seed it either back in time or two planets could somehow swap data going back in time either using comets or blackholes/wormholes and this could explain how it is possible. If multiverses exist could we possibly be receiving data from these other universes that have different laws governing them? Could we one day design an intelligent, self aware computer that could create biological matter and seed another planet back in time such as our very earth or could another planet have accomplished this and seeded our planet back in time? Could a wireless computer system somehow use molecules, matter or some other substance to communicate with the entire universe and perform functions throughout but still in the laws governing the universe? Time travel would probably be needed to occur. So if TT is possible, any events "altered" would be merely the natural, predetermined series of events?
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (4) Nov 14, 2010
Anyone that doesn't believe in Lamarckian evolution needs to research epigenetics.
The two are not at all alike.

Epigenetics is environmental activation of extant genetic factors. Lamarckian evolution is physical alteration appearing in subsequent lines despite the genetic presence.

Lamarckian evolution would be if dog's tails got shorter over multiple generations in response to me cutting their tails off at birth. This is demonstrably false.

Epigenetics would be if your mother was well fed while you were developing in her womb, you would have the extant genetic expression for higher fertility come through when you become an adult. If she wasn't well fed, you would have a lower than genetically optimal reproductive propensity. Your genes aren't altered by the environment under epigenetics, they're simply expressed.
Cal_Sailor
not rated yet Nov 14, 2010
The author seems to assume that the material needed to kickstart life had to come from 'stardust' after the earth had already formed. What if the material existed within the planet's accretion disk? The blazing temperatures from reentry through an atmosphere are then not experienced and allows for more viable ingredients. Yes, the formation of the earth into a hot ball of magma would have killed much of it, but since the earth accreted over eons, there was probably a time when this stuff (extremophiles?) could have possibly been incubated within the 'proto-earth'.
I am aware that I am making assumptions based on current planet formation dogma. It's all just a thought I had while reading the article. However, the real question remains: Where did life come from?
VK1
1.2 / 5 (21) Nov 14, 2010
"Lamarckian evolution would be if dog's tails got shorter over multiple generations in response to me cutting their tails off at birth. This is demonstrably false."??

Did you read this after you wrote it?

Take the example back, The only "demonstrably false" thing here is your interpretation of Lamarckism.

Lamarck was wrong because he didn't recognize the blueprint that is the genetic line. However, he is right, the blueprint changes with need. If tree leaves are growing at a higher and higher height, giraffe neck's will get generationaly longer and longer to reach the food source. The DNA changes with time, that's evolution.

That is "need". The outer stimuli (environment) creates an inner reaction (evolution).
VK1
1.2 / 5 (21) Nov 14, 2010
Carcinogens are present in the environment, they are the environmental factor responsible for cancer. Industrialization has seen an increased incidence of mutations. Why? Industrialization is causing environmental changes, our bodies are looking for ways to cope with this change. Evolution is happening right now! It is failing at the moment, but, given enough time a configuration could be found that works, that encompasses these environmental factors (carcinogens) into our existence as a whole.

We are currently adapting to the environment we ourselves are creating.

Not all giraffe's can reach the food source, some die of starvation, the environment is not always conducive to an organisms survival. Organisms sometimes go extinct.

Will we be the cause of our extinction?
js81pa
not rated yet Nov 14, 2010
There are many things that baffle me about science. I have seen the tiniest of organisms being consumed by amoebas and panic as if they knew they were going to be consumed. Now, evolution would say the others all died off and those that panicked like that would be left, makes sense. But, how could the simplest form of life appear to be aware? Something as simple as bees can solve the traveling salesman scenario(takes computers days). Humans have extreme intelligence beyond comprehension (and we are far form intelligent) but looking at the fact this all came from a random series of events "that works" is interesting. The genetic code contained everything that allowed for this and the idea that it somehow future proofed itself (science doesn't work that way) to allow for increasingly more complicated creatures that became self-aware (love open individualism theory BTW)? Maybe quantum physics will prove Lemarckian theory at least to have some merit one day and I believe they will.
genastropsychicallst
1 / 5 (5) Nov 15, 2010
Nuclair magnon eclec axion nova annulus cultures virus vacuum n expansion bacterium core class generation nuclear period eclip ant T umbra squark arma graviton aurora apo magnetism, Albert.
genastropsychicallst
1 / 5 (5) Nov 15, 2010
Mean: '' Rays ? ''. Not even a real r !
Parsec
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
This article is total non-scientific nonsense.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2010
Lamarckian evolution would be if dog's tails got shorter over multiple generations in response to me cutting their tails off at birth. This is demonstrably false.
Did you read this after you wrote it?
Yep.
Take the example back, The only "demonstrably false" thing here is your interpretation of Lamarckism.
Sorry, no it isn't. Here's the textbook definition.
Lamarckism (or Lamarckian inheritance) is the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring (also known as heritability of acquired characteristics or soft inheritance).
Key phrase "Acquired during its lifetime."

Like physical changes appearing in the children of the organism due to the physical happenstance of the parent. Lose an arm in a forklift accident? Lamarck says there's a good chance that your children will have a smaller arm, and that is demonstrably false.

VK1
1.2 / 5 (21) Nov 15, 2010
@skeptic_heretic,

Why don't you your friend frajo and the rest of your league of mystical sleuths return to your hunt for that elusive westerly wind. You're so transparent your children will be glass.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2010
@skeptic_heretic,

Why don't you your friend frajo and the rest of your league of mystical sleuths return to your hunt for that elusive westerly wind. You're so transparent your children will be glass.

Don't be mad because I'm correct. If you were correct, I wouldn't be mad. I'd be happy I was able to learn something new.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2010
"I don't know how much more favourable you can get"

A cooler star with a longer life span could be more favorable, or maybe even an older version of Earth. Or, assuming that our solar system is a second generation system, having more heavy elements than a first generation system, it could follow that a third or fourth generation system could have an even greater abundance of heavier elements. Another example of a better home for life may be a system where inner rocky planets are better shielded from asteroids than we were. So, it's likely that there are more favorable places than here.

The one thing we know for sure is that life does exist, so some process has produced life. If our life didn't start here, then the galaxy must be teeming with life, since if it spread here, then it would spread everywhere else too. Ockham's razor suggests that it started here though. Interstellar mixing of large objects should be exceedingly rare, and only happen in the most violent circumstances.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2010
Since we don't have any observations suggesting that life started anywhere else yet, any discussion of life starting anywhere else but here is purely philosophical. It's fun though.
Ethelred
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 15, 2010
to your hunt for that elusive westerly wind


To find westerly wind:
Go down to the beach
Hold up finger
Feel breeze coming down from the mountains from the east
Notice that it is blowing to the west

Remember that Zephyr doesn't know squat about zephyrs

Ethelred
GSwift7
3 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2010
"To find westerly wind:
Go down to the beach
Hold up finger
Feel breeze coming down from the mountains from the east
Notice that it is blowing to the west"

Note: westerly winds come FROM the west rather than blowing TOWARDS the west. They are also called the Trade Winds, and it's not hard to find them. I think he was being sarcastic to you.

http://en.wikiped...sterlies

js81pa
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
Epigenetics is environmental activation of extant genetic factors. Lamarckian evolution is physical alteration appearing in subsequent lines despite the genetic presence.

Lamarckian evolution would be if dog's tails got shorter over multiple generations in response to me cutting their tails off at birth. This is demonstrably false.

Epigenetics would be if your mother was well fed while you were developing in her womb, you would have the extant genetic expression for higher fertility come through when you become an adult. If she wasn't well fed, you would have a lower than genetically optimal reproductive propensity. Your genes aren't altered by the environment under epigenetics, they're simply expressed.


http://news.wustl...408.aspx

http://www.scielo..._arttext

There are more, just google soft inheritance.
Thrasymachus
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
And every one of them will tell you that they have no evidence for epigenetic changes being transferred from generation to generation. Lamarckian evolution is certainly mechanically and biochemically possible, but every experiment that's gone looking for it hasn't found it. Just like it's also mechanically and biochemically possible for dogs to be born with feathers instead of hair, but they're not.

The dispute between Lamarckian evolution and Darwinian evolution is decided on the evidence, and the evidence is largely in. Acquired characteristics play no significant role in inheritance, though they do seem to play a minor role in the expression of what is inherited.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
http://news.wustl...408.aspx

There are more, just google soft inheritance.

Predation and sexual selection are two distinct and seperate forms of natural selection, just as Lamarckian evolution and epigenetics are two distinct and seperate versions of soft inheritance. Epigenetics is evidenced, Lamarckian evolution is not.

Clarity is necessary when discussing these terms.

dtxx
2 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2010
If anyone is still interested in touting Lamarck, go read an account of how his theory developed and see if you still agree.
VK1
1 / 5 (19) Nov 15, 2010
Lamarck was revolutionary for his time, his observations were true what he didnt have was a collective knowledge of cellular work, he calculated with only a single controller, the brain, cells individually hold the organisms knowledge, stem cells anyway, functional cells have bits turned off, Stemcells have ability to be any cellular function the switches are open for engagement.

Lamarck had only half of the picture, the brain (the part he had) in a living organism is the centralized control network, that is the brain, the nerves connect to cells.

Those stemcells are signaled by the collection of all other cells through the centralized nervous system (brain) to set function (be specialized).

Lamarck did not understand or know what DNA was or how it controlled the development of the organism. He was correct though in observation, organisms changed to better fit their environment, that is evolution
Skeptic_Heretic
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 16, 2010
Those stemcells are signaled by the collection of all other cells through the centralized nervous system (brain) to set function (be specialized).
No they aren't. Stem cells are triggered through chemical markers in the blood and not solely by the nervous system.
He was correct though in observation, organisms changed to better fit their environment, that is evolution
No he was refuted through observation.

Lamarck's primary experiment was the rat tail experiment.

For 20 generations he would sever the tails of rats at birth to see if they shrank in response to the external stimuli. They did not. Lamarckian evolution was effectively refuted through experiment.