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Suzan Mazur has some hard questions for NASA “astrovirology” expert Ken Stedman

File:Rotavirus Reconstruction.jpg
rotavirus/Graham Beards (Gnu)

Yes, “astrovirology” is a new term, for the possibility that viruses originated in space. Suzan Mazur wonders at Oscillations:

If viruses originated on Earth—which is NASA astrovirology chief Ken Stedman’s “best guess”—just why do we need a new field called astrovirology?

That’s a very good question. If viruses originated elsewhere than Earth, the history of the origin of life would become very complex indeed. In her interview with Stedman, she asks about a recent article (paywall US$50.00) in Astrobiology, a publication with curious connections with NASA:

My question is why didn’t you publish your astrovirology article independently? Why publish in a journal that despite its disclaimer is seen as a propaganda arm of NASA and “the Darwinian government”—as the late, great philosopher Jerry Fodor once characterized it—a publication put together around the kitchen table of Sherry Cady and managing editor/hubby, Larry Cady, who is a fiction writer?

I mean there are red flags everywhere. It’s like astrobiology according to the Book of Mormon. Why did you not publish independently?

Ken Stedman: Why did we not publish independently? The main reason we didn’t publish independently is that I promised Sherry that I would write something for Astrobiology journal. That’s the number one reason. A second one, and probably more important, is that even if this is a propaganda arm of NASA—those are the kinds of people that we’re trying to reach with this particular article. More.

It seems odd to charge US$51 to rent an article for 24 hours, when one considers that most of the research must have been paid for by US taxpayers. Maybe science watchdog groups like Alex Berezow’s American Council on Science and Health will find this worth looking into.

Here’s the Abstract:

Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on modern Earth. They are highly diverse both in structure and genomic sequence, play critical roles in evolution, strongly influence terran biogeochemistry, and are believed to have played important roles in the origin and evolution of life. However, there is yet very little focus on viruses in astrobiology. Viruses arguably have coexisted with cellular life-forms since the earliest stages of life, may have been directly involved therein, and have profoundly influenced cellular evolution. Viruses are the only entities on modern Earth to use either RNA or DNA in both single- and double-stranded forms for their genetic material and thus may provide a model for the putative RNA-protein world. With this review, we hope to inspire integration of virus research into astrobiology and also point out pressing unanswered questions in astrovirology, particularly regarding the detection of virus biosignatures and whether viruses could be spread extraterrestrially. We present basic virology principles, an inclusive definition of viruses, review current virology research pertinent to astrobiology, and propose ideas for future astrovirology research foci. Key Words: Astrobiology—Virology—Biosignatures—Origin of life—Roadmap. Astrobiology 18, 207–223.

See also: From Suzan Mazur, a plea for evolution free from mysticism


Giant virus shares genes (core histones) with complex life forms. But what exactly does that imply? Before we get too carried away, how do we know that the genetic similarity is not better explained by horizontal gene transfer? Why not investigate that before we resort to Tree of Life claims? Or if there is a good reason for Darwinsplaining, let’s hear it.


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