What the mushroom says about itself is this: that it is an extraterrestrial organism, that spores can survive the conditions of interstellar space. They are deep, deep purple -- the color that they would have to be to absorb the deep ultraviolet end of the spectrum. The casing of a spore is one of the hardest organic substances known. The electron density approaches that of a metal.
Is it possible that these mushrooms never evolved on earth? That is what the Stropharia cubensis itself suggests. Global currents may form on the outside of the spore. The spores are very light and by Brownian motion are capable of percolation to the edge if the planet's atmosphere. Then, through interaction with energetic particles, some small number could actually escape into space. Understand that this is an evolutionary strategy where only one in many billions of spores actually makes the transition between the stars -- a biological strategy for radiating throughout the galaxy without a technology. Of course this happens over very long periods of time. But if you think that the galaxy is roughly 100,000 light-years from edge to edge, if something were moving only one one-hundredth the speed of light -- now that's not a tremendous speed that presents problems to any advanced technology -- it could cross the galaxy in one hundred million years. There's life on this planet 1.8 billion years old; that's eighteen times longer than one hundred million years. So, looking at the galaxy on those time scales, one sees that the percolation of spores between the stars is a perfectly viable strategy for biology. It might take millions of years, but it's the same principle by which plants migrate into a desert or across an ocean.
I don't necessarily believe what the mushroom tells me; rather we have a dialog. It is a very strange person and has many bizarre opinions. I entertain it the way I would any eccentric friend. I say, "Well, so that's what you think." When the mushroom began saying it was an extraterrestrial, I felt that I was placed in the dilemma of a child who wishes to destroy a radio to see if there are little people inside. I couldn't figure out whether the mushroom is the alien or the mushroom is some kind of technological artifact allowing me to hear the alien when the alien is actually light-years aways, using some kind of Bell nonlocality principle to communicate.
The mushroom states its own position very clearly. It says, "I require the nervous system of a mammal. Do you have one handy?"
- Terence McKenna - Tryptamine Hallucinogens And Consciousness
panspermia (pàn-spûr´mê-e) noun
The theory that microorganisms or biochemical compounds from outer space are responsible for originating life on Earth and possibly in other parts of the universe where suitable atmospheric conditions exist.
[Greek, mixture of all seeds : -, pan- + sperma, seed.]
"Panspermia" is the name for the theory that life exists and is distributed throughout the universe in the form of germs or spores.
*Francis Crick received the Noble Prize for his discovery of the DNA molecule. In his 1981 book, Life Itself, he fills the first half of the book with reasons why life could not originate on our planet—and then he proceeds to suggest that it came from outer space on rockets!
"Crick . . proposed that life began somewhere else in the universe and evolved to a much higher technical level than is now present on earth. He next suggests these life forms are now sending rockets containing primitive life forms (perhaps bacteria or blue-green algae) throughout the universe, spreading the seeds of life hither and yonder. Crick even describes the rocket's design and postulates the conditions necessary for successful re-entry into our atmosphere."—Richard Tkachuck, book review, in Origins, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1983, p. 91.
"In Life Itself, a noted coauthor of the Watson-Crick model for DNA structure embraces an origins view called "Directed Panspermia," in which it is assumed that life was originally sent to earth from outer space! According to Crick, life evolved from nonlife on some other planet, starting with the spontaneous generation of bacteria and proceeding all the way to highly intelligent beings. These gifted individuals (about whom Crick says surprisingly little in the book) then sent our own bacterial ancestors here on an unmanned spacecraft.
"This means that Crick believes life has evolved twice—once from molecules to intelligent people somewhere else, and then again from bacteria to man on earth! He also holds that all this took place in about 9 billion years following a Big Bang."—George F. Howe, book review, in Creation Research Society Quarterly, December 1983, p. 190.
Since the Big Bang supposedly occurred 10 billion years ago (others say 15 billion), the rocket with the bacteria is supposed to have arrived here 6 billion years ago. It is wonderful how scientific an idea appears when you date it! But let us add a few more time spans: This rocket, traveling at a speed of 18,000 m.p.h., would take 5 months to travel to the sun and 115,000 years to reach the nearest star. How long would living creatures survive on such a trip? Their food, water, and air would be exhausted long before they reached their destination. The rocket ship would become a crematorium.
ARRHENIUS' MIGRATORY SPORES
It all started with *Arrhenius, a chemist who in 1907 published a book on the subject.
"Toward the end of the nineteenth century some theorists went to the other extreme and made life eternal. The most popular theory was advanced by Svante Arrhenius (the chemist who had developed the concept of ionization). In 1907, he published a book, entitled Worlds in the Making, picturing a universe in which life had always existed and migrated across space, continually colonizing new planets. Life traveled in the form of spores that escaped from the atmosphere of a planet by random movement and then were driven through space by the pressure of light from the sun."—*Issac Asimov, Asimov's New Guide to Science (1984), p. 638.
J. Secker, et al., 1996 Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society and astro-ph 9607139.
Argue that panspermia by organisms embedded in light-pressure propelled dust grains is practical if the grains are made of carbon or similarly absorbent material, and if ejection takes place during red giant stage. Even if the organisms did not survive the trip, their nucleic acids would.
M. A. Moreno, 1988 Nature 336:209.
Argues that dust stirred up by meteorite impacts and propelled by sunlight could provide very rapid (less than one year) transport of material between Earth and Mars, in contrast to the long times cited by Melosh.
P. Weber and J.M. Greenberg, 1985 Nature 316:403.
In an attempt to constrain panspermia hypothesis, placed Bacillus subtilis spores in a vacuum under ultraviolet light. Found less damage at normal interstellar temperature (10K) than at higher temperatures. Suggest that 10% survival times in deep space would be on the order of centuries, too short for panspermia, but inside clouds, survival times of megayears would be possible.
J. Secker, et al., 1996 Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society and astro-ph 9607139.
There is good evidence that life appeared on earth just 200-400 million years after the crust had cooled (assuming conventional methods of measuring age). Two hundred million years seems a bit on the short side for the spontaneous generation of life, although no one really knows just how long this process should take (forever?). The apparent rapidity of the onset of terrestrial life has led to a reexamination of the old panspermia hypothesis, in which spores, bacteria, or even nonliving "templates" of life descended on the lifeless but fertile earth from interstellar space.
P. Weber and J.M. Greenberg have now tested spores (actually Bacillus subtilis) under temperature and ultraviolet radiation levels expected in interstellar space. They found that 90% of the spores under test would be killed in times on the order of hundreds of years -- far too short for panspermia to work at interstellar distances. However, if the spores are transported in dark, molecular clouds, which are not uncommon between the stars, survival times of tens or hundreds of million years are indicated by the experiments. Under such conditions, the interstellar transportation of life is possible.
But perhaps the injection and capture phases of panspermia might be lethal to spores. Weber and Greenberg think not -- under certain conditions. The collision of a large comet or meteorite could inject spores from a life-endowed planet into space safely, particularly if the impacting object glanced off into space pulling ejecta after it. The terminal phase, the capture of spores from a passing molecular cloud by the solar system and then the earth, would be nonlethal if the spores were somehow coated with a thin veneer of ultraviolet absorbing material. In sum, the experiments place limits on panspermia, but do not rule it out by any means.
(Weber, Peter, and Greenberg, J. Mayo; "Can Spores Survive in Interstellar Space?" Nature, 316:403, 1985.)
Comment. Weber and Greenberg do not discuss the possible existence of dense, low-temperature regions in molecular clouds where conditions might be conducive to the development of large molecules. Does life have to have the proverbial warm, sunlit pond to develop?