I found this paper fascinating and well worth reading. Particularly interesting for me was the idea that phages (viruses that infect bacteria) are like a postal delivery system for biotic information. This is something I’ve proposed before except I’ve also included retroviruses that infect higher orders of life. I proposed it as an answer for ID skeptics asking about what mechanism might an intelligent designer use to direct the course of evolution.
The entire paper is available here. One of the authors (Sheldon) is a UD member and if we’re lucky he might be willing answer any questions you might have in the commentary.
Robert B. Sheldon (a) and Richard B. Hoover (b)
(a) USRA/NSSTC, 320 Sparkman Dr., Huntsville, AL, USA;
(b) NASA/MSFC/NSSTC, 320 Sparkman Dr., Huntsville, AL, USA
Three recent discoveries support the existence of an extra-planetary, cometary biosphere that is capable of spanning the galaxy: 1) the discovery of ancient cyanobacterial fossils on carbonaceous chondrites, which are widely believed to be extinct comets, 2) the observations and theory that all short-period comets have irreversibly differentiated by melting and undergo periodic remeltings, and, 3) the observation that comets can accrete inner solar-system material, including spores from other infected comets. While no direct observation of sub-cellular, fossilized viruses exist, their ubiquity and proximity with cyanobacteria suggest that the proposed cometary biosphere also carries a full complement of bacteriophages. Recent work transcribing viral DNA of bacteriophages reveals an active horizontal transfer of genes though a vector that doesn’t itself benet from the genes. Thus the cometary biosphere is capable of transporting genes throughout the galaxy that are not themselves expressed in space, suggesting that evolution may occur not just in time, but in space as well, making the Earth and its history less signifcant for a cosmological theory of evolution. That is, evolution is driven not by innovation, but by communication, albeit at a slow cometary speed and the transfer of a life ecosystem through a low bitrate channel can be modelled as a bootstrap process. Thus cometary evolution suggests that the history of earth represents the spatial relativity of a bootstrap process at the speed of life.
Keywords: comet, biosphere, cyanobacteria, astrobiology, panspermia, panzooia, microfossil, bootstrap, evolution