Talks in Kentucky, a single origin of life, and other stuff

November 19, 2013 • 2:57 pm

If you happen to live anywhere near Murray, Kentucky—and the chances of that are almost nil—I’ll be giving two lectures at Murray State University this Thursday and Friday. I leave tomorrow, flying to the Paducah, Kentucky airport (one flight a day from Chicago O’Hare) and will return Saturday, so posting may be light, though the noms will be heavy. Here’s the information if you are connected with Murray State or live within striking distance.

Picture 3

I like the description in the first post (“World-famous biologist and cat-lover”, though only the second bit is true)—but they should have switched the pictures!

I believe the first talk will be followed by a book signing, and the secret word, if you want a cat drawn in your copy, is “ailurophile.”

I’ve received word from an anonymous (and hostile) student that my posters were probably defaced because many students don’t like the title of my anti-accommodationist talk and aren’t overly fond of the Murray State secular organizations, either.  And I’ve been asked if I want security. I don’t think that’s necessary, for Ceiling Cat will protect His eponymous Professor.

Ceiling Cat

Here’s one of those non-believers, showing his ignorance in a tw**t forwarded to me by reader Barry:

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 7

(Yirrell appears to be a British Biblical literalist who has been pwned in a YouTube video.)

Talk about snake oil salesmen: can Mr. Yirrell demonstrate that Jesus was resurrected? Can he demonstrate, as Yirrell has apparently claimed, that all of humanity descend from two people: Adam and Eve?

In fact, we have very strong evidence that life originated only once, for we can make protein-sequence-based phylogenies pointing strongly to a single origin of life as opposed to multiple origins (see reference below). There is other evidence as well, including the use of L-amino acids by all species and the universality (with a few trivial exceptions) of the genetic code and the RNA translation mechanism. As Douglas Theobold, author of the protein sequence paper cited below, notes: “UCA [the hypothesis of a single Universal Common Ancestor] is 102,860 times more probable than the closest competing hypothesis.”

Theobald, D. L. 2010.A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry. Nature 465:219-222.

31 thoughts on “Talks in Kentucky, a single origin of life, and other stuff

  1. You should give a talk closer to home. A little under 200 miles to the west, slightly south. Any of the Quad Cities will do!

  2. Comment 1. I think it would be very wise of you,as you have waived armed bogy guards, to at least hang out with a couple of really big mean-looking guys. The nuts seem to be out in force lately and I just have uncomfortable feeling about your talk.
    Comment 1a. I have never, in all my reasonably long life, had an ‘uncomfortable feeling’ that turned out to more than badly fitting undies, so you can probably leave the flack jacket at home.

    Question 1. Where does snake oil come from? Do they produce it themselves (which is difficult to picture as they are pretty much limbless.) Or is it made from squashing them, which sounds dangerous and unpleasant for both the snake and the squasher if they are using vipers. Or is it something that the snakes themselves use for dry scalp or any other lubricating needs?

  3. “I’ve received word from an anonymous (and hostile) student that my posters were probably defaced because many students don’t like the title of my anti-accommodationist talk and aren’t overly fond of the Murray State secular organizations, either.”

    Huh, and here I thought it might have been because some people are childish and engage in cowardly vandalism.

  4. Interesting, as usual 🙂
    The single origin of life issue isn’t addressed enough, at least as far as popular science goes.
    In geological terms, life started quite quickly once the conditions on earth allowed it. Of course, statistically, this does not say much, but intuitively, it’s tempting to conclude that in the right conditions, the probability of the beginning of life is a actually not so small. In turn, this leads to the question how it happened only once.
    Can anyone provide a good enough answer for a curious layman?

    1. The standard answer (perhaps first given by Mr C. Darwin in the “warm little pond” letter to Hooker in 1871) is that as soon as life had originated once, it would quickly assimilate the available raw materials that might otherwise produce a second origin.

      ‘Zat good enough?

      1. Not really, to be honest.
        It does not sound reasonable to me that the very simple first organisms, all from the same “creation” event, spread so fast to consume all the raw materials necessary to begin life as to not allow another such event.
        Don’t get me wrong. With the evidencea single origin of life, I don’t question it. It’s just the explanation that I am missing.

        1. Reproduction (or replication) is an intrinsically exponential process, with rate determined by resource availability. Life expands to fill the space in which it can exist, which doesn’t leave room and/or resources for subsequent abiogenesis.

          Really, dude, it’s not that hard. Two minutes out of a lecture series, get it or fail.

    2. All life forms that we have so far investigated have a common ancestor. But the boundary between life and complicated chemistry is is vague. Maybe “life” did arise more than once, but descendants of only one lineage survive to this day. Who knows? But if we do happen to find, in some obscure niche, life not clearly related to life as we know it, I don’t see it as any sort of challenge to evolutionary biology. And if we find, for example in the oceans of Europa, life related to Earthly life, we will be very surprised.

  5. Talking of the Origin of Life, any WEIT readers in central London tonight get yourselves to UCL for two lectures, one by Nick Lane & Anthony Devine
    Alas! I cannot go 🙁 but next week there is the other one – the Medawar lecture with Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum. Last night there was the annual Grant Lecture by Dr Paul Upchurch – how life was distributed in the past – not concentrated on the tropics except in interglacials. Fascinating.

    One day I hope you will do a lecture in London!

  6. I find it fun, yet at the same time frustrating, when I’m asked questions like Martin Yirrell’s. I usually answer, “Well, yes!” then try to simplify and summarize commonalities of genetics and the concept of natural selection. That’s the fun part. The frustrating part is when I see that dear-in-the-headlights look the questioner displays and I realize he/she hasn’t even the basic scientific literacy needed for the most simple discussion.

  7. I thought it was the creationists who insisted that life on Earth had all started within the same week, not the biologists.

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