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Please forgive the drive by. Just saw this on the CBS web page. Gonna make the fundies go crazy.

I'm sure Fish Out of Water and DarkSyde will be all over this.

I do have a degree in astronomy and the article is not some whacky piece of fiction. Getting all the elements necessary for life to be at the right place at the right time under the right conditions is akin to 3 dimensional chess. In other words, it ain't easy.


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Comment Preferences

  •  I object to this article on so many levels . . . (8+ / 0-)

    In the first place, everyone knows that life on Earth started a few thousand years ago.

    In the second place, are you suggesting that the Earth is not the center of the universe.

    This type of corrosive, Satanic misinformation must be kept out of our schools and away from our children at all costs.

    Perhaps those liberal elitists in east coast universities believe such ideas, but people with common sense know better.

  •  Didn't you know? (5+ / 0-)

    Only men are from Mars.

    Women are from Venus.

    I'm just Double Tapped the hell out.

    by pajoly on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 12:03:31 PM PDT

    •  Both Mars and Venus used to have oceans (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Then the Republicans took over . . .

      And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

      by Pale Jenova on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 06:09:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  doesn't answer the big question, just moves it (6+ / 0-)

    The problem with "life here began out there" theories is that they don't really answer the question of how life originated in the first place.  Now you have to explain how life formed in an environment that we either can't study or which doesn't exist anymore, as well as how it got from there to here: an astronomically difficult trick pool shot.

    •  No, We Can Study It (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dvalkure, blueoasis, sturunner

      It is still a difficult pool shot, but we have to go backwards in time, on Mars, a few billion years and do our best to estimate the conditions. Atmospheric pressure and constituents. Soil make-up. Water tables. Then re-create those conditions in a lab on Earth and see what cooks.

      •  Let's apply a little Occam's razor here. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        Why not simply assume life began on Earth and examine the consequences of that assumption? Before concluding we have to look at some more exotic idea that is hugely more difficult to study? In fact, competent people from many disciplines have been looking at the problem of life arising on Earth for decades and have found no good reason to believe it didn't (or couldn't) happen that way. Access to a fossil record that extends back nearly 4 billion years, vast amounts of geological and geochemical information, hands-on access to critical molecular evolutionary data, etc., all contribute to insight into how life might have evolved on Earth. None of this information precludes the simplest assumption: it did. Why posit that Mars or some other place on which it is next-to-impossible to duplicate all these observations is necessary? At least until some fatal evidence turns up that mitigates against an Earth-origin of life — which is highly unlikely — why turn to Mars?
        NASA funding, possibly?

        •  You can't just assume something (0+ / 0-)

          because it makes life easier for you.  If the data suggest that life may have originated on Mars, then that needs to be explored.

          To be honest, this is no more inconvenient than limiting yourself only to an Earthbound origin - the conditions on Earth at that time are just as difficult to simulate as the ones that would have existed on Mars.

          Oh, and nothing involving an origin on Mars, has any bearing whatsoever on all on any of this:

          Access to a fossil record that extends back nearly 4 billion years, vast amounts of geological and geochemical information, hands-on access to critical molecular evolutionary data, etc., all contribute to insight into how life might have evolved on Earth.
          -that's all stuff that would have happened here AFTER life was introduced from Mars, if this hypothesis is correct.  Or after it started on Earth.  In any case, after life was present on Earth.

          Finally, funding has nothing to do with this.  That's really a rather nasty insult to throw here...

    •  Life originated because of carbon molecules (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      They can form long chains, rings, sheets, lattice work, and spheres.  They can fold into three dimensional molecules of high molecular weight and complex shapes, and they are very reactive.  They can bond readily with water, air, protons, nitrogen, and phosphorous along with a number of other molecules.  They can act as a template to reproduce themselves.

      Given the millions of years prior to the appearance of life and almost infinite possibilities for arranging "organic or carbon based" molecules and rearranging them randomly to eventually create a self replicating organism like, say, slime mold is considerable.
      Viruses can have as few as five different molecules forming their "body"with a short strand of RNA contained inside.

  •  Just goes to show what immigration can do (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zbob, Nattiq

    to a place - positively and negatively.

    "I understand, Mr. Spock. The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity."

    by brainwave on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 12:07:36 PM PDT

  •  Sounds like crank science to me (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zbob, Wee Mama, erush1345, Mokurai

    That's based about 30% on the argument as presented in the CBS News article, about 10% on the fact that it is presented by CBS News (I don't trust the media's reporting of science), and about 60% on the results of a Google search for Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology. It just doesn't seem like a hotbed of mainstream science.

    Maybe I'm being unfair; maybe not.

    Let us all have the strength to see the humanity in our enemies, and the courage to let them see the humanity in ourselves.

    by Nowhere Man on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 12:15:52 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, The Name is Kinda Like Wisenheimer (0+ / 0-)

      So I can understand your doubts.

      However, the institutes's leader, Benner, supposedly was the first researcher to synthesize a gene. That's pretty heady stuff.

      •  Not based on the name at all (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zbob, Wee Mama

        but on the fact that "Westheimer Institute" seems to be so closely linked with Steven A. Benner -- my anecdotal experience is that one-person operations rarely produce sound science.

        I may well have been wrong in this case. Benner doesn't sound like a crank. However, I'm still skeptical about the reporting; I'd rather see the original publication.

        Let us all have the strength to see the humanity in our enemies, and the courage to let them see the humanity in ourselves.

        by Nowhere Man on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 01:03:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Sounds a little tenuous, anyway. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Long chain of suppositions. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

      •  Oh Yeah. But this is what makes science FUN. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prfb, PeterHug

        Does the theory fit the facts, and can it be tested.

        I'm not an expert in the field, and I don't know if the paper presented at the conference was peer reviewed. That's a big question mark.

        There is, I contend, irrefutable evidence that Martian material has landed on earth. Curiosity's findings suggesting an abundance of water at an earlier stage are solid. We couldn't have stated that a year ago with the same certainty.

        The creationists (and by that, I mean the scientists looking at how life was formed) have run into a road block trying to figure how life started on Earth. Did it start somewhere else?

        Again, this is what makes science fun!

    •  Greatly exaggerated, highly speculative, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, Nowhere Man, awhitestl, guyeda

      and severely misreported. It is not life this article claims came from Mars, but oxidized molybdenum, which it further claims was necessary for life to develop and could not form on the Earth in the absence of free oxygen. I have not seen this suggested anywhere else. Other researchers have implicated ammonium molybdate, which unquestionably could have formed in the reducing atmosphere of the early Earth, in almost any of the competing scenarios for its composition. Benner in fact refers to molybdates in the quotation below. So I don't know where the article gets its claims. Mayme the reporter talked to Benner or attended his talk. But we don't know what the reporter heard.

      Benner gave this presentation at the Goldschmidt2013 Conference, but it has not appeared in print or on the Web where we can get at it. All we have is the abstract below, with no actual details, plus breathless hype by pop science writers at CBS and elsewhere who don't care about the science if they can write a headline that draws in the punters.

      As far as I can tell, most of Benner's account is balderdash, and in any case is completely irrelevant to the claims made in the article. For example, DNA and RNA exist within the cytoplasm of the cell, which is mostly water, at all times, without damage.

      Planets, Minerals and Life’s Origin

      Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution,
      PO Box 13174,
      Gainesville FL 32604

      The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology,
      720 SW 2nd Ave.,
      Gainesville FL 32601

      Four paradoxes stand astride any effort to understand how life originated on Earth:

      (a) The Tar Paradox. Organic molecules, given energy and left to themselves, devolve into complex mixtures, “asphalts” better suited for paving roads than supporting Darwinian evolution. Any scenario for origins requires a way to allow organic material to escape this devolution into a Darwinian existence, where replication with imperfections, where the imperfections are themselves heritable, allows natural selection to avoid a tarry fate.

      (b) The Water Paradox: Water is commonly believed to be essential for life. So are biopolymers, like RNA, DNA, and proteins. However, the biopolymers that we know find water corrosive. Any scenario for origins must manage the apparent need of life for a substance (water) this is inherently toxic to life.

      (c) The Single Biopolymer Paradox. Even if we can make biopolymers prebioically, it is hard to imaging making two or three (DNA, RNA, proteins) at the same time. At the same time, genetics versus catalysis place different demands on the behavior of a single biopolymer intended to support life. Catalytic biopolymers should fold, for example, while genetic biopolymers should not fold. Catalytic biopolymers should contain many building blocks; genetic biopolymers should contain few.

      (d) The Probability Paradox. Some biopolymers, like RNA, strike a reasonable compromise between the needs of genetics and the needs of catalysis. However, emerging data suggests that RNA is more likely to deliver catalytic power that destroys RNA than catalytic power that makes RNA. This talk will review experimental data that makes suggestions about early planetary environments and mineralogy that might avoid, mitigate, and possibly resolve certain of these paradoxes. Key are the presence of minerals, including borates and molybdates, that interact with organic species that are intermediates between atmospheric carbon dioxide and dinitrogen and RNA. Productive interaction requires as well a subaerial environment having only intermittent interaction with water. Recent data suggests that such environments might even be found today on Mars.

      And of course they existed on Earth even in the Hadean epoch, when the oceans were at the boiling point and there were vast rains over most of the globe, there was no cellular life on land, and so on.

      This abstract contradicts almost everything I have ever seen about research into abiogenesis (life arising from chemistry on the primitive Earth or elsewhere). Without the references Benner presumably relies on, and without a report of what his research actually consists of, it is impossible to say anything significant about it.

      It is certainly not genuine science news. On hearing of these claims, I was immediately transported back to when I first heard about supposed Cold Fusion in the papers.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 04:23:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Heck, he appears not to know about findings that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        address items a and c. Borates have been shown to protect nascent spontaneous carbohydrates for at least a decade. As to the "single biopolymer" paradox, good evidence for fostering replication with non-polymer midwife compounds that exist spontaneously has also been available for almost that long.

        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 04:44:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Earth Only Got Oxygen From Life. Where Are They (5+ / 0-)

    saying Mars got significant atmospheric oxygen so as to make the molybdenum compound?

    Seems to me they're making a lot of assumptions about early organic chem and life. I think it's way premature to be looking to Mars for the origins when we haven't found any traces of life there yet.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 12:24:08 PM PDT

  •  Um……well……maybe. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    defluxion10, zbob, Nowhere Man
    An oxidized form of the element molybdenum, which may have been crucial to the origin of life, was likely available on the Red Planet's surface long ago, but unavailable on Earth
    It is a far, far cry from having an oxidized form of Mo and having life. And in any case as Gooserock points out, why would Mars have a more oxidized form of it, when the atmosphere almost certainly was reducing?

    Not persuaded.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 12:33:52 PM PDT

  •  As I said in another diary, I used to make fun of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    never forget, Wee Mama

    the late-night talk show guests who claimed they had been abducted by Martians.

    And now I find out I AM a Martian.  But I have an alibi...

    Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity -- George Carlin

    by ZedMont on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 01:41:24 PM PDT

  •  The article seems rather incoherent. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama

    I don't know whether that's bad science or normal, spectacularly shitty science coverage, but since I can't seem to find any better source, here I go.

    The article keeps stating that there's a lack of oxygen on early Earth.  I mean, that's the whole premise.

    ...The whole premise is wrong.  And it's even shown to be wrong by the article itself.

    "Another point in Mars' favor is the likelihood that the early Earth was completely covered by water while the ancient Red Planet had substantial dry areas, Benner said."

    ...What's water?  Anyone?  Bueler?  It's oxygen with two hydrogens tacked on.  So, there's no oxygen, but the planet's covered by a compound which is, by weight, 88% oxygen.  Huh?

    What's the single most common component of the Earth's crust, by mass?  Yep.  Oxygen.  Almost 50%.  Of course, it's almost all bound up in oxides.  Why is molybdenum oxide so different from silicon and aluminum oxides, which are all pretty much ubiquitous across the Earth, across all time periods from which we have rocks as evidence?

    While there might not have been much free, diatomic, atmopheric oxygen, that's an entirely different beast from 'no oxygen available for oxidative reactions.'

    •  No _free_ oxygen eom (0+ / 0-)

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 04:24:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, yeah, you said that, but then you went on to (0+ / 0-)


        that's an entirely different beast from 'no oxygen available for oxidative reactions.'
        No, oxygen that has already been in an oxidative reaction is not available for oxidative reactions except with more reactive metals that can steal oxygen from less reactive metals. Molybdenum is quite low on that scale.

        It is the same category of mistake as burning CO2 or the mythical carburetor that lets cars run on water.

        Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

        by Mokurai on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 04:31:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I admit, I don't have tables of electronegativity (0+ / 0-)

          and such available to me right now, but that still seems to be a problem with the hypothesis.  Properly oxidized molybdenum might be -rare- under that regime, but that's a far cry from 'nonexistent,' and if it's a trace mineral, rare is generally OK.

          I imagine that there would still be some oxidation going on as a result of various high-energy events which would liberate either monatomic oxygen or diatomic oxygen -- magma interactions with water and other volcanic activity, lightning, meteor strikes, etc.  And while free atmospheric oxygen might be rare, again, that's not nonexistent.

          I'm not saying the scientist is full of it, but the information given in the article sure makes it seem so.  

          (Actually, the article -seems- to imply that life didn't come from Mars but some of the initial building blocks -- that is, molybdenum oxide-rich-rocks, did.)

          It also doesn't really do much to explain how life managed to not only come about but to spread and thrive before the Oxygen Catastrophe, if it's dependent upon moly oxides, which are supposedly dependent upon ... free oxygen, which was only a significant thing after the Catastrophe.

  •  Well there you go (0+ / 0-)

    What better proof is there of an "Intelligent Designer"?

  •  Earth started as dry, and a theory going around (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pale Jenova, guyeda

    the past few years claims comets brought water to Earth.

    The earliest fossils of microbial life go back 3.8 billion years. These primitive "extremophile" organisms did not use oxygen or produce it. The photosynthetic microbes do not show up in the fossil record until around 2.5 billion years ago. Hence all the iron ranges.

    There's this  In a nutshell, comets and asteroids crashed into Earth 4 billion years ago during the "Late Heavy Bombardment" era. These bodies brought water and organic molecules.

    Visit, and you will see that even in deep galactic space nebulae, organic molecules have been detected. These small molecules can serve as precursors to large biopolymers, when conditions are right.

    From van Niel, C.B. (1931). "Photosynthesis of bacteria". Arch. Mikrobiol. 3 In the early 1930s Cornelis Van Niel discovered that sulfide-dependent chemoautotrophic bacteria (purple sulfur bacteria) fixes carbon and produces water as a byproduct of a photosynthetic pathway using hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide:[3]

     CO2 + 2H2S gives CH2O + H2O + 2S

    Let the conservative heads explode because the theory that life hopped to Earth from elsewhere is called "panspermia." Go giggle, Beavis.

    "The will must be stronger than the skill." M. Ali

    by awhitestl on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 05:56:58 PM PDT

    •  Every pansperm is sacred . . . --nt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

      by Pale Jenova on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 06:11:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I believe the iron ranges are associated with (0+ / 0-)

      the emergence of oxygen evolving photosynthesis.  The initial emergence was quite early and was likely more similar to the type studied in your van Niel citation.  SciAm timeline

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