Cambrian explosion Extraterrestrial life Human evolution Intelligent Design Origin Of Life Viruses

Panspermia (maybe life came from outer space) is back, in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology

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Fig. 5
Fig. 5. The evolution from squid to octopus is compatible with a suite of genes inserted by extraterrestrial viruses.

Abstract: We review the salient evidence consistent with or predicted by the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H-W) thesis of Cometary (Cosmic) Biology. Much of this physical and biological evidence is multifactorial. One particular focus are the recent studies which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ∼500 Ma. Such viruses are known to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence is not fortuitous but is consistent with a key prediction of H-W theory whereby major extinction-diversification evolutionary boundaries coincide with virus-bearing cometary-bolide bombardment events. A second focus is the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus. A third focus concerns the micro-organism fossil evidence contained within meteorites as well as the detection in the upper atmosphere of apparent incoming life-bearing particles from space. In our view the totality of the multifactorial data and critical analyses assembled by Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe and their many colleagues since the 1960s leads to a very plausible conclusion – life may have been seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells, fertilised ova and seeds have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth so being one important driver of further terrestrial evolution which has resulted in considerable genetic diversity and which has led to the emergence of mankind. (open access) – Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic?, Edward J. Steele, ShirwanAl-Mufti, Kenneth A. Augustyn, Rohan Chandrajith, John P.Coghlan, S.G.Coulson, Sudipto Ghosh, Mark Gillman, Reginald M.Gorczynski, Brig Klyce, Godfrey Louis, Kithsir Mahanama, Keith R.Oliver, Julio Padron, Jiangmen Qu, John A.Schuster, W.E.Smith, Duane P.Snyder,…Dongsheng Liu, March 13, 2018 More.

Note that both Fred Hoyle and Francis Crick both considered an extraterrestrial origin for life (panspermia) seriously, if only in despair over the conundrum of life’s origin of Earth. Origin of life researchers routinely describe a variety of accidentally favorable Earth origin sites. The finds are interesting but there is a risk of missing the bigger picture: Earth was not nearly as favorable to the origin of life in general as we sometimes assume it to be (simply because we have not found life anywhere else).

The advantage of panspermia, in general, is that it does not require exotic, once-in-a-quintillion scenarios to have happened on Earth, where we can assess the chances. Panspermia postulates the existence of a more favorable location somewhere, without locating it.

But now, not only do the present authors wish to explain the origin of biological information, life, new genes, and humans via panspermia, they also want to explain the abrupt appearance of complex life on earth, that way:

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted (below) as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. Indeed this principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms, covered in the prescient concept of “punctuated equilibrium” by Eldridge and Gould advanced in the early 1970s (1972, 1977); and see the conceptual cartoon of Fig. 6. (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981)

They go further:

Therefore, similar living features like this “as if the genes were derived from some type of pre-existence” (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981) apply to many other biological ensembles when closely examined. One little known yet cogent example is the response and resistance of the eye structures of the Drosophila fruit fly to normally lethally damaging UV radiation at 2537 Å, given that this wavelength does not penetrate the ozone layer and is thus not evident as a Darwinian selective factor at the surface of the Earth (Lutz and Grisewood, 1934) and see Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1981, p.12–13). Many of these “unearthly” properties of organisms can be plausibly explained if we admit the enlarged cosmic biosphere that is indicated by modern astronomical research – discoveries of exoplanets already discussed. The average distance between habitable planets in our galaxy now to be reckoned in light years – typically 5 light years (Wickramasinghe et al., 2012). Virion/gene exchanges thus appear to be inevitable over such short cosmic distances. The many features of biology that are not optimised to local conditions on the Earth may be readily understood in this wider perspective.

They appear to want to replace ID with panspermia and (this is where accusations of heresy might surface) they do not seem to regard Darwinian evolution as a creative force that can turn cows into whales all by itself. The fact that so many people signed off on the paper (who are “…”? One source reports33 authors altogether) suggests that many would like to discuss these problems with more options on the table than inventing implausible scenarios whose main virtue is that they dutiful defend Darwinism.

They reason,

The transformation of an ensemble of appropriately chosen biological monomers (e.g. amino acids, nucleotides) into a primitive living cell capable of further evolution appears to require overcoming an information hurdle of superastronomical proportions (Appendix A), an event that could not have happened within the time frame of the Earth except, we believe, as a miracle (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981, 1982, 2000). All laboratory experiments attempting to simulate such an event have so far led to dismal failure (Deamer, 2011; Walker and Wickramasinghe, 2015). It would thus seem reasonable to go to the biggest available “venue” in relation to space and time.

In short, they are looking for a powerhouse of information, just as one might be looking for a powerhouse of energy. Where is it?

They suggest looking at viruses:

“We should then plausibly view viruses as among the most information-rich natural systems in the known Universe (Fig. 4). Their size dictates they are very small targets minimizing the probability of destruction by flash heating or ionizing radiation, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1979) e.g. Chapter 1. Their nanometer dimensions plausibly allow easy transport and dispersal by micrometer sized dust grains and other protective physical matrices of similar size. They are then nanoparticle-sized genetic vectors which contain all the essential information to take over and drive the physiology of any given target cell within which they mesh. Their replicative growth means they are produced, and exist, in huge numbers on cosmic scales; so that they (and to a lesser quantitative extent their cellular reservoirs) can suffer huge losses by inactivation while still leaving a residue of millions of surviving particles potentially still infective. A virus then is a type of compressed module in touch with the whole of the cell’s very ability to grow and divide to produce progeny cells and thus to evolve.”

Like ID, this is an “information first” approach that features “information-rich visions,” even with respect to humans:

The most crucial genes relevant to evolution of hominids, as indeed all species of plants and animals, seems likely in many instances to be of external origin, being transferred across the galaxy largely as information rich virions. In some cases it is possible to imagine – fanciful as it might seem – multicellular life-forms that were established on an icy cometary or planetary body to be transferred as frozen eggs, embryos or seeds (Tepfer and Leach, 2017) in large icy bolides that have been transported to the Earth in soft landings (Frank and Sigwarth, 2001; Snyder, 2015); certainly the terrestrial evidence for Earth’s own pervasive Icy Biosphere is compelling and consistent with such a picture (Priscu and Christner, 2004; Fox, 2014; Christner et al., 2014). It is plausible that in the warmed and liquid subsurface interiors of the comets, or planetary moons such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus (Hoover, 2011; Snyder, 2015) cellular reservoirs for viral replication would, by necessity, need to exist. More.

If you are tempted to simply dismiss the authors’ thesis, keep in mind that they are not trying to minimize the difficulty of the OOL problem. They are asking for their ideas to be considered in the light of the admitted difficulty.

An obvious objection is, what resources elsewhere than Earth enabled all that information to be assembled and coordinated, never mind transported? How likely are we to find out?

There’s been some pushback:

Stedman added that, for a virus, such as the RNA-based ones known as retroviruses, to somehow turn a squid into an octopus, that virus would have to evolve on a world where squid were already plentiful.

Modern retroviruses have evolved to be extremely specific about which hosts they infect, Stedman said. But a retrovirus from outer space wouldn’t have evolved to be specific for Earth-based creatures, and “certainly not specific enough for something like a squid — unless you have massive amounts of squids on some planet incredibly close to us that is spitting off all of these meteors. But I think that kind of assumption is highly unlikely,” Stedman said. – Brandon Spektor at LiveScience More.

Yes. “Is compatible with,” as in Fig 5.1 copied above, is not a form of evidence. So far we are still in the land of Darwin’s heirs

But it’s good to be allowed to have the discussion.

See also: Exoplanets break apparent rules for planet formation

SETI seeks to rebrand its goals, in pursuit of funding from the U.S. Congress


What we know and don’t know about the origin of life

13 Replies to “Panspermia (maybe life came from outer space) is back, in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology

  1. 1
    OldAndrew says:

    If breeding pairs of monkeys can cross oceans on logs then why can’t viable molusc eggs hitch a ride across the galaxy on chunks of ice from octo-Krypton, hitting a life-sustaining planet with a nurturing environment and the right level of salinity at just the right point in its history like a bulls-eye? After all, the earth is 70% ocean, so that makes it easy.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    ET says:

    Is PZ Myers even qualified to review anything? Just ask him how he thinks animals came to be here and you will read the most unscientific and nonsensical story ever.

  4. 4
    chris haynes says:

    The Creationist Law of Biogenesis, “Sine operatione Divina omne vivum ex vivo”*, is confirmed by ALL empirical data regarding the Origin of Life. This is in spite of a 100 year effort by the world’s top scientists to refute it.

    The science establishment is defending Atheism, NOT Darwinism. Darwinism is not about how life came into existence. Its claims are about how life evolved after it came into existence.

    For 100 years their preferred alternative has been the chemical origin of life. It is an unfalsifiable thesis, but it is slowly sinking under the weight of as its fantastic improbability and the total failure to find any empirical support.

    This is a crisis to our Atheist science establishment, which is now proposing nonsensical alternatives such as panspermia. The average Joe taxpayer that supports them may not be getting much science for his money, but at least he’s getting a lot of laughs.

    *Absent Divine intervention, life comes only from life.

  5. 5
    bb says:

    “as if the genes were derived from some type of pre-existence”

    A much more reasonable explanation is that life was engineered, by some type of pre-existence, to suit this planet specifically. Since they are reasoning along this line, “God did it” fits right in with their over-complicated, but fantastic, and evidence-free, cosmogony.

  6. 6
    bill cole says:

    This is interesting but it just kicks the can down the road. What those who are paying attention notice is that the simple to complex diversity of life model is broken. All we observe with life is complex systems. So the ultimate cause of the origin is?

  7. 7
    vmahuna says:

    Wouldn’t each new species/family have to have received new, fancier DNA from the SAME source on planet Panspermia?

    That is, nothing I’ve ever read identifies ANY life on Earth that does not share the same basic DNA. (3-bit or 5-bit words instead of consistently 4-bit, etc.) This implies (requires?) that ALL life on Earth comes from a single source, and any truly new forms (e.g., mammals)must have come from similar species on the same Panspermia. So there is only ONE source in the universe for ALL of those wandering sperms.

    Might it not be simpler to accept that Panspermia Labs was/is owned and operated by The Creator? And that the “seeding” is always an “intelligent” choice by some project manager in New Product Development? Somehow this keeps coming back to the explanation in “Hitch Hiker’s Guide”. Hey, potential customer! You wanna buy a new, custom-designed planet, with Life? Let me connect you with one of the guys in Sales. We can have it up and running in only a couple billion years.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    bill cole:

    This is interesting but it just kicks the can down the road.

    So what? If that is where the can needs to be kicked then so be it. If the variety of life on earth is due to alien colonization then that is what it is. We can only study what we have. Proximate causes, not ultimate causes.

  9. 9 says:


    Exactly right! Darwin’s “Four or five”…or LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) is illogical as, in a generic “primordial soup” scenario, if one happens then many happen but “spontaneous generation” has failed up to now.

    One source, not “four or five”.

  10. 10
    Latemarch says:


    Wouldn’t each new species/family have to have received new, fancier DNA from the SAME source on planet Panspermia?

    Isn’t this just the Superman story dolled up with some supposed “Science”?

  11. 11

    Thanks News! It’s nice to get a fair hearing.
    Chris @4, I know four or five of the authors, and not one is an atheist. I find it curious that you believe calling a man an atheist discredits his science. Einstein was an atheist. Are you willing to dismiss Einstein?
    bb@5 I don’t know if you mean this a criticism. I take it to be a compliment.
    bill@6 Perhaps the road is more important than the can. Perhaps the OOL is less important than the path it took. Perhaps the purpose of our short life on this planet is less about what we did, than how we did it.
    vmahuna@7 & @9 the alternative to saying that the DNA code was invented once, is to say that it was invented many times but in the exact same way. Why? Because there’s only one way to do it right. That’s called structuralism, and the more we learn about life, the more amazingly structured it becomes.
    ET@8 right on!
    Latemarch@10 Well, is this supposed to be criticism? Star trek had tricorders and sliding doors that reacted to your arrival. Does that make it impossible? 2001 SpaceOdyssey had iPads. The Marvel universe has invisibility cloaks and things the military is working on now. All that to say, that perhaps Superman is true, it is no criticism to say that the idea was in a movie once.
    But more importantly, perhaps our art, our films, our dreams, our aspirations are not ours, but inherited from men and women who once knew these things to be true. It’s called epigenetic memories. And when a film taps into them, it becomes a classic.

    Many of the arguments in this paper on octupi, were ones that I plead with Chandra Wickramasinghe personally. I felt he was playing it too safe. He may or may not remember my passionate defense of horizontal gene transport as essential to panspermia. At the time, I think Hoyle and Arrhenius were arguing for bacteria moving between worlds. It’s nice to see a convergence on viruses as the probable vector.

    I also argued that for the universe to be designed to make Earth, there had to be staging planets. Places that specialized in one kind of life, say, trilobites. All of these staging points were to “boot up” life on Earth the way Windows10 “boots up” from a PROM on the motherboard. Check out the SPIE comet papers at

  12. 12
    DATCG says:

    Robert @11,

    I thought Einstein was Agnostic.

    From wiki…
    “Einstein used many labels to describe his religious views, including “agnostic”,[5] “religious nonbeliever”[3] and a “pantheistic”[7] believer in “Spinoza’s God”.[2] Einstein believed the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world”—a question that could not be answered “simply with yes or no.” He conceded that, “the problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.”[8]”

    Viereck, George Sylvester (1930). Glimpses of the Great. New York: The Macaulay Company, pp. 372-373.

    That sounds a bit like he’s saying we simply do not or cannot know for certain. The ultimate answer remains
    42. To the Life, the Universe and Everything 😉

  13. 13
    DATCG says:

    Robert @ 11

    “But more importantly, perhaps our art, our films, our dreams, our aspirations are not ours, but inherited from men and women who once knew these things to be true. It’s called epigenetic memories. And when a film taps into them, it becomes a classic.”

    In reading the Bible, these “epigenetic memories” or Deep Thought 😉 could be related as well. Not sure if you’re ruling the stories in the bible out or not, but if aliens existed, certainly they would appear far superior in the times of Moshe, Abraham… the prophets. So much so, they would fall down and worship them. Mistaking them as God(s).
    In fact there’s an instance where one Messenger corrects Abraham(think it was him) to stand up, that he is merely a messenger, not God.

    Just some thoughts to add to the mix. The cartoon stories of Superman and many others based on science fiction are much more technical as a result of time and education, but the Bible itself is extraordinary for that time in saying, yes there were Beings not of Earth that influenced world events. See the book of Daniel for example.

    And Ezekiel for his attempts to describe something so foreign to him, he did not know how to describe it.

    Ha! When I did a quick search, this came up…


    In the late 1800s, many had the desire to fly. In Pittsburg, a small town tucked away in East Texas, Reverend Burrell Cannon’s quest for flight began with a revelation. An inventor, machinist, mechanic, and sawmill operator, Reverend Cannon’s idea for a wheel-within-a-wheel flying machine came from passages from the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament : “The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the color of beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance was as it were a wheel within the middle of the wheel.” (Ezekiel 1:16)

    Aren’t people grand 🙂

    So there’s the magic flying machine told by a prophet’s vision about 2,500 years ago? Some like Ezekiel were far ahead of recent science fiction writers;-)

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