This was publicized in a science forum held at Arizona State University in February 2011, a little over a year after Dawkins’s Greatest Show
was published. The physicist Paul Davies and others, including two Nobel Prize winners, participated in the event, which was videotaped. Richard Dawkins himself was on the panel. The forum addressed the question, “What is life?”
Most of the panelists accepted that all organisms on Earth represent a single kind of life because they believed that the genetic code is universal. The NASA scientist and panelist Chris McKay made the case that this single form of life—a “sample of one”—should encourage us to further explore Mars and other planets for signs of life.
Craig Venter then disputed the premise. He challenged the claim “that there’s only one life form on this planet.” We have “a lot of different types of metabolism, different organisms,” he said. He turned to Paul Davies and added: “I wouldn’t call you the same life form as the one we have that lives in pH 12 base. That would dissolve your skin if we dropped you in it.” (pp. 53–54)
Venter went on to doubt that there is a single “tree of life” and evolutionary bioinformatics specialist W. Ford Doolittle noted that “the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree.”
Guy to watch. In a world where so many people are defending themselves from shadows and rumours, he wants to look at reality. He should be banished from pop science coverage as a bad influence.
What if it turns out that there are multiple streams of life arising from a single era? How would that change the picture of the origin of life?
See also: Venter: We are missing a third of essential biology
Craig Venter’s minimal cell is a parasite
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