The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling []

Sent: Saturday, December 07, 2002 11:25 PM

Subject: Viridian Note 00352: Bug News

Key concepts:
deep hot biosphere, microbes, origin of life, extraplanetary life, haze of microbes in solar system, carbon remediation, Big Mike the Viridian Bug<
Attention Conservation Notice:
continues the long-standing Viridian obsession with single-celled organisms.


The ol' "No Blood for Oil" riff. She's got the good sense to stand in front of an Exxon, though.

No blood in the Spanish beach sand, just oil. Lots.

Baby ate the ubicomp.

Red-hot ancient yogurt.

Big Mike, our beloved Viridian Mascot.

Source: Royal Society

Date: 12/4/2002

Revolutionary New Theory For Origins Of Life On Earth

"A totally new and highly controversial theory on the origin of life on earth, is set to cause a storm in the science world and has implications for the existence of life on other planets. (((Great hook!)))

"Research by Professor William Martin of the University of Dusseldorf and Dr Michael Russell of the Scottish Environmental Research Centre in Glasgow, claims that living systems originated from inorganic incubators == small compartments in iron sulphide rocks. The new theory radically departs from existing perceptions of how life developed and it will be published in Philosophical Transactions B, a learned journal produced by the Royal Society.

(((That paper would be "On the origins of cells: a hypothesis for the evolutionary transitions from abiotic geochemistry to chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, and from prokaryotes to nucleated cells" by Professor William Martin, Institut fuer Botanik III, University of Dusseldorf and Dr Michael Russell, Scottish Environmental Research Centre, Glasgow. And if these guys live long enough to see that hypothesis somehow proved, woah, the Nobel is a shoe-in.)))

(((This new hypothesis chimes in remarkably with Thomas Gold's radical writings on the"Deep Hot Biosphere." Gold's notion is that most earthly life is subterranean. Oil is not a "fossil" fuel but microbe-altered carbonaceous chondrite material. And the bacterial sulphide spew that comes out of hot ocean vents goes down == it goes WAY down. Earthquakes, continental drift -== it's ALL caused by bacteria.)))

Links: Thomas Gold rupturing geological paradigms.

"Since the 1930s the accepted theories for the origins of cells and therefore the origin of life, claim that chemical reactions in the earth's most ancient atmosphere produced the building blocks of life. In essence == life first, cells second and the atmosphere playing a role.

"Professor Martin and Dr Russell have long had problems with the existing hypotheses of cell evolution and their theory turns traditional views upside down. They claim that cells came first. The first cells were not living cells but inorganic ones made of iron sulphide and were formed not at the earth's surface but in total darkness at the bottom of the oceans. Life, they say, is a chemical consequence of convection currents through the earth's crust and in principle, this could happen on any wet, rocky planet.

(((Thomas Gold thinks that most rocky planets, Mars and Venus for instance, have subterranean single-celled life. There may be a haze of microbes, entombed in rocks and asteroids, knocked off the surface of one planet to fly to others, seeding them.)))

"Dr Russell says: 'As hydrothermal fluid == rich in compounds such as hydrogen, cyanide, sulphides and carbon monoxide == emerged from the earth's crust at the ocean floor, it reacted inside the tiny metal sulphide cavities. They provided the right microenvironment for chemical reactions to take place. That kept the building blocks of life concentrated at the site where they were formed rather than diffusing away into the ocean. The iron sulphide cells, we argue, is where life began.'

"One of the implications of Martin and Russell's theory is that life on our planet, even on other planets or some large moons in our own solar system, might be much more likely than previously assumed. (...)

(((On Venus, for instance.)))

Source: New Scientist press release
Claire Bowles 44-207-331-2751

"Public release date: 25-Sep-2002

Venus may be hiding life

"The acidic clouds of Venus could in fact be hiding life. Unlikely as it sounds, the presence of microbes could neatly explain several mysterious observations of the planet's atmosphere. (((Another great hook. It's those British. They still employ real journalists.)))

"Venus is usually written off as a potential haven for life because of its hellishly hot and acidic surface. But conditions in the atmosphere at an altitude of around 50 kilometres are relatively hospitable: the temperature is about 70 C, with a pressure of about 1 atmosphere. Although the clouds are very acidic, this region also has the highest concentration of water droplets in the Venusian atmosphere. (((Yes, fellow yeasts, it's a warm, damp, balmy haze, here 50 kilometers above the crushing acidic hell.)))

Earth's sky full of weird weather bugs! Oil inexhaustible!

"'From an astrobiology point of view, Venus is not hopeless,' says Dirk Schulze-Makuch from the University of Texas at El Paso.

"To look for possible signs of life, Schulze-Makuch and his colleague Louis Irwin looked at existing data on Venus from the Russian Venera space missions and the US Pioneer Venus and Magellan probes. They noticed some peculiar things about the chemical composition of Venus's atmosphere. Solar radiation and lightning should produce large quantities of carbon monoxide in the planet's atmosphere, but instead it is scarce, as if something is removing it. They also found hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. These two gases react with each other, and so are never normally found together unless something is producing them.

"Even more mysterious is the presence of carbonyl sulphide. This gas is so difficult to produce inorganically that it is sometimes considered an unambiguous indicator of biological activity.

"'There may be non-biological ways to produce the hydrogen sulphide or carbonyl sulphide that we don't know about, but both reactions need catalysts to proceed efficiently,' says Schulze-Makuch. 'On Earth, the most efficient catalysts are microbes.' (((Note that chemosynthetic angle: bugs eating sulfur, underground and in the sky, on two different planets.)))

"Schulze-Makuch thinks that bugs living in the Venusian clouds could be combining sulphur dioxide with carbon monoxide and possibly hydrogen to produce either hydrogen sulphide or carbonyl sulphide in a metabolism similar to that of some early Earth bugs. ((("Early Earth bugs" would read as "universal rock bugs.))) He suggests the bugs could be using ultraviolet light from the Sun as an energy source. If they are absorbing UV, that would explain the presence of mysterious dark patches on ultraviolet images of the planet. He presented his theory at the Second European Workshop on Astrobiology in Graz, Austria, last week.

"Not everyone is convinced. (((Well, thank goodness. Because that has some seriously freaky implications.))) 'I am reluctant to believe this result,' says Andre' Brack from the Centre for Molecular Biophysics in Orleans, France. 'For life, you need a volume of water, not just tiny droplets.' (((That's not what the Martin-Russell hypothesis says. Oceans, fiddlesticks.)))

"But Schulze-Makuch points out that there is chemical evidence that Venus was once cooler and had oceans. 'Life could have started there and retreated to stable niches once the runaway greenhouse effect began,' he says. (((Or maybe it just blew in from out of town. Or == and this is the good part == maybe the giant nebula from which the Sun formed 4.5 billion years ago was already saturated with galactic microbes. Brrrrr!))))

"But we may have to wait several years for any firm answers. The European Space Agency's Venus Express mission, which will investigate the planet's atmosphere, is due for launch in 2005. Meanwhile the Swedish Space Agency is looking for international partners to develop their idea for a mission to return a sample of the atmosphere from Venus around the turn of the decade." (((Or, y'know, we could just drill real deep. And pay more attention to the microbial life in our own clouds.)))

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

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