After “clarification”, a false narrative is still false

I’m not an origin of life researcher. I’m not really a biochemist, either, though I have enough background to muddle through talks and papers on the topic. I do go to quite a few origin of life talks, and read the papers, because I’m interested and because the talks are frequently presented at some of the conferences I go to, such as Evolution and AbSciCon (Astrobiology Science Conference).

There’s a formula to scientific papers and talks, though it’s not always strictly adhered to. The classic formulation is Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion: what did we test, how did we test it, what did we find, and what does it mean. A good Introduction includes some background on the question, explaining what is already known and, crucially, what isn’t. For origin of life work, this usually includes a statement to the effect that we really don’t know how life began. Because we don’t.

So I was surprised to see David Klinghoffer, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, say that the mystery of life’s origin is “widely unacknowledged by origin-of-life researchers.”

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AbGradCon 2018

AbGradCon 2018

AbGradCon is an astrobiology conference for graduate students and other early-career researchers. It is intended to provide

a unique setting for astrobiologically-inclined graduate students and early career researchers to come together to share their research, collaborate, and network,

and it’s coming to Georgia Tech next year.

AbGradCon 2018 will be hosted by Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. The conference venue and attendee lodging will be at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center. The Technical Program for AbGradCon 2018 runs from June 4-8, while the Proposal Writing Retreat (PWR) will be held on June 1-4.

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A cautionary tale on reading phylogenetic trees

I have written before about the perils of naive interpretations of phylogenetic trees (“Extant taxa cannot be basal“). Others, notably Krell & Cranston and Crisp & Cook, have pointed out that this is not just a language issue; such misreadings can cause substantive problems in the way evolutionary history is understood.

A new paper in PLoS ONE, “A tree of life based on ninety-eight expressed genes conserved across diverse eukaryotic species,” contains several instructive examples. PLoS ONE is open access, so you can read the original paper without an institutional subscription. A tweet by Frederik Leliaert got this paper on my radar, and it piqued my interest because of the startling observation that the inferred phylogeny shows Chlamydomonas as sister to all other eukaryotes.

It made me frown, too.

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Proxima b is a challenge to materialism, according to David Klinghoffer

David Klinghoffer, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, thinks the discovery of a relatively close, relatively Earth-like planet presents a challenge not only to evolutionary theory (Klinghoffer thinks every new discovery presents a challenge to evolutionary theory), but to any materialist worldview (“Put Up or Shut Up for Evolution? Nearest ‘Habitable’ Planet Found Orbiting Proxima Centauri“):

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Chlamy postdoc at NASA Ames

Ames

Oana Marcu — you might remember her from the First Volvox Meeting — is looking for a postdoc to do research on Chlamydomonas at NASA Ames Research Center:

This position is for a postdoctoral fellow with experience in Chlamydomonas. The project is part of a larger DOE collaboration focused on approaches to improve biomass and lipid production in microalgae. The work will take place at the NASA Ames Research Center in California and is centered on the molecular and biochemical aspects at the core of the project.

Qualifications: strong experience with Chlamydomonas growth, mutants, biochemistry/molecular biology assays and bioinformatics experience in genomics/transcriptomics. Experience with ICP-MS is desirable. The candidate should be able to pursue independent research while interacting with a large team of scientists of various expertise. The laboratory is at NASA Ames, with local collaborations at Stanford U. and Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

Instructions for applicants are here.

Martian paleontology

NAISeminarsAt AbSciCon, I wrote about Mars Icebreaker, a proposed NASA mission that would search for signs of past and present life (“AbSciCon day 4: Mars, life, and Mars life“). Before Icebreaker, though, a new rover is scheduled to launch in 2020, with instruments designed to detect past and present biosignatures. Among these is the Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL). On Monday at 1:00 PDT, Abigail Allwood from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be presenting a webcast seminar as part of the NAI Director’s Seminar Series:

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