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DNA-Less 'Red Rain' Cells Reproduce At 121 C 149

Posted by timothy
from the that-beats-most-hot-tubs dept.
eldavojohn writes "A new paper up for prepublication from the controversial solid-state physicist Godfrey Louis claims that the cells Louis collected from a Keralan red rain incident divide and produce daughter cells at 121 degrees Celsius. While unusual, this is not unheard of as the paper recalls cells cultivated from hydrothermal vents are known to reproduce at 121 C as well. Of course, caution is exercised when dealing with the possible explanation surrounding the theory of panspermia but the MIT Technology Review says researchers 'examined the way these fluoresce when bombarded with light and say it is remarkably similar to various unexplained emission spectra seen in various parts of the galaxy. One such place is the Red Rectangle, a cloud of dust and gas around a young star in the Monocerous constellation.'"
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DNA-Less 'Red Rain' Cells Reproduce At 121 C

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  • Monocerous(sp) (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:12PM (#33456528)

    That's Monoceros - Unicorn. It's not an adjective with the "ous" ending.

  • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:31PM (#33456782) is a non-peer-reviewed preprint repository widely used by the physics community. "Submitted" means exactly what it says: it's just listing the date that article was submitted to This work will undoubtedly be submitted elsewhere also. For more information, see [].
  • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:34PM (#33456812)

    None of this guy's (Godfrey Louis) stuff on the subject seems to be peer reviewed.

    Incorrect. Quoting from the linked article: "Louis published his results in the peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space in 2006, along with the tentative suggestion that the cells could be extraterrestrial."

  • by stagg (1606187) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:49PM (#33457002)
    It looks like more recent publications have resolved this: "The alga was identified as a specie belonging to the genus Trentepohlia. The region in Changanacherry from where the red rain was reported was found to be densely vegetated with plenty of lichen on trees, rocks and lampposts. Samples of lichen collected from there also were cultured in the microbiology laboratory of TBGRI. The study showed that the lichen collected from the site gave rise to algae similar to the ones cultured from the spores obtained from the rain water samples. The spores in the rainwater, therefore, most probably are of local origin." []
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by seanellis (302682) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:49PM (#33457014) Homepage Journal

    The official investigation concluded that they were spores from local algae, and that the initial DNA tests were flawed. Wikipedia has the details, as usual.

    To go from "our test found no DNA" to "there is no DNA" to "they must be extraterrestrial" to "they look like the dust clouds in Monocerous" is a series of leaps that go wayyy ahead of the available evidence, in my view.

    It would be very interesting to be proven wrong, however.

  • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:52PM (#33457040)
    From the journal's website (

    Astrophysics and Space Science publishes original contributions and invited reviews covering the entire range of astronomy, astrophysics, astrophysical cosmology, planetary and space science and the astrophysical aspects of astrobiology.

    Note the last one: astrobiology is within the scope of that journal. Given that, the editors are certainly knowledgeable about who else works in that field, and can find appropriate reviewers for an astrobiology article.

  • Luckily... (Score:4, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:52PM (#33457052) Journal
    Your standard flamethrower is capable of operation at well above 121c. Should be no big deal...
  • by wjousts (1529427) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:53PM (#33457062)

    Yeah, seriously. Somebody mod the parent up here. An astrophysicist fails to extract DNA? Well how about letting a Biologist have a go. It's kinda there thing.

    Besides (according to Wikipedia), the official report said they cultured them already. They are alga spores belonging to the genus Trentepohlia.

    I think Occam's razor applies here.

  • by wjousts (1529427) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:54PM (#33457082)
    Sorry, should be "It's kinda their thing."
  • Re: Old info (Score:4, Informative)

    by KarrdeSW (996917) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:55PM (#33457090)

    What you're referring to is called a cell membrane which is formed by lipid bilayers. Cell walls are usually more rigid and are located outside of the cell membrane.

    However, the parent is still confusing because algae, plants, protozoa, etc. all have different structures of cell walls. He doesn't really specify which specific one(s) are hard for us to explain.

  • Re: Old info (Score:3, Informative)

    by wjousts (1529427) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:58PM (#33457126)
    Indeed. And you probably have a bottle of suitable short-chain molecules, hydrophobic on one end, hydrophilic on the other end sitting on your kitchen sink. You probably know it better as "dish soap".
  • Doubtful claims (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chicken_Kickers (1062164) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:04PM (#33457190)

    I am a microbiologist and this claim in my opinion is very weak. Remember, extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof to be accepted. This guy is a physicist, not a biologist, so that already raises many red flags.

    In the arXiv blog linked, it says that Godfrey collected numerous samples of the "red rain". Since he is not a microbiologist, I doubt he took the necessary precautions to prevent contamination with terrestrial microbes, though it is debatable whether this is even possible. This alone is the biggest stumbling block to his claims. The blog also says that the cell "reproduce" at 121C yet also states that it has no DNA (all form of nucleic acids?). This flies in the face of all known life on earth. Even red blood cells initially have a nuclei before losing them as they mature. The point of reproduction is to pass on your genetic code to your offspring. This suggests to me that we might be looking at a abiological/chemical process. Did Godfrey try to detect the production of metabolite byproducts from his sample? Reproduction is a very energy intensive biochemical operation and should produce detectable metabolites. My research field is hyperthermophilic Archaea that grows at 90C or more and I know the existence of microbes that can grow at even higher temperatures, so this part of the claim is feasible. Overall, I caution extreme scepticism until Godfrey can provide extraordinary proof of his claims.

  • by biryokumaru (822262) <> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:07PM (#33457216)
    You may also note that the guy who did use the right stains and looked for algal DNA made certain it was clear that he could not make a solid determination one way or the other.
  • Re:Doubtful claims (Score:3, Informative)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Friday September 03, 2010 @12:20PM (#33465778) Homepage

    We've demonstrated several times that bacteria -- and I believe lichens -- can at least survive extended exposure in low earth orbit, so at that point it's not difficult to believe they could get here from somewhere else.

    Yes and no. It's possible, provided they can survive for longer periods of time, to get living creatures from, say, Mars to Earth. The dynamics are tricky (it tends to take quite a while to get from one to the other, particularly if you don't want a high relative velocity when yous smack into the Earth) and lofting the material (and then landing it) in such a way as to not sterilize the rock is tricky. Couple that with the lack of conclusive evidence that life has existed on Mars in the past and I lean toward "less probable" for that route. Again, it doesn't rule it out, but it does take a backseat to local origin in my mind.

    (Also, note that Mars, or any other planet in our system, doesn't solve a timescale problem. In fact, the transit time makes it worse.)

    The other option is to get it here from outside our system. That does solve the timescale problem, potentially, but that adds a vast amount of time on to the transit. Any organism would have to be able to survive in space for millions, if not billions, of years. And the impact probability of a piece of interstellar junk and our system (let alone Earth) is awfully low. Plus, impact speed with an extrasolar bit of rock is a lot higher than from something already in our system. Barring a long series of orbital manuvers to alter the trajectory before meeting Earth (lower probability still), minimum relative speed at infinity is around 11 km/sec, assuming exactly optimal alignment. (More likely is in excess of 40 km/sec, and that's generously assuming that the speed relative to the Sun is very small.) Your minimum impact speed is therefore around 16 km/sec, which I can't imagine increases the odds of successfully seeding life here.

    Again, this doesn't rule it out, but this is just why I feel that panspermia creates more "problems" (where I mean "low probability requirements") than it solves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2010 @04:07PM (#33469244)

    Funny, I just read the paper and the spores didn't divide at all. After being cooked in an autoclave, small spherical particles started forming inside the spores.

    Following incubation at 121oC for 1 hour and longer, a marked change occurs in the internal appearance of the Red Rain cells (Fig.4 c (i) and d (i)), as small cells appear in the original larger cells. These small cells can be regarded as “daughter cells” having the same morphology as their “mother cells”. The size of the daughter cells ,after 1h exposure to 121oC, ranges from 30 nm to 120 nm in size (Fig 4 c (i), (ii) and b (i), (ii)). The cell wall of these daughter cells is seen to thicken following incubation for 2hours (Fig.5 (i) and (ii)).

    In conclusion, the results of the present study clearly establishes that red cells discovered in the Kerala rain, replicate at 121oC and that there is a significant increase in the number of cells after incubation at 121oC. Furthermore, optical microscopy and electron microscopy of post-incubated red cells confirms that these cells are hyperthermophiles. The formation of daughter cells having the same morphology as the mother cells clearly shows that Red Rain Cells are not single endospores, such as those seen in bacteria, such as species of Bacillus and Clostridium.

    Emphasis mine. He proved no such thing. Not even close. Did the particles continue growing? Were they viable? Did they have any internal structure? No need to answer these questions. There were round red things inside other round red things. Clearly extraterrestrial life.

    The reason to call this guy a crackpot is that he's making grand claims of certainty for patently absurd hypotheses.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"