Is Panspermia Occurring Right Now?

Panspermia is said to be one of  the possible ways for evolution of  life on Earth. The theory of panspermia suggests that life did not originate on Earth, but instead came from space. The possibility that life originated here on Earth, but was supplemented by space-derived microorganisms also cannot be ruled out. Another variant of panspermia, “neopanspermia” refers to the contemporary arrival of life from space. The idea that life originated from space has a long history, while the theory of neopanspermia is relatively new. However, the entire concept of panspermia, in its modern guise is based on the seminal work of Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe. Until recently most of the work on panspermia has been theoretical. However, there is now laboratory evidence to support the view that microbes can be transferred across the cosmos, and which suggests that, at this moment, life is entering the Earth’s atmosphere from space.

One might imagine that the proposition that life is incoming to Earth from space could be easily be demonstrated, simply by sampling space at a height above the Earth where there is no possibility of contamination from below. One also might have assumed that NASA or another space agency would have looked for the presence of microbes in near space and would have determined at what height above the Earth’s surface they eventually peter out. This has not happened. Surprisingly, despite all the billions spent of space research we still do not know how high the Earth’s biosphere extends into space, nor have answers been provided to the apparently simple question- are microorganisms present in near space?

The highest point at which we know that microbial life exists is 77 km. However, we know nothing about the biology, if it exists, at heights above this. If microorganisms continue to be isolated as at even greater heights then there must come a point when it is acknowledged that they are incoming to Earth from space. The existence of a stratospheric biosphere may have had an important effect on the evolution of life on Earth. Any bacteria transferred from Earth to the stratosphere will be exposed to high levels of mutagenic UV rays and other forms of radiation. Such exposure will induce mutations in bacteria passing into the stratosphere. The ability of UV to cause mutations in microbial genome has long been recognised, and is used in biotechnology to improve the production of important biochemicals like penicillin. Moreover, the ability of the effected host to survive in varied environments can also be impacted. For example, UV induced mutations in Lactobacillus enables them to survive high concentrations of sodium chloride and sodium nitrate. Thus, mutations may pave the way for bacteria to colonize even toxic planets.

Therefore, naturally enhanced mutation in the stratosphere may speed up evolution rates in microbes which survive a period of UV exposure in this region and then return to Earth. This would also be true of microbes which arrive on Earth from space. Such mutagenesis will be far greater than that which occurs on Earth, where the amount of UV is reduced by the atmosphere, clouds, and the ozone layer.

The high cold biosphere may therefore act as a huge mutation- generator, a vast laboratory where new microbial genomes are created and returned to Earth where this new “information” can be promiscuously transferred to microbes which have not journeyed to the stratosphere. This process may be ongoing with microorganisms being continually returned to the stratosphere for a new dose of mutagenic radiation.

The acquisition of an atmosphere and ozone layer was absolutely essential for the development of complex multicellular life on Earth, thereby allowing life to explore and conquer diverse environments and to evolve and diversify. However, this protective layer also reduced the level of mutagenesis in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Given that the protective ozone layer was not sufficiently established until around 540 million years ago, coupled with the explosion of complex life which followed, it could be said that UV-induced mutagenesis may have promoted microbial evolution and diversity for the first 4 billion years of Earth’s history, but hindered eukaryotic evolutionary development.

Critics of panspermia often erroneous claim that it is impossible for naked bacteria to survive the transfer from space to Earth, because of problems related to ionising, and, particularly, UV radiation.  There is now considerable evidence demonstrating that bacteria can survive UV radiation, and a journey from Earth to space and back again. Resistance to UV for even a short period of time would allow a bacterium to survive when the protective cosmic dust covering is partially exposed, until a new UV-protective dust cover is formed. In this way, a bacterium which can survive direct exposure to UV would be at a competitive advantage over one that was not; of course, if a bacterium remained permanently covered by an impenetrable UV-protective layer of cosmic dust or carbonised cells then it could remain viable in the absence of any native UV resistance.

In a research paper by Jeff  Secker published in arxiv.org suggest that the traditional idea of radiopanspermia is valid if micro-organisms (bacteria and viruses) are shielded inside grainswhose material blocks significant UV radiation, and are ejected into space in the late stagesof a (one-solar-mass) star’s life. Coupled with recent discoveries supporting other aspects of panspermia and their result suggested that the probability for life in any given solar system has increased.

Three different micro-organisms were considered in these calculations. The Micrococcusradiophilus is the most radiation-resistant bacteria known at this time, and it is therefore alogical candidate for this radiopanspermia. The Staphylococcus minimus is a very commonbacteria which is much smaller than the Micrococcus radiophilus. As well, the virus weconsidered combined properties of both the T1 Bacteriophage and the phage C-36. Sun’s UV radiation is considerably more harmful than its ionizing radiation, and it is so intense at the present time that it effectively inactivates all exposed micro-organisms. This situation might be avoided if the micro-organisms are embedded in dust grains. This might be a natural thing, depending on how they are put into space, through UV processing of a thin surface skin of organic matter, or through interactions and accretion of carbon-rich interplanetary dust particles. It is noteworthy that in interstellar space the intensity of radiation is many orders of less than it is in the vicinity of sun.
Microbes in stratosphere An experimental balloon flown by a team of scientists from ISRO, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) discovered twelve bacterial and six fungal colonies at heights ranging from 20 to 41 km.[Source: Marinews]
Now that the existence of a stratospheric bacterial has been established the next obvious question is- from where do these organisms originate; from Earth or from space? The application of Occam’s razor suggests that since these are microbes are commonly found on Earth they must have an Earth origin. There exists however, the possibility that some, at least, originate from space and that a mixed population of bacteria exists in the stratosphere, some outgoing from Earth and some incoming from space. A number of other mechanisms have been suggested by which bacteria might be carried into the stratosphere, including blue lightening, gravitophotophoresis and electrostatic action. However, it appears unlikely that any of these mechanisms would be capable of carrying a particle of a diameter exceeding 1micron, i.e. the usual size of bacteria when grown on nutrient–rich laboratory media.
The presence of  Fungi in Stratosphere The presence of fungi in the stratosphere presents an even greater enigma than does the presence of bacteria. This is because fungal hyphae and spores are generally much larger than bacteria, Fungal spores range from around 5 microns, for species of Penicillium, to 100 microns for species of Alternaria, both of which have been isolated from the stratosphere.
Clearly, under known mechanisms, it is extremely difficult to explain how these fungi reach the stratosphere. In the case of samples obtained at 41km, the sampling protocols used excluded the possibility of elevation by volcanic action. Therefore we are left with the reality that sections of fungal hyphae and, or spores can reach the stratosphere via unknown mechanisms. If these unknown mechanism include monsoons, then it is difficult to understand they selectively target large particles which are lifted to the stratosphere. This suggests that fungi may be incoming from the stratosphere. The idea that eukaryotes are incoming to Earth from space is probably even less acceptable to most microbiologists than is the idea that bacteria can make the same journey. The presence of fungi in the stratosphere therefore presents us with an even greater enigma than does the presence of bacteria.
Are these organisms being transferred from Earth to heights above 41km, or are they incoming to Earth from space? If we accept that the tropopause effectively acts as a barrier to the upward movement of particles of the size of bacteria and fungi we need to explain how these organisms can reach the stratosphere from Earth, especially in the cases where volcanic transfer has been excluded. One way of avoiding this problem is to assume that ultrasmall forms of bacteria and fungi are carried up into the stratosphere by some mechanism, such as monsoons. If this is the case, then we would expect to find ultrasmall bacteria, known to exist in the Earth’s oceans to be the dominant bacteria isolated from the stratosphere, and this is not the case. The alternative possibility is that the bacteria and fungi present in the stratosphere are incoming from space to Earth; a hypothesis which would probably be dismissed by most microbiologists who instead might argue that there exists an unknown mechanism for transporting particles of the size of bacterial and fungal components up to the stratosphere.
The best explanation for the mixed population of microorganisms which exists in the stratosphere, is that some are incoming to Earth from space (as represented by the observed particle masses in excess of 10 microns) and some are moving in the opposite direction. It is possible that the incoming bacteria may make up a considerable portion of the viable, but non-culturable, bacteria found on Earth. Although the findings presented above do not prove that bacteria and fungi are incoming to Earth from space, the evidence seems to favor this proposition and the reality of neopansermia.
[Ref: Astrophysical and Biological Constraints on Radiopanspermia by Jeff Secker and  Are Microbes Currently Arriving to Earth from Space? by Milton Wainwright]
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About bruceleeeowe
An engineering student and independent researcher. I'm researching and studying quantum physics(field theories). Also searching for alien life.

9 Responses to Is Panspermia Occurring Right Now?

  1. Nelson says:

    I wonder if this came out as most plausible theories of panspermia.

  2. unitedcats says:

    I’ve suspected for some time now that life permeates the cosmos, at least in parts of the cosmos it has reached. (The “cloud” of life bearing rocks blasted free from Earth by impact events is estimated to be about thirty light years wide now.) Life is just so adaptable and so fecund when it finds a place it likes that I see no other possible conclusion, it’s just our own biblical based perception that life is fragile and requires an extremely narrow range of specialized conditions to survive that has blindered us to seriously investigate other possibilities. So far.

    • bruceleeeowe says:

      I have to agree with you. I don’t think if life needs understanding our theories of evolution and restrictictions of water-carbon based biology.

  3. dad2059 says:

    The real proof in the pudding would be the discovery of DNA based life just under the Martian regolith and in the upper atmosphere of Venus.

    That will be the real indication of Inner Solar System cross-fertilization. I suspect that this is so.

  4. cna training says:

    found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  5. Pingback: Why Panspermia Is Even More Plausible? « WeirdSciences

  6. cna training says:

    What a great resource!

  7. Pingback: Search For Extraterrestrial Genome: A Project Overview « WeirdSciences

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