Necropanspermia: was life created by zombie cells from outer space?

Illustration for article titled Necropanspermia: was life created by zombie cells from outer space?

Sure, that's maybe the most ridiculous question we've posed. But a new theory suggests life's building blocks did originate in outer space, although they couldn't have survived traveling to Earth. And with an awesome name like necropanspermia, it's worth considering.

Panspermia often gets mixed up with a lot of bonkers theories about ancient aliens seeding Earth with DNA (or something), but the more basic version is a perfectly valid scientific possibility. What panspermia really suggests is that the organic material essential for the rise of life on Earth might not have originated on our planet, but rather was carried here from elsewhere in the cosmos.

There's a potential problem with this idea. According to astrophysicist Paul S. Wesson, the cosmic radiation and ultraviolet light of open space would be deadly to almost any form of organic material. Worse, these destructive effects would probably start to break up the material, leaving even its remnants close to useless once it arrived on a suitable planet like the ancient Earth. That's a problem for pretty much any panspermia theory.


But not necropanspermia. Wesson's idea is that dead or inactive virus-like materials would be the most likely carriers of organic material, and that they would travel in grains of space dust. Once the dust particles crashed onto a planet like Earth, the dead material could begin to resurrect itself in this more hospitable environment. Wesson bases this theory on the fact that some micro-organisms have demonstrated a remarkable ability to repair broken strands and fix seemingly irreparable damage.

So how feasible is this idea? Right now, Wesson isn't able to put forward clear explanations for how these repair mechanisms would operate, which is a rather sizable hole in his theory. He does suggest laboratory experiments could determine whether such heavily damaged genetic material could reconstitute itself and become viable replicating molecules again, which would help show whether necropanspermia was at least a viable possibility to explain where life on Earth came from (or to push that question back one level, if nothing else).

Right now, necropanspermia isn't too much more than a neat idea and an awesome name. But, in fairness, that is one seriously badass name.

[Space Science Reviews]


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Panspermia is one of those ideas I just don't GET. I mean— pushing the origin of life off to another planet? The chain of events still has to start somewhere, you know? Occam's razor doesn't necessarily tell the truth— heck, maybe panspermia is real— but there seems to be a lot of unreasonable effort expended on it as a theory. Am I making sense?