Carl Jung used the term SYZYGY to denote an archetypal pairing of opposites, which symbolized the communication of the conscious and unconscious minds.


Space Seeds & Mobile Genetic Mechanics

Space Seeds in Our Eyes

monkeys in suits chatter endlessly
thwacking on keypads pounding on tables
fighting between crazed cranial convolutions
intelligence design versus raw evolution
while Darwin's swarms rise around them

every earful of ocean contains millions
each breath a living soup of particles
our skin squirming as we squirt more
sneezing a cloud of life thoughtlessly
drink in the growing universe daily

statistically insignificant billions
in every spoonful of planet
significance a matter of size
mindful of microbial worlds
as one wipes away dust

tiny ants measure my desk
looking closer tinier mites
scales below and within
all around each of us
ancient artforms

long before our naked skin
swarms awaited our birth
their tubular tools sharp
to tap into tender flesh
taste the aping gods

B.Z. Bywydd
Galaxy Grill

"On this single planet called Earth, there co-exist (among countless other life forms), algae, beetles, sponges, jellyfish, snakes, condors, and giant sequoias. Imagine these seven living organisms lined up next to each other in size-place. If you didn't know better, you would be hard-pressed to believe that they all came from the same universe, much less the same planet".
-- Neil Tyson, AMNH

Space Seeds in Our Eyes
Microbes, Microbes Everywhere

I'd like to point out that microbes - the bacteria, the archaea, the eukaryotes - they're everywhere, or almost everywhere. We find all kinds of microbes in hot environments, sometimes as hot as 121 C (250 F). The only microbes we don't find in hot environments are the eukaryotes, although we do find eukaryotes everywhere else. In extreme cold: microbes can exist at minus 15 to minus 30 Celsius (5 to minus 22 Fahrenheit), inside of solid ice. In high pH (very alkaline) environments; in low pH (very acidic) environments, such as the Rio Tinto. These are the kinds of sites that astrobiologists in the NAI are studying today. Hypersaline environments; desiccated environments like the Antarctic and the Atacama Desert; high-radiation environments; deep-sea and deep subsurface environments; and inside of rocks. Any environment where you can imagine you might have a usable source of chemical energy, one can find life.

Space Seeds in Our Eyes

Viruses are mobile genetic elements

It was an absolutely stunning surprise to us that something as strange as viruses carrying genes from one cell to another can happen — Joshua Lederberg

If your computer suddenly begins to greet you, at various times, with a vulgar message, you will automatically know that the computer has contracted a virus. It might have arrived via the modem, it might have come with a new program on a disk, or someone might have stealthily keyed it in. It might even have been there when you originally acquired the computer. However it got there, it is definitely a computer virus, and your computer did not spontaneously generate it.

Computer viruses are called viruses because they are analogous to real viruses, the ones that infect living cells. Because viruses are simpler than cells, biologists used to think that maybe viruses were the precellular life forms that Darwinism requires. Today however, even Darwinists don't think that viruses are this link. Viruses are not independently capable of metabolism or reproduction. Biologists now think that viruses evolved after cells. What is a virus?

A virus is a piece of genetic instructions in a protective coat. Virus particles are tiny; a cell can manufacture and contain as many as a thousand of them before breaking open. They were first discovered when biologists observed that some disease-causing agents were able to pass through a filter too fine for bacteria. They can be small because they have almost none of the machinery of a cell, only a smallish quantity of DNA (or RNA) and a protective coat.

Viruses are not living things. When they are outside of their host cell, they are just very complex molecular particles that have no metabolism and no way to reproduce. In our computer metaphor, they're like software with no hardware, floppy disks or diskettes without a computer. Having no independent metabolism they can remain viable indefinitely, under the right circumstances. "Some of them can even be crystallized, like minerals. In this state they can survive for years unchanged — until they are wetted and placed into contact with their particular hosts".

The viruses that infect bacteria are more specifically called bacteriophages, or simply phages. The kind and amount of genetic instructions in phages vary from 3,600 RNA nucleotides to 166,000 DNA nucleotide pairs (9). To restate these dimensions in terms of our computer analogy, the computer viruses that infect handheld calculators range in size from 900 bytes to over 40 kilobytes. For comparison, the simplest handheld calculator (bacterium) has about 200 kilobytes of stored programs.

The viruses that infect eukaryotic cells vary in size also. The poliovirus has 7,600 RNA nucleotides; the vaccinia (cowpox) virus has 240,000 DNA nucleotide pairs. To use computer terms again, the computer viruses that infect personal computers range in size from 1.9 kilobytes to 60 kilobytes. For comparison, a very simple personal computer (a yeast cell) has genetic instructions equivalent to about 8 megabytes. An advanced personal computer (a human cell) contains about 1.5 gigabytes of stored programs, counting the backup copy and the unused programs (silent DNA).

When a virus attaches to its host cell, the host may take the whole virus into its cytoplasm where the virus's protective coat is removed. Some bacteriophages use a different invasion method. They remain outside the cell and a chemical trigger causes them to inject their genome into the host's cytoplasm. Either way, the virus's genome enters the cytoplasm of the host cell.

Once inside, the virus causes the machinery of the host cell to enter one of two cycles, the lytic cycle or the lysogenic cycle. In the lytic cycle, which leads to cell degradation, the host begins to carry out the reproductive instructions in the invading virus's genome. Those instructions are, in summary, "make more of me." The host becomes a slave to the invader; it drops everything and begins to manufacture copies of the virus. After many copies have been made, the cell breaks open and dies, and many viruses are released. This is the normal way in which a virus causes symptoms of disease in its host.

In the lysogenic cycle the host cell does not make more viruses, but simply harbors the entire viral genome in the cell, usually by incorporating it into the cell's genome. If the virus is an RNA virus, as many are, the RNA must first undergo "reverse transcription" into DNA. While harboring the viral genes, the cell may grow and multiply normally, carrying the new instructions harmlessly along with it. A virus carried in this manner is said to be latent. Recently scientists have learned that even during latency, some of the virus's genes can be expressed.


Sometimes after lysogenic integration of the viral genome into the host's DNA, an "induction event" can cause the viral infection to revert to the lytic cycle, in which the cell makes many copies of the virus and dies. After this happens, the numerous new virus particles can then infect many other cells. If the new infections are lysogenic, the virus's genes may again become integrated into the DNA of the new cells without harm to them. Lytic infection of one host followed by lysogenic infection in another is also called transduction. When we discussed transduction earlier, we said viruses could tranduct a cell's genes to another cell. Here we see that the virus's own genes can also be transducted into cells.

This method of acquiring genes is not in doubt. Among bacteria, for example, "There are some well-documented cases of homologies between viral genes and their host counterparts. ...Some past exchanges have occurred between distantly related phages and between phage and host" (12). Eukaryotes are also known to acquire viral genes, and the phenomenon is not rare. "Endogenous retroviruses and retroviral elements have been found in all vertebrates investigated.... As a general rule, the number of groups of viral sequences found within a given vertebrate species is proportional to the effort spent searching that species".

And it has now been shown that some of the genes that viruses install have a beneficial function for the host. In fact, doctors now use viruses to install genes in the new field of "gene therapy." Even the virus that causes AIDS, if properly disabled, may become useful this way.

When the genome of Bacillus subtilis was completely sequenced and published in July, 1997, the sequencers noticed another interesting example of gene transfer. "...Some of the bacteriophages in B. subtilis also appear to contribute genes that aid the host bacterium by helping it resist harmful substances such as heavy metals". This evidence confirms that genes installed by a virus into the genome of the host can be beneficial, even essential, for the evolution of the host.

"Viruses today spread genes among bacteria and humans and other cells, as they always have... We are our viruses."
— Lynn Margulis

Space Seeds in Our Eyes
Directed Panspermia: Targets and Propulsion

We can soon launch panspermia missions to seed other habitable solar systems. We can target nearby stars and star-forming zones in interstellar clouds. Each mission can seed dozens of new solar systems where local life has not formed.

We may launch swarms of capsules by solar sails from Earth orbit, or using shielded 10 - 100 kg payloads that will disperse into millions of capsules at the targets. Each capsule can seed a new planet, or incorporate in asteroids and comets, which will deliver them to planets later when they can sustain life.

Biological Payload

The payloads can contain microorganisms that will start a self-sustaining ecosystem: algae, bacteria, and cysts of multicellular organisms (eg., rotifers) that can speed up higher evolution. Eventually, intelligent beings may evolve who will expand Life further in the galaxy.

Directed Panspermia: Astroecology, Biomass, and the Cosmological Future of Life
Meteorite materials show that asteroids and comets can sustain microorganisms. With these nutrient sources we can construct a biomass of 1E22 kg, and eventually human populations of 1E18, ie., million of trillions in each inhabited solar system similar to ours.

The amount of life that will exist in each solar system can be measured as biomass integrated over its lifetime. This can be 1E43 kg-years in each solar system, 1E48 kg-years about future red and white dwarf stars in the galaxy, and 1E59 kg-years if all the mass / energy is use for biological resources.

These future amounts of life are vastly greater than what has existed to date. Our panspermia missions can secure an immense future for Life.

Space Seeds in Our Eyes

Wild Things: The Most Extreme Creatures
By Bjorn Carey

Extremophilic microbes are a wild bunch. They can be found thriving in some of the most hostile environments imaginable – swimming in near-boiling water, eating rocks, lounging in sub-zero temperatures, and hanging out where radiation levels rival nuclear reactors.

They’re tougher than duct tape, boldly going where humans dare not and cannot.

Extremophiles are also a multimillion dollar-a-year business – some of them are employed to eat oil and help clean up spills. Others have important applications in medical research. But for many scientists, these hardy microbes are interesting because they suggest the potential for life on other planets.

Recent discoveries have greatly expanded the range of these wild things. Here's a census of small creatures living in some of the worst conditions imaginable.

Needs more salt

Microbial extremophiles have recently been discovered thriving in the extremely hostile environments in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

At nearly 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) below sea level, with salt concentrations ten times higher than seawater, pressure 400 times greater than atmospheric pressure, and a lack of oxygen to boot, the conditions these microbes thrive in are some of the most hostile environments on Earth.

In the Jan. 7 issue of the journal Science, researchers working on the European Biodeep project reported the discovery of new microbes in the anoxic basins, or ‘brine lakes’, located off the coast of Sicily.

It is these types of conditions, particularly the high concentrations of magnesium chloride, that have scientists imagining what the environments of other planets might consist of, and whether they contain life.

"Ascertaining the nature of the subsurface on other planets is tricky, but there is growing evidence for hypersaline environments of Mars and Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Indeed, Europa is believed to have a subsurface ocean rich in magnesium salts," Terry McGenity, the lead scientist of the University of Essex group working on the Biodeep project, told LiveScience.

Since light cannot penetrate water of this depth, there are no photosynthetic bacteria in the basins. Most of the organisms the Biodeep workers have found reduce sulfates to run their metabolism.

Some of the microbes McGenity’s group found were completely unknown; including a new group of Archaea they have named MSBL-1. McGenity speculates that these microbes are methanogens because they are related to methane producing Archaea and no other methane-producing microbes were found in the basins, which are abundant with methane.

The European Mars Express mission detected hints of methane in Mars’s atmosphere last year, and some astrobiologists have speculated that the methane could be a by-product of extremophilic methanogens or some other form of microbial life.


Another recent extremophile study discovered microbes in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park using hydrogen as their primary fuel source, refuting the popular conception that sulfur is the main source of energy for microbes living in thermal features.

The research was designed to find the main source of energy of microbes living in hot springs with temperatures over 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 Celsius), a temperature too high for photosynthesis.

"It was a surprise to find hydrogen was the main energy source for microbes in hot springs," said University of Colorado researcher Norman Pace, who led the team.

Pace's colleague John Spear, lead author of the study published in January’s online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, speculated about what the discovery of hydrogen fueled microbes means for life on other planets.

"Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe," Spear points out. "If there is life elsewhere, it could be that hydrogen is its fuel."

Beat the heat

Other tiny critters prefer the cold.

Hiding beneath sheets of ice in Siberia and Antarctica are microbes called pyschrophiles or psychrotrophs. They consist mostly of bacteria, fungi, and algae, thrive in freezing temperatures ranging from 23 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 to 20 Celsius).

In addition to being cold, the environments that these microbes are found in are sometimes at tremendous depths – sometimes over two miles (3.2 kilometers) below the surface.

Pyschrophiles help us clean up arctic oil spills. They also turn our milk sour. There is a good chance, scientists say, that extraterrestrial life could be similar to this class of microbes. In a solar system where many of the planets -- including Mars -- have large ice deposits and colder temperatures in general, pyschrophiles might thrive.

Undersea hot spots

Rising as high as 15 stories off the ocean floor at depths of 7,000 feet (2,100 meters), hydrothermal vents that spew acidic, mineral rich water are the places to be – if you can stand the heat. The water coming out of the vents can reach temperatures as high as 750°F (400°C), but that’s just fine to undersea thermophiles.

The mineral-munching microbes living around these volcanic "chimneys," which are so deep no sunlight can reach them, give yet another view of what life could be like on another planet, where lack of sunlight would hinder organisms relying on photosynthesis as their energy producing mechanism.

A number of the planets and moons in our solar system are covered in ice, but scientists speculate that below some of that ice are liquid oceans. If there is also volcanic activity on those ocean floors, it is possible that similar hydrothermal vents could be growing there as well. Although it is nearly impossible to know whether there is life in those oceans, at least an environment that we know organisms can live in could be present.

Under pressure

A sediment sample recently drudged up from Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, was abundant in single-celled protists called foraminifera. Researchers were surprised to find these soft-shelled critters at depths of nearly 7 miles (11.2 kilometers), where the pressure is 1,100 times greater than at the surface.

"I am very surprised that so many very simple, soft-shelled foraminifera are dwelling at the deepest part of the ocean," said Hiroshi Kitazato, of the Institute for Research on Earth Evolution at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

Kitazato suggests that the deep trenches, where the creatures can feed on bits of sunken organic matter, may provide a refuge for the foraminifera.

The fossil record of foraminifera is over 550 million years old. In last week’s issue of the journal Science, Kitazato suggested that these new creatures probably represent the remnants of a deep-dwelling group that was able to adapt to high pressures.

The rest of the wild bunch

It’s a hard rock life: Endoliths and Hypoliths are two types of extremophiles that live inside rocks or between the mineral grains. Endoliths have been found over 2 miles below the Earth’s surface, and if they can stand the heat, they could dwell much deeper. Early observations show that they feed on surrounding iron, potassium, or sulfur. Water is scarce at these depths, and this slows down the procreation cycle of the organisms – some reproduce only once every 100 years!

Biotechs Mine Bacteria for Industrial Use

Hypoliths are photosynthetic organisms, so the rocks they live in must be translucent, like quartz. Hypoliths are commonly found in extreme deserts in cold climates, such as on Cornwallis Island and Antarctica. Their translucent homes provide them with many comforts, such as trapped moisture and protection from ultraviolet rays and harsh winds.

Hot and hotter: Hyperthermophiles are organisms that prefer temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, some even as high as 250°F (121°C), although those have trouble reproducing. The hardiest of the 50 known species are those living near hydrothermal vents - these require temperatures of over 194°F (90°C) to live. In addition to being heat resistant, many hyperthermophiles can withstand other environment stresses, such as high acidity and radiation.

One thermophile, Thermus aquaticus, produces a DNA polymerase enzyme that is widely used in molecular biology research for use in high temperature polymerase chain reactions used to replicate DNA.

Mightier than a cockroach: Toxitolerant organisms can withstand high levels of damaging agents. They can be found swimming around in benzene saturated water or in the core of a nuclear reactor.

One species of bacteria, Deinococcus radiodurans, can withstand a 15,000 gray dose of radiation – 10 grays would kill a human and it takes over 1,000 grays to kill a cockroach. Extraterrestrial life forms would most likely need to possess similar tolerances to radiation, as the atmosphere on other planets, or lack thereof, filters out much less radiation than Earth’s.

On a diet: Oligotrophic bacteria survive in, and in some cases prefer, environments that are low in nutrients. They have evolved metabolic processes that allow them to produce their own sulfur and phosphorus and they feed on their own organic waste.

While there is no evidence for life beyond Earth, information about extraterrestrial environments combined with the discoveries of life in places on our planet thought to be inhabitable keeps scientists optimistic.

"If it works this way on Earth, it’s likely to happen elsewhere," says Spear, the University of Colorado scientist. "When you look up at the stars, there is a lot of hydrogen in the universe."

Space Seeds in Our Eyes

Odds of Complex Life: Great Debates Part III

Microbial life, at least, may be common in our stellar neighborhood and even may be present on other planets in our Solar System. That being the premise, the probability of complex life elsewhere is then dependent on the probability of the transition from slime to civilization. It happened here, so why not elsewhere? Do you think that complex life should develop on a sizeable fraction of worlds around other stars?

The debate about the "Rare Earth" hypothesis continues today with a discussion about complex life and the possibility of its occurrence in the universe. Complex life is generally considered any living thing with multiple cells - as opposed to single celled, microbial life - and, on Earth anyway, includes everything from the simplest slime molds to human beings.

Great Debates: Part III
Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4 * Part 5 * Part 6

Space Seeds in Our Eyes