Oxygen-free is the way to be?

Loriciferan organism, via BBC NewsLife is a fundamental component of the Universe.

Allow me, please, to explain. That statement, sounding mystical as it does, arises in a certain context.

Whether we find ourselves arguing with Creationists or discussing the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, a question arises concerning the odds of life developing in the Universe. There is even the Drake Equation, intended to predict the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos.

And for some, the numbers prescribe a low possibility. For the Creationists, life is nothing short of miraculous, requiring God’s hand to come about.

XKCD - The Drake EquationBut the Universe is vast, perhaps even infinite in its potential. Which suggests that however we calculate the odds, life becomes nearly an inevitability.

And in recent years, people have started to recognize this. Some look hopefully to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, wondering what surprises might await in or beneath the ice of, for instance, Europa.

Here at home, on Earth, our outlook on life is rapidly changing, and the latest announcement from the Mediterranean will only fuel that transformation. Patrick Jackson explains, for the BBC:

Scientists have found the first animals that can survive and reproduce entirely without oxygen, deep on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea.

The team, led by Roberto Danovaro from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy, found three new species from the Loricifera group.

He told BBC World Service they were about a millimetre in size and looked like jellyfish in a protective shell ….

…. One of the three new Loriciferans (so-called because of their protective layer, or lorica) has already been officially named Spinoloricus Cinzia, after the professor’s wife.

The other two, currently designated Rugiloricus and Pliciloricus, have still to be formally described.

They were discovered in the course of three oceanographic expeditions conducted over a decade in order to search for living fauna in the sediment of the Mediterranean’s L’Atalante basin.

The basin, 200km (124m) off the western coast of Crete, is about 3.5km (2.2m) deep and is almost entirely depleted of oxygen, or anoxic.

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Darwin Day?

Looking ahead to Darwin Day, Mark Steel notes that “;What creationists really hate is that we emerged by accident“. It’s a good enough headline, I suppose, and the bit about the parasitic wasp certainly makes a point. But the creation debate has gone on long enough that some certain trends are impossible to miss:

Charles Darwin would probably love the fact that the 200th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated with radio shows, documentaries and exhibitions, but he might not have enjoyed the way that furious Christians still despise his theories and try to prove the Bible is more reliable.

For example, the Discovery Institute has announced that: “We want students everywhere to speak out… for the right to debate the evidence against evolution and turn ‘Darwin Day’ into ‘Academic Freedom Day’.”

But they’re lucky Darwin isn’t forced on us the way religion has been, otherwise the national anthem would start: “Our Gracious Queen will be saved or not according to a series of factors that are sod-all to do with God,” and once a week school assemblies would start with everyone singing: “All things biological/ All matter sweet or frightening/ Are Godless, real and logical/ See – where’s the bleeding lightning?”

The creationists demand that biblical theories are taught alongside Darwin’s theories of natural selection, which might sound reasonable except that creationism depends not on evidence but on faith. If all theories are given equal status, teachers could say: “Your essays on the cause of tornadoes were very good. Nathan’s piece detailing the impact of warm moist air colliding with cool air, with original sources from the Colorado Weather Bureau, contained some splendid detail. But Samatha’s piece that went “Because God is cross” was just as good so you all get a B+.”

With Darwin’s two-hundredth birthday approaching, it’s just a timely reminder that it is a difficult—at best—proposition to hold “intelligent design” as a science, since the central theory, conveniently, cannot be tested.