Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Space Calamari, sign of the time
Space Calamari, sort of divine

The attention of science journamalists is fickle and distractable and limited in bandwidth, so one announcement in the research literature went fanfare-free: namely, the news that fruitflies evolved for survival and travel in the harsh conditions of interplanetary vacuum (for nothing else can explain why their eyes are resilient to UV radiation). I am not making this up.

The discovery that comets contain lactobacillis -- fermenting their worty sugary goodness into alcohol -- likewise went by without notice. I had expected the Extreme Brewing industry to pay more attention, and maybe sponsor a probe to bring back a sample from the next cometary close encounter, with novelty beer-brewing in mind.

But both items were overshadowed and last week was dominated instead by the news that squid and octopodes are from outer space.

Cryo-frozen octopus eggs from space? Astronomical argonauts? What fresh variety of crazy-pills is the world taking now?

You and I might think that the paper in question is Flaky McFlakypants, but Graham Lloyd -- "Environment Editor" for the Murdoch Press -- took a break from his demanding schedule of puke-funneling press-releases from climate-change-denial lobbyists into the Australian, to puke-funnel a press-release present Both Sides of the Space-Squid Controversy instead. The fact that the lead author of the Space-Squid paper is a "molecular immunologist and evolutionist" normally-unpublishable Outsider Scientist type, and a climate-change denialist, may have swayed Lloyd's sympathies. See this Twiddle thread for more details...

NO WAIT all three were the SAME PAPER.

One lesson for the learning here is that when the editor of the targeted journal is Denis Noble, it does no harm to inflate the manuscript with fanservice genuflections to the crucial contributions of Denis Noble. Citation-gamed circle-rolling and log-jerks are not unknown in the academic world though typically we try to hide it better.

Noble had previously contributed to the gaiety of nations by publishing Rössler's celebrated paper on curing physiological autism in white elephants.

Anyway... if these embryonic cephalopods originally evolved on Krypton or Daxam, then exposure to the yellow light of our sun would have endowed the adults with super-strength, X-ray vision, nigh-invulnerability and the capacity for flight. This would certainly have added to their reproductive success on Earth.
Alien super-octopus

Space Cephalopods
Just look at the list of authors on the paper!*

Wainwright has previously featured here, along with his bracingly non-mainstream and out-of-the-box notions on evolutionary biology, in the course of Riddled's week-by-week accrual of a comprehensive encyclopaedia of All World Gnowledge. Of special note is his vision of Earth's rarefied outer atmosphere as a ecosystem or "high cold biosphere"** in which terrestrially-sourced forms of sky-plankton mingle with ones more exotic in origin. It is a vision shared by many people who listened repeatedly to Golden Earring's cover version of 8 Miles High while smoking dried-mushroom rollies, or so I am reliably informed.
Stranger than known

But this High Cold Biosphere is part of a broader scholium of thought. Wainwright and his colleagues are not convinced that there really is such a thing as "terrestrial life" in the sense of something indigenous or autochthonic, and in their perspective of Panspermia Plus, new life-forms and microbes and DNA are constantly raining down to Earth on meteorites... having evolved in space (in the rich organic humus of gas- and dust-clouds), or else on the vanished planets of distant stars, but either way, driven on the stellar winds of expanding red giants, and washed on the currents of space until eons later they are ultimately dashed on the Reefs of Earth.

Sometimes the new arrivals are not screened sufficiently at Border Control and manifest as pathogenic plagues, but others Go Viral and integrate into our genes as a valuable source of genetic variation that mere Earthly mutations could not provide, such as might explain the Cambrian Radiation of metazoal phyla. Alternatively, when hard-shelled fossils from different phyla showed up suddenly at the end of the Precambrian era, perhaps animals evolved hard shells as a protection from that sodding incessant bombardment of whales, squid, combine-harvesters, and many other forms of meteorite.

This acquisition of the DNA for tentacles, radial symmetry and similar enhancements is all very well, but these cosmic viral infections need not have come to Earth through comets and meteorite-strike. We should also consider the possibility of visitors failing to observe proper quarantine protocols. But you try telling that to dead Cthulhu who in his house at R'lyeh waits sneezing.

Anyway, people, all this retroviral implantation of new genes is considered cheating by serious Mad Scientists and it is not how the Riddled Evolvamat works. Don't be fooled.
* PZ Myers is not unacquainted with them:
Steele I’ve heard of — he was promoting neo-Lamarckism in the 1980s, and thinks the Cambrian explosion was caused by retroviruses squirting new complex genes into the ancestors of all animals. Brig Klyce I’ve bumped into a few times on the internet…he’s a panspermia fanatic. Milton Wainwright is the guy who used an EM to look for odd blobs and declared they are evidence of alien life. The Wallis’s were part of a team that announced that diatoms came from outer space. Oh, and Chandra Wickramasinghe…yes, we have crossed paths multiple times. He published a lot in the Journal of Cosmology, with an editor, Rhawn Joseph, who really, really doesn’t like me.
** The term is a homage to the term "Deep Hot Biosphere", coined by Thomas Gold, role-model for outsider-scientists and climate-change denialists everywhere.


rhwombat said...

Alternatively, when hard-shelled fossils from different phyla showed up suddenly at the end of the Precambrian era, perhaps animals evolved them as a protection from that sodding incessant bombardment of whales, squid, combine-harvesters, and many other forms of meteorite.

Obligatory Scrumpy and Western ref.

Smut Clyde said...

My favourite movie, and my favourite Wurzels song!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Damn, that paper works better as a Lovecraft pastiche than even a bit of WOO!

Of course I downloaded the PDF... I love/hate this sort of thing.

Smut Clyde said...

Someone needs to laugh at the Iain Banks cover soon or I will be SMUT ANGRY SMUT SMASH NOW

rhwombat said...

Oh, I laffed like a Feersum Endjinn. It's the Surface Detail, Excessions and Inversions of your State of the Art Use of Weapons that Matter, particularly Against a Dark Background, where I Consider Phlebas The Player of Games. Mind you I think The Algebraist and The Hydrogen Sonata were respectively Whit-less and a Steep Approach to Garbage Pail. Vale Banks. Pancreatic cancer is a bastard.

Emma said...


- What's funny about the Iain Banks cover? It hasn't even got any naked ladies on it.
- Your favorite movie is called 'Evil Aliens'?
- Sometimes when I look at drawings of Cthulhu, I entertain myself by wondering how many parts of him could function as genitals, in a pinch. And then after awhile I stop laughing.

Smut Clyde said...

Welcome back to the Intertubes, Emma and her trusty iMac sidekick!