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Chapter 33 : Panspermia Panspermia is a Greek word that translates literally as "seeds everywhere".

The panspermia hypothesis states that the "seeds" of life exist all over the Universe and can be propagated through space from one location to another. Some believe that life on Earth may have originated through these "seeds". How life originated on earth is a question that people have pondered for ages. Theories abound, from those based on religious doctrine, to the purely scientific, to others that border on science fiction. One possibility that hovers on this border is the panspermia theory, which suggests that life on Earth did not originate on our planet, but was transported here from somewhere else in the universe. While this idea may seem straight out of a science fiction novel, some evidence suggests that an extraterrestrial origin of life may not be such a far out idea. One argument that supports the panspermia theory is the emergence of life soon after the heavy bombardment period of earth, between 4 and 3.8 billion years ago. During this period, researchers believe the Earth endured an extended and very powerful series of meteor showers. However, the earliest evidence for life on Earth suggests it was present some 3.83 billion years ago, overlapping with this bombardment phase. These observations suggest that living things during this period would have faced extinction, contributing to the idea that life did not originate on Earth. However, in order for life to originate elsewhere in the universe, there would have to be an environment on another planet capable of supporting it. Our study of the universe suggests that life as we know it would have a hard time surviving outside of the Earth. But, it is important to note that life on Earth can withstand many extreme conditions. Some bacteria grow at temperatures as high as 113C. At the other end, microbes can thrive at temperatures as low as -18C; many can be preserved in liquid nitrogen at -196C. They can also tolerate high doses of ionizing and UV radiation, extreme pressure, etc. These observations suggest that it is difficult to define the conditions that favor life, and make it harder for us to predict that life is unique to Earth. The presence of water elsewhere in the universe reinforces this. Mars is believed to have contained water in the past. Much excitement for the presence of life on Europa, one of Jupiters moons, has been fueled by speculations that it may have underground oceans. However, while water is essential for life that we are familiar with, its presence does not necessarily indicate the presence of life. The fact that organic matter is relatively common in space could also support the idea of extraterrestrial life. Organic matter refers to matter composed of compounds that contain carbon. All living things on Earth are carbon-based. A variety of organic compounds have been detected in meteorites that have landed on earth, including amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins (and proteins are primary components all of living cells). The presence of carbon-based matter in meteorites supports the possibility that life on our planet could have come from outer space. But, even though life on earth is composed of organic matter, organic matter itself is not considered life. Even if extraterrestrial life did exist, proponents of the panspermia theory must still determine how life arrived on Earth. The best candidates to act as seeds of life are bacterial spores, which allow bacteria to remain in a dormant state in the absence of nutrients. Bacteria constitute about one-third of Earths biomass and are characterized by their ability to survive under extreme conditionsthose that we initially believed were unable to support life. In light of

panspermia, the important question is if bacteria or bacterial spores could survive in space. To address this question, scientists at the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne designed experiments using the Russian FOTON satellite. They mixed bacterial spores with particles of clay, red sandstone, Martian meteorite or simulated Martian soil to make small lumps a centimeter across. The lumps were then exposed via the satellite to outer space. After two weeks of exposure, researchers found that nearly all of the bacterial spores mixed with red sandstone were able to survive. Another study showed that bacterial spores could survive the extreme conditions of outer space for six years if they were protected from extraterrestrial solar UV radiation. This would be possible if the spores traveled within comets or meteorites. However, interplanetary distances are large, so the time a bacterial spore would have to spend in a meteorite or comet before hitting a host planet could range in the millions of years. Two studies involving the isolation of bacterial spores, either from the abdomen of extinct bees preserved in amber or from a brine inclusion in an old salt crystal from the Permian Salado formation, suggest that bacterial spores can remain viable for up to 250 million years. Thus, bacterial spores could potentially account for life on earth. But are there bacterial spores floating through space? One study focused on the heat radiation emitted from Halleys Comet's dust particles as the comet approached the sun. The particles' radiation fingerprint correspond surprisingly well to that of bacteria heated to elevated temperatures no material other than bacteria matched the observed spectrum. As comets are known to have collided with Earth at different points in the past, this observation presents an interesting argument for panspermia. While this study does not provide conclusive evidence for presence of life in outer space, it does raise the possibility that our galaxy may be littered with bacterial spores. Three popular variations of the panspermia hypothesis are: Lithopanspermia (interstellar panspermia) - impact-expelled rocks from a planet's surface serve as transfer vehicles for spreading biological material from one solar system to another. Ballistic panspermia (interplanetary panspermia) - impact-expelled rocks from a planet's surface serve as transfer vehicles for spreading biological material from one planet to another within the same solar system Directed panspermia - the intentional spreading of the seeds of life to other planets by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, or the intentional spreading of the seeds of life from Earth to other planets by humans Panspermia does not provide an explanation for evolution or attempt pinpoint the origin of life in the Universe, but it does attempt to solve the mysteries of the origin of life on Earth and the transfer of life throughout the Universe. In 1743 the theory of panspermia appeared in the writings of French nobleman, diplomat and natural historian Benot de Maillet, who believed that that life on Earth was "seeded" by germs from space falling into the oceans, rather than life arising through abiogenesis. The panspermia theory was rekindled in the nineteenth century by the scientists Jns Jacob Berzelius (1779 1848), Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) (18241907) and Hermann von Helmholtz (18211894). Lord Kelvin declared in 1871, "We must regard it as probable in the highest degree that there are countless seed-bearing meteoric stones moving about through space. If at the present instance no life existed upon this Earth, one such stone falling upon it might, by what we blindly

call natural causes, lead to its becoming covered with vegetation." In 1973 the late Nobel prize winning British molecular biologist, physicist and neuroscientist Professor Francis Crick, along with British chemist Leslie Orgel, proposed the theory of directed panspermia. A meteorite blasted off from the surface Mars about 15 million years ago was found in Antarctica in 1984 by a team of scientists on an annual United States government mission to search for meteors. The meteor was named Allan Hills 84001 (ALH84001). In 1996 ALH84001 was shown to contain structures that may be the remains of terrestrial nanobacteria. The announcement, published in the journal Science by David McKay of NASA, made headlines worldwide and prompted United States President Bill Clinton to make a formal televised announcement marking the event and expressing his commitment to the aggressive plan in place at the time for robotic exploration of Mars. Several tests for organic material have been performed on ALH84001 and amino acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) have been found. However, most experts now agree that these are not a definite indication of life, but may have instead been formed abiotically from organic molecules or are due to contamination from contact with Antarctic ice. The debate is still ongoing, but recent advances in nanobe research has made the find interesting again. The announcement of the discovery of evidence of life on ALH84001 sparked a surge in support for the theory of panspermia. People began to speculate about the possibility that life originated on Mars and was transported to Earth on debris ejected after major impacts. On April 29, 2001, at the 46th annual meeting of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) in San Diego, California, Indian and British researchers headed by Chandra Wickramasinghe presented evidence that the Indian Space Research Organisation had gathered air samples from the stratosphere that contained clumps of living cells. Wickramasinghe called this"unambiguous evidence for the presence of clumps of living cells in air samples from as high as 41 kilometers, well above the local tropopause, above which no air from lower down would normally be transported". A reaction report from NASA Ames doubted that living cells could be found at such high altitudes, but noted that some microbes can remain dormant for millions of years, possibly long enough for an interplanetary voyage within a solar system. On May 11, 2001, Geologist Bruno D'Argenio and molecular biologist Giuseppe Geraci from the University of Naples announced the finding of extraterrestrial bacteria inside a meteorite estimated to be over 4.5 billion years old. The researchers claimed that the bacteria, wedged inside the crystal structure of minerals, had been resurrected in a culture medium. They asserted that the bacteria had DNA unlike any on Earth and had survived when the meteorite sample was sterilized at high temperature and washed with alcohol. The bacteria were determined to be related to modern day Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus pumilus bacteria, but appear to be a different strain. On April 21, 2008, renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking spoke about panspermia during his "Why We Should Go Into Space" lecture for NASA's 50th Anniversary lecture series at George Washington University. In a virtual presentation on Tuesday, April 7, 2009, Stephen Hawking discussed the possibility of building a human base on another planet and gave reasons why alien life might not be contacting the human race, during his conclusion of the Origins Symposium at Arizona State University. Hawking also talked about what humans

may find when venturing into space, such as the possibility of alien life through the theory of panspermia, which says that life in the form of DNA particles can be transmitted through space to habitable places. An important thing to note about the panspermia hypothesis is that it gives no explanation for how life that arrived on Earth came to be. Even if we are able to show that life on Earth was a result of panspermia, the question of where and how life originated will be a lot harder to answer. So far our knowledge of the solar system suggests that life is unique to Earth, but, as science and technology advance, we will have to modify ideas that we currently regard as facts. It remains to be seen if the questions regarding the origin of life on Earth and the origin of life in the universe have the same answer.