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Moore's Law and the Origin of Life

Soulskill posted 1 year,1 day | from the does-this-mean-life-has-a-turbo-button dept.

Science 272

DoctorBit writes "MIT Technology Review is running a story about an arXiv paper in which geneticists Alexei A. Sharov and Richard Gordon propose that life as we know it originated 9.7 billion years ago. The researchers estimated the genetic complexity of phyla in the paleontological record by counting the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides in typical genomes of modern day descendants of each phylum. When plotting genetic complexity against time, the researchers found that genetic complexity increases exponentially, just as with Moore's law, but with a doubling rate of about once every 376 million years. Extrapolating backwards, the researchers estimate that life began about 4 billion years after the universe formed and evolved the first bacteria just before the Earth was formed. One might image that the supernova debris that formed the early solar system could have included bacteria-bearing chunks of rock from doomed planets circling supernova progenitor stars. If true, this retro-prediction has some interesting consequences in partly resolving the Fermi Paradox. Another interesting consequence for those attempting to recreate life's origins in a lab: bacteria may have evolved under conditions very different from those on earth."

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Looks like creationism... (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464149)

So, bacteria came for space, but that doesn't mean God didn't create life before the Earth was formed.

Re:Looks like creationism... (5, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464185)

This is dealing with evolution, not origin of life. While it fits even less with a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible than life originating on Earth, it weighs neither positively nor negatively on whether life arose on its own or was created by a deity.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464283)

Since the supernatural is completely imaginary, I think we can discard the superstitious idea of a "deity" doing it.

Re:Looks like creationism... (4, Informative)

alexgieg (948359) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464865)

Since the supernatural is completely imaginary

It depends on how you delimit natural. Math and logic laws aren't natural, at least in the sense that they're causal results from some physical/material/energetic/whatever process. In fact it can be argued it's the other way around, and nature as a whole "follows" the principle of non-contradiction, arithmetic, generalized geometry. That's pretty supernatural for me, in the strict sense of "beyond nature".

Still no literal "bearded man in the sky"-style deity though.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

postbigbang (761081) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465115)

But if you think like Wolfram, it's all an algorithm, and this reductionist algorithm is the basis in the post.

Natural? Deific? Does it matter? It is, what it is.

Re:Looks like creationism... (3, Interesting)

alexgieg (948359) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465433)

But if you think like Wolfram, it's all an algorithm, and this reductionist algorithm is the basis in the post.

I think these kinds of discussion suffer from lack of philosophical literacy. Creationists are clearly wrong in whatever they think about the mechanisms of speciation. They don't pop out of nowhere "just because", and replacing "just because" with "because god so wished" doesn't improve the notion a bit. On the other hand evolutionists rarely notice that a process of natural selection doesn't create something "new", it only causes a (mathematically preexisting) potential arrangement of atoms, one of an infinite set, to actually appear. The set of all possible carbon-based DNAs hasn't changed since the Big Bang, or even before it. Natural selection only makes some of them appear as actual combinations of carbon atoms, it neither adds nor subtracts from the full set.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

postbigbang (761081) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465697)

You're thinking state, not delta.

There is a propensity, and there is change. There is survival of the fittest, but clearly what's fit is both accident (think Microsoft Windows success) and context.

There are four different base atoms, in basic protein configurations evolving from naught, and that's for what we know, not what we don't.

Some survived, some did not. All of them are dead, save for what we know these days. The oldest living creatures aren't that old. That means that the algorithm currently does not include everlasting life, various myths and faith in those myths notwithstanding.

Based on the evidence, some were clearly lucky, and others were not. They existed within a standard deviation, or didn't reproduce their kind with or without a change. Some life hasn't changed at all through millions and millions of successive generations. Some seem to adapt rapidly, in a few generations. Adaptation seems built into the algorithms as the ambient climate has changed radically over time as well.

Although correlation != causation, survival and adaptation seem to be built into current life forms, and adaptation will be needed as climate changes once again. Right now, the algorithm of humanity is being pushed like never before, because our survival rates are really high, and we're reproducing at unprecedented rates. Whatever adaptation and mutation rates that are comparatively a static part of the delta, are getting pushed like never before as well because of the expansion of the population.

When interpolated, you can go back to the Big Bang but going back that far is irrelevant to the conversation, because only at the point where life started is the algorithm set. Prior to that, it was a setup until whatever energy was exerted into it to push it into reality. Prior to that, it was all accidental pairing, unless you believe in the mythos.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

dsvick (987919) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465669)

Still no literal "bearded man in the sky"-style deity though.

What!? No beard? All those pictures and statues and stuff are wrong?

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465759)

Yep, and the ideas represented by the words we speak aren't remotely accurately portrayed by the shape of the letters we write. Symbolic thought is a deceptive bitch!

Re:Looks like creationism... (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464427)

It does, however, use a metric pretty much meaningless to biology and comes with an answer that will get it some attention from the tragically retarded known as scientific journalism (and by extension, Slashdot editors).

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

mikael (484) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464665)

They both unify with the first organisms at the start of time. Somewhere along the way, they switched from just being blocks of amino acids floating around and self-assembling into membranes and geodesic shapes being a self-reproducing bacteria with cell membranes, DNA, RNA, receptors, enzymes and proteins.

I could imagine that once the first complex molecules could self-assemble into sheets and spheres, it wouldn't be too long for some other molecule to figure out how to take those apart and incorporate those into its own form. Eventually, you'd have a molecule that could sense what type of "food source" it was next to, and determine the optimum way of taking it apart and reproducing itself. Eventually the decision making logic would move to the centre of the molecule, become DNA while the outer layers would become receptors and the middle layers RNA.

Re: Looks like creationism... (3, Insightful)

Crazy Taco (1083423) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465545)

Dude, that's really ignorant. Life is WAY to complex to be reduced to what you are describing. The process involved in just DNA replication (not counting the transcription and translation processes involved in protein synthesis) in even the simplest prokaryotic cells involves more than 30 specialized proteins that perform the tasks of accurately copying the genetic material. They include DNA polymerases, primases, helicases, topoisomerases, DNA binding proteins, DNA ligases, and editing enzymes. And these are just for simple prokaryotes, not eukaryotes. All these protein mechanisms MUST be present for just this one process in this one simple form of life. but there's a major chicken and the egg problem here: the information on how to build the proteins necessary to do DNA duplication is encoded on the DNA. So you have to have the cellular machinery to use the DNA information, but you can't build the machinery until you have the information from DNA. Having just DNA is like having an x86 executable program that knows how to manufacture both a brand new computer and the machines necessary to build that computer... It's not going to get far if you have only that program and no existing machines for it to make use of. And having just amino acids or proteins is no better than just having the machinery... It's going to just sit there unless you have a program to run it. This new theory (and all theories along this line) are totally bizarre because they fail at a fundamental level to account for what life is. Having an Amino acid or even a random chain of them gets you no closer to life than having base elements swirling around. You need the entire system: both the information as stored on DNA and molecular equipment that can process that information. You can't just have an amino acid chain form over here and have another form over there and somehow get life from that. A self replicating machine with encoded information about how to build itself is clearly more than a random assemblage of chemicals on an asteroid, or even in an ocean. For any origin theory to succeed it must provide an explanation of these things: 1. It must explain the origin of the system for storing and encoding digital information in the cell. 2. It must explain the origin of the information itself that is stored in DNA 3. It must explain the origin of the integrated complexity, or functional interdependence, of the cell's information processing system. This is why, like it or not, there is no plausible naturalistic origin theory at this time. It is why Intelligent Design can't be gotten rid of... It is the only theory that currently offers an explanation that accounts for these three points. You may not like the explanation, but the only cause we know of that leads to the effect of having information or information processing systems is intelligence. There is no known chemical process or law of nature that would lead to an integrated, information processing system that contains the information necessary to replicate itself. High school textbooks often get this next point wrong: Natural Selection is not a possible theory, because it presupposes the existence of life that it can act upon. Getting the first life requires a different origin theory, and as yet there aren't any other than intelligent design that can account for all the evidence. This is the very reason famous Athiest Antony Flew became a diest. Sorry to get on my soapbox, but these ignorant theories that come out every day about life magically happening on an asteroid, or life magically arising because a world happens to have water are really starting to irritate me. It's only a plausible theory if it can account for everything we currently know. I'm interested in hearing all theories that can do this, naturalistic or otherwise, but if it can't even explain the basic facts that must be explained, the don't call it an origin theory, don't pretend it's legitimate, and don't waste the electrons sending it to me.

Re: Looks like creationism... (1)

St.Creed (853824) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465705)

While basically you may well be correct, the exact same argument was made for the development of eyes. "It had to be all there at the same time", "it couldn't have evolved piecemeal", etc. etc. The problem was we didn't, at first, knew how it could have been built. But now we have a very good model for how it happens, starting with a few light-sensitive cells.

Same issue here: Intelligent design is not a theory, it doesn't give us falsifiable predictions and it doesn't help our understanding of the world we live in. Even if it were true, it still wouldn't help us in any way.

Now, the hypothesis of the scientists in question is interesting, but given the timescales and the current lack of data going back a few billion years, it's not really a theory. In that I agree. However, it's still a better attempt at one, than intelligent design ever gave us. Because all our theories are flawed (dialectics explicitly states you can't ever have a perfect science where no refinement is possible - given our current history so far,that statement has been holding up pretty good over the last centuries) it's not a problem if some are a bit more flawed then others, as long as you (a) see what the hypothesis was, (b) check the theory and (c) build upon it to improve things. Intelligent Design doesn't allow any of that so it fails in a number of philosophical and scientific ways.

Re:Looks like creationism... (4, Funny)

happy_place (632005) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465027)

I guess Moores Law proves Intelligent Design! :) Oh wait... Intel... I mean Intel Design... :)

Re:Looks like creationism... (3, Interesting)

gigaherz (2653757) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464251)

The problem with the kind of creationism some people are advertising is that they insist that it happened around 6000 years ago. A lot of scientists would be ok with the idea of creationism -- if you allow it to happen billions of years ago as the spark that created life, but then let life evolve independently. But of course then humanity is not special -- unless the creator helped things happen this way for the purpose to create intelligent life.

So creationism/intelligent design is OK, and a higher being managing/guiding the universe is OK; it just doesn't make sense for it to have happened 6000 years ago.

Re:Looks like creationism... (2)

geekoid (135745) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464341)

becasue when you say it happened at X time, you need to show evidence, and all the evidence show, very clearly, that it is older then 6000 years. So going the Catholic route, God help evolution in ways we can't see' make no prediction, so there is no argument.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464639)

The notion that the world (and the universe) are 6000 years old rests on the premise that God must have created the universe with a fictional history to it (from a strictly physical perspective), presumably so that it would be ready to use right away by the life forms that were going to populate it, rather than waiting billions of years for sentient life to evolve within it (even though it could). Adam was supposedly created as a mature adult, and would have looked like a mature adult to anyone else... even mere minutes after his creation... the only tell-tale sign of his actual age would have been a lack of world experience, which would probably be evident from engaging in conversation with him for a sufficient period of time. He would have had the basic knowledge of an adult, but without any actual real memories of how that knowledge came to be.

Personally, I don't think it matters what a person believes in that regard. The universe looks to be 14 billion years old, so you might as well say that it is so, even if it chronologically has only been around for 6 thousand or so.

And to be fair, as a computer programmer, it's much less tedious to write a program to solve a particular goal than to write a system that incorporates genetic algorithms, and wait for it to evolve and to that goal on its own.

Re:Looks like creationism... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464991)

I'll clarify that for you. As a junior computer programmer it's tedious. You just haven't seen enough problems to solve.

Re:Looks like creationism... (4, Funny)

turkeyfish (950384) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464511)

"unless the creator helped things happen this way for the purpose to create intelligent life."

Assuming that humanity is evidence of intelligent life is a very big assumption.

Re:Looks like creationism... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464545)

The problem with the kind of creationism some people are advertising is that they insist that it happened around 6000 years ago. A lot of scientists would be ok with the idea of creationism -- if you allow it to happen billions of years ago as the spark that created life, but then let life evolve independently. But of course then humanity is not special -- unless the creator helped things happen this way for the purpose to create intelligent life.

So creationism/intelligent design is OK, and a higher being managing/guiding the universe is OK; it just doesn't make sense for it to have happened 6000 years ago.

No the problem with creationism is that it's a crappy scientific theory. It doesn't add any predictive power, doesn't resolve the actual question of how life was created, and it fails Occam's Razor. It's exactly as useful as "a wizard did it".

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464555)

What I don't get is "Linear regression of genetic complexity on a log scale extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life 9.7 billion years ago." Why do they assume that it was linear? I would expect more of a "hockey stick" than linear. The fact that they peg life on Earth as being older than the solar system seem a bit... bizarre.

From a scientific point of view, what difference does it make if life was started by God or random accidents of entropy? It's an unanswerable question; unanswerable using science, I mean.

Re:Looks like creationism... (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464751)

The idea that life here began out there is not new (see panspermia or Battlestar Galactica). We just never really thought about where life may have started if it didn't begin on Earth. Given that the Earth is only about as third as old as the Universe in general, and that stars from the earlier Universe tended to have shorter lifespans, means that a planet with life could have evolved over a few billion years, then the sun could have exploded and some trace of that life may have made it to Earth where it was reawakened in the presence of heat and other elements. The fact that we have to worry about contaminating Mars and the various other bodies we share this sun with means that it could have very well happened the other way too.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

GenieGenieGenie (942725) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464769)

I think you people don't understand religion very well.

You, as scientists (I assume, or scientific-oriented or something), will never be able to tell the difference between life that evolved spontaneously starting 9.7 billion years ago and a life that was created 5773 years ago by a deity that made every detail perfectly explainable by spontaneous evolution starting 9.7 billion years ago. Because you presuppose a perfect god, if (a) god exists in the way that western civilization portrays, then you won't be able to make a scientific argument to prove (or disprove) his existence. Not applicable. Out of the scope of the function. Like trying to use calculus to prove that a tomato tastes good.

A religious person who believes in the 5773 story will never accept any scientific evidence that proves him wrong. If he does, he is not a true believer

Now, stop fighting and go back to your rooms.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

St.Creed (853824) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465767)

I agree that arguing with true believers is a waste of time - right up to the moment someone who isn't stops to read or listen to the discussion. I never argue with stubborn people to convince *them*, I argue to convince the 10 bystanders indirectly.

On the arguments about creation: no scientist can accept an idea that cannot be argued with, cannot be amended and cannot be used to predict things. Unless he or she stops being a scientist when leaving the lab. That sort of separation of the personal and the professional is something I see in a lot of people with jobs for money, not in professionals who really have a passion for what they do. It's an attitude you find in all kinds of people, from plumbers to CEO's. Some do it for the money, and some have a trade that happens to bring in money.

Re:Looks like creationism... (3, Interesting)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464841)

But this idea also seems to have some improbable time scales. The summary says "just before" the earth formed, but in fact they are claiming that life is more than twice as old as the earth. And that would be an earth that was pretty inhospitable to life until another billion years or so.

I find the idea quite incredible:

  1. Time 0: big bang
  2. Time 4 billion years: Life emerges
  3. Time 9.3 billion years: Earth forms
  4. Time 13.8 billion years: Current diversity of life on earth

And yet they claim this finding with scant evidence that there is life anywhere else. Maybe there was some ancient life on Mars, but nothing more complex than bacteria, and even in this theory there could be nothing more complex than bacteria (that can survive in space rocks), and some version of that is floating around all over the place and somehow we're isolated from anything that could have evolved to our level of complexity after having more than twice the time to do so.

Not buying it at all.

Re:Looks like creationism... (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464987)

Why did this get labeled flamebait? what he is describing is a classic "God of the gaps" which other than some who just don't like the idea of gaps or saying gaps must be divine I don't see the problem.

After all you could say "billions of years ago (X) happened which started life" and until we find some sort of evidence (X) could be a giant blue space bunny, who the fuck knows, hell who the fuck cares, (X) is a placeholder for an unknown, nothing more. I really don't see how any scientist could complain about someone saying the big blue space bunny (X) is a deity as long as they aren't trying to quash investigations into (X) or subvert research into (X) because again (X) can really be anything at this point, its just a giant question mark. Its the whole "Adam rides a T-Rex" bit I have a feeling most scientists will have their bullshit-o-meter redlined.

Logically correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464275)

So, bacteria came for space, but that doesn't mean God didn't create life before the Earth was formed.

I can't argue that from a logical point of view. Does anyone else have a better argument?


So, bacteria came for space, but that doesn't mean The Tooth Fairy didn't create life before the Earth was formed.

I have a Book that says that the Tooth Fairy can do ANYTHING. Those are MY beliefs.

I fight fire with fire, Troll with ...

Re:Logically correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464415)

here's the thing though:

The bacteria HAD TO have come from somewhere... and it probably wasn't space, space is pretty hostile to RNA forming strands. But, backing up a bit we don't even know that, we theorize that bacteria started the cycle for lack of a better explanation, and while it sounds possible, even probable. There's a LOT of factors that had to come together just right to make it happen. I'm not saying creationism is correct by any means, in fact most religious people tend to be a bit pretentious... but the way we explain evolution implies a one in trillions possibility of above said meteors and above said conditions coinciding as well as the bacteria actually knowing what to do from there to survive? *shrug*

I think we just don't know yet.

Re:Logically correct (1)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465663)

Look up at the night sky (if you live in an urban/suburban area, you might need to head out for a brief vacation in the wilderness for this to have the proper effect). Now, tell me, are billion-trillion-to-one odds against coincidences happening around any one star in the universe particularly a barrier to those things happening somewhere (or many many somewheres) in the universe? And, by "anthropic principle" arguments, the only intelligent observers capable of understanding the rarity of coincidences leading to life and intelligence are also going to be "extraordinarily lucky" to live right where those coincidences happened. I say this as both a scientist and a Christian: the "it's trillions to one, so there's lots of uncertainty about naturalistic explanations" line is complete crap, since "trillions to one" means "virtually certain to happen a zillion times" in this big universe.

One Thing is For Sure (1)

turkeyfish (950384) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464879)

The industry that has formed around highly speculative science and mysteriology is alive, well, and thriving.

No. (3, Interesting)

ljhiller (40044) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464167)

" If true, this retro-prediction has some interesting consequences in partly resolving the Fermi Paradox."

A single base pair is not alive, not even in a primitive way. The extrapolation is invalid. A more interesting statement would be the minimum complexity of the first living things 3.5-4.0 billion years ago.

Yes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464559)

Nor is a single transistor a computer, but the first one had to happen someplace. Nor does your statement negate the Fermi Paradox resolution as implied, which is "it takes this long for life to evolve so that's why there aren't galaxy-wide advanced civilizations."

No. (4, Informative)

ljhiller (40044) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465431)

Current thinking is that there were simpler life forms without DNA-based genomes (e.g. RNA) which then acquired a DNA genome. The first DNA would then be essentially a reverse-transcription of an existing, non-trivial RNA molecule, starting when that first primitive reverse transcriptase enzyme appeared. The same complexity analysis on the RNA would be MUCH steeper, as RNA is far more mutable and reactive than DNA. This theory, let's not even call it that, this observation of a trend, ignores the technology shift above and obtains this highly speculative conclusion. And, the extrapolation is still invalid.

A transistor isn't much of a computer, but it is a switch, and three of them is a logic gate. 3 nucleotides is not a genome of a living thing. There's no point in extrapolating the length of a genome below the minimum length of a viable genome if the question you're trying to ask is "when was the first genome?" The graph shows billions of years of very short genomes starting at 9 BCE.I don't know what the minimum genome is, but I'm sure it's not 1 pair, or 3 pairs. A good guess would be the 4 BCE mark on the graph, though.

Extrapolation and Confidence Limits (2)

turkeyfish (950384) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464583)

As anyone who is familiar with interpolation knows, extrapolation is a very risky business that provides little statistical confidence and error bounds in the prediction.

Of course, that doesn't prevents some from trying to use it to win the lottery anyway. Sure you get a prediction, but there is virtually no way to assign useful error bounds to the prediction.

Re:No. (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465517)

> partly resolving the Fermi Paradox

Another problem not even mention is that the Fermi Paradox is based on lack of information; it is a pseudo Paradox become people don't understand all the variables. In 10 years this paradox will become moot as new information is made available on a new discovery.

Science is not about a path towards Truth, but a path of removing ignorance.

Non-peer reviewed... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464169)

This is a fine example of how not to use arXiv as a news source. This old yarn has been trotted out before, and it is based on bad assumptions about complexity and offers a handy False Dilemma Fallacy.

1+1=6 or
1+1=6 is disproved, so 1+1 =8!

Or your math is wrong.
Complexity != genome size.
See c-value enigma.

Re:Non-peer reviewed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464939)

"Finally, we discuss the issue of the predicted technological singularity."

Yep, it's bullshit. Nothing to see here...

Re:Non-peer reviewed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464949)

Well, maybe I'm new here but.... It's ironic that you speak about peer review when obviously you have not read the article. They deal with your objection in the article.

Re:Non-peer reviewed... (1)

stenvar (2789879) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465067)

This is a fine example of how not to use arXiv as a news source.

You don't understand what peer review is about. Peer review doesn't guarantee that a paper is true or even reasonable. Peer review, in general, just says that a paper is of sufficient interest to be published.

and it is based on bad assumptions about complexity and offers a handy False Dilemma Fallacy.

The paper doesn't make any "assumptions" about complexity, nor does it pose a "dilemma". It just measures a number associated with genomes and extrapolates that number back to where it reaches zero. Then it starts speculating wildly.

This old yarn has been trotted out before,

Really? Instead of wildly waving your hands about "fallacies" and "peer review", why don't you behave like a proper little scientist and provide an actual reference to prior work?

Re:Non-peer reviewed... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465441)

This paper wouldn't pass peer review (at least in any not-completely-flaky-pseudodcience-field; there's probably a "genetic semiotics and wild-ass futurism" journal where this would fit right in). One key thing that immediately entirely disqualifies it: there is absolutely no discussion of how/why they selected the six data point categories on their main plot ("prokaryotes," "eukaryotes," "worms," "fish," and "mammals"), or even what the points specifically refer to (what the hell are "worms"? there's a dozen phyla colloquially called that). In other words, "we pulled 6 random data points out of our ass that roughly lie on the log-linear line we want, and extrapolated conclusions from them."

A Reminder: we know almost nothing about Earth 1.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464211)

Earth 1.0 could have been teaming with life before it was struck by a Mars sized object, creating Earth 2.0 (current version) and our moon.
All we have is a few samples if the first crystals formed after the completely liquid rock Earth 2.0 started cooling down, a few hundred thousand years after the big collision.
As far as we know, life on Earth 1.0 survived on rocks hurled out into space to land a few million years later on Earth 2.0 when it was ready to support life again.

Re:A Reminder: we know almost nothing about Earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465347)

Not to mention Mars, which used to have pretty good conditions for life as well, and wasn't smacked by a Mars sized object as far as we can tell.

oblig xkcd (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464219)


Re:oblig xkcd (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465807)

They also use the complexity of life on earth to project the starting date, which would only be valid for the starting date for life on earth.[1] A result older than the earth isn't any good. (Unless you assume panspermia, but even if that happened there's no reason to believe that life elsewhere gained complexity at the same rate that it did here, so your projection is still useless.)

[1] Though the origin of life on earth is obviously an ante quem for the origin of life in the universe.

Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (5, Interesting)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464229)

All of this assumes that the complexity of life, as he defines it, increases at a relatively constant rate. There is no reason that this has to be true. Environmental effects on organisms increases selective pressure and causes evolution to progress at a faster rate. Cataclysmic events happen every now and then and causes extinctions and hardship on surviving organisms. Seems pretty uneven to me...

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464355)

Also, large black monoliths.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (3, Insightful)

ThorGod (456163) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464385)

You said it better than I was going to say it.

The way I see it, they:
a.) Plotted some data
b.) Extrapolated a simple trend from that data
c.) Forecasted, using the trend function, before the point of data collection
d.) Came up with some wild conclusions from that forecast (or "beforecast"?) that rely heavily on the validity of the simple trend.

It kind of smells like bad science...or at least risky science.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

clyde_cadiddlehopper (1052112) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465683)

What's wrong with connecting dots? We project the past into the future routinely and reliably. Why can't it run backwards? Epidemiologists certainly do that. Consider today's cinema ... audience sizes, production cost, production values, censorship, graphic content, crew size, number of awards. It scarcely matters which parameters are picked as long as they can be measured. Next, examine those parameters for the 1990s, 1970s, and 1950s. From those data points, you can infer trends. From those trends, you can probably make a decent guess as to when motion photography was invented.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464435)

That's true, but changing size of dozens of homologous structures, e.g. arm bones, is trivial (and buolt in to sexual reproduction) already.

Changing chemistry is another matter. This seems like a statistical argument -- we habe lots of evidence of a regular pace of change (and said change requires true mutation, not just controlled rescrambling ala reproduction).

I don't know how many nucleotides there are, but if millions, this could be a fairly solid argument.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464445)

No no... their extrapolation is exactly correct. We have seen this type of conclusions come true many times over.

You may remember how female athletes' performance was increasing faster than men. This trend continued, which is why female athletes now outperform men. It's also why in a few decades, female runners will break the sound barrier, and in the next few hundred years, the first female runner will be able to run faster than the speed of light!

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (2)

Kjella (173770) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464507)

All of this assumes that the complexity of life, as he defines it, increases at a relatively constant rate. There is no reason that this has to be true. Environmental effects on organisms increases selective pressure and causes evolution to progress at a faster rate. Cataclysmic events happen every now and then and causes extinctions and hardship on surviving organisms. Seems pretty uneven to me...

All that aside, is there even a good logical reason to think the bootstrapping has much to do with the later processes? In the beginning a single mutation to a primitive life form is a much bigger deal than to a large, complex organism. Many bacteria have a life span of 20 minutes, that's 25000+ generations in a year so big positive or negative mutations would spread like wildfire. Meanwhile us humans have a regeneration cycle of 20-30 years and being large, complex organisms most of us carry a ton of positive and negative genes, just not good enough to achieve dominance or bad enough to eliminate us from the gene pool. Since they brought Moore's law up, why not extrapolate it to say how many transistors a computer had in 1900...

Cambrian Explosion (4, Insightful)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464523)

The assumptions in the article are especially suspect, given the large number of quite well documented "explosions" of genetic diversity in Earth's history (see, e.g., the Cambrian Explosion [wikipedia.org] for the biggest example, though there are plenty of lesser events), where gigantic leaps in genetic diversity appeared over (geologically) short timescales. An extrapolation assuming a generally smooth growth rate is simply untenable.

Re:Cambrian Explosion (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464761)

You are confusing morphological changes with typological changes. It the same as confusing the transistor density metric from Moore's Law with the number of ICs per square kilometer on Earth's surface. Both are measures of areal transistor density, and they are macroscopically correlated, but they are completely different metrics. A spike in one does not mean a spike in the other.

Genetic diversity != Genetic complexity.

Cataclysmic events may be required (4, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464655)

... Cataclysmic events happen every now and then and causes extinctions and hardship on surviving organisms

Indeed, it appears that periodic cataclysmic events are required in order to keep evolution going.

We've seen several eras in Earth's history where life appears to "stagnate" at some level, proceeding with little-or-no change for long periods. The last of which was the "age of dinosaurs", which lasted 170 million years or so, depending on how you define the starting point. It ended with the Chicxulub impact.

We also see numerous examples of species which are largely unevolved; for example, ants have been around for 120 million years and one species [americanscientist.org] of prehistoric ant is apparently still living in the Amazon. Coelacanths [wikipedia.org] have been around in their present form for about 400 million years.

The overall impression is that life tends to "stagnate": once life evolves into an efficient survival mechanism, there's no pressure to evolve further. Evolution aims at being a better "fit" for the unchanging environment, but more complexity is simply not needed.

This is why I believe the Drake equation [wikipedia.org] is overly optimistic. I think it omits the factor "fraction of star systems that experience occasional planetary meteor strikes". If we ever travel to another star, we're likely to find it teeming with life, but stagnated at some level.

This may be one factor (of possibly several) that explains the Fermi paradox.

The "doubling rate" identified in the article may be an artifact of Earth, and that's only if Genome complexity [fourmilab.ch] is even a reasonable measure to make. Lilies have 30x the genome size of humans - another explanation might be that genome complexity is related to genome size, which does not have much selection pressure. It's not a peer-reviewed paper.

To be clear (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464771)

...another explanation might be that genome complexity is related to genome size, which does not have much selection pressure. It's not a peer-reviewed paper.

To be clear, I mean to say "genome size is not related to species complexity". Genomic data may be complex simply because it's large and presents a large target for evolutionary change, but a large genome doesn't necessarily result in a complex organism.

Re:Cataclysmic events may be required (1)

dargaud (518470) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465261)

Agreed. Also I don't think phenotype is very much related to genetic complexity. Before the 'Iced Earth' episode (not the band), life was basically stromatolites for 2 billions years. Then ice covered everything, keeping a few isolated pockets for a long time. This must have put a lot of selective pressure on those pockets of life. It must have been like extended development of /lib while not doing much on the main apps. Then when the ice melted there was all those varied building blocks available to use in newly opened biotopes, hence the complexity explosion (Ediacara).

Similarly while the dinosaurs roamed the Earth the mammals were 'under the ice'; a lot of /lib changes, but no possibility to get big or more varied than your primitive rat because of the competition. Then once the big guys got wiped out all those ecological niches were available and filled out faster than one would expect from standard selection processes; simply because the genotype had lots of diversity already: it just needed to show in the phenotype and a few minor mutations did that.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464677)

All of this assumes that the complexity of life, as he defines it, increases at a relatively constant rate.

The paper merely states that given:
1) Our current understanding of evolutionary rates,
2) Our current understanding of the age of the earth,
3) Our current understanding of the origin of life ...at least one of the above has serious flaws.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

jovius (974690) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464775)

Take this gem for example from the article:

For example, the doubling time of the number of scientific publications from 1900 to 1960 was only 15 years (de Solla Price, 1971). Interestingly, extrapolating the exponential increase of scientific publications backwards gives us an estimated origin of science at 1710 which is the time of Isaac Newton.

That's not the origin of science, but it coincides with the industrial revolution, which sparked a new range of philosophical thinking from economy to nature. Besides printing press was readily established at that time to spread the news. There has always been science at some level. The selected viewpoint has an effect to the origin.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465101)

The funny thing about that example is that there are a lot uses or references to the rate of growth of papers on a specific topic in science journals. Some subjects show an exponential growth right back to the paper that founded the subfield, others show an explosion after sitting low key for a while, and yet others show plateaus and stagnation due to problems or difficulties in some fields that are later overcome. Depending on which subject you chose as an example, you could make a case for or against use of exponential growth being able to date the origin if you only choose just one or a specific small number of examples.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464807)

If you could have a molecule that could temporarily hold one copy of every atom or amino acid used to duplicate itself, then split itself apart, then you could have self-replicating molecules.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (1)

briancox2 (2417470) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464945)

What you are getting at is entropy and unpredictable events. And those factors are always averaged out through a proper application of the Scientific Method by having a large enough sampling size, a control group and testing alternative hypotheses.

The larger the scope of what is being studied, the more entropy and unpredictable events factor into the sample size required. And computer models are incredibly bad at accounting for entropy and unpredictable events. A computer model with a mesh element count of 10^6 of a roughly 10" x 10" x 1" piece of plastic is notably poor at predicting fail mode and location under stress.

A computer model of hurricane prediction is even worse, often predicting paths that diverge at a 90 angle. Feel free to draw your own conclusion on reliability of global weather and climate models.

But the Scientific Method which requires a large enough sampling size to absorb all of that entropy has been replaced by group agreement (consensus) that does not actually create repeatable results. We nod our heads and say, "that sounds reasonable," and no one grabs a whole new sample and checks it.

We have a lot to do as the Human Race to understand about how to properly handle orders of magnitude.

Re:Or... maybe your assumption is wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465219)

A computer model of hurricane prediction is even worse, often predicting paths that diverge at a 90 angle.

And yet, the prediction path errors have been steadily declining, now approaching 100 miles for 48 hours in advance. I don't know how that factors into being worse than something not being able to predict the failure location in a sheet of plastic, unless that is actually really good these days too.

mod 04 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464231)

unless 7ou Can work

Finish the graph? (1)

Empiric (675968) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464245)

How about a label for the supposed graph points before Prokaryotes?

Otherwise one might conclude that they are simply assuming these "precursors" in the absence of even enough evidence such that they have a name--because that's what "must" have been the case per the assumed paradigm.

Moore's Law has nothing to do with this (4, Interesting)

Algae_94 (2017070) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464253)

This is just talking about exponential growth rates and using that to estimate the start of life. Apparently, the editors of /. can't understand exponential growth without thinking of Moore's law.

Re:Moore's Law has nothing to do with this (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464557)

The Moore's Law reference is in the Technology Review link.

increases exponentially (0)

geekoid (135745) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464321)

really? exponentially?

And Fermi's paradox isn't. It's should be call Fermi's ignorance. Or Fermi's wacky assumptions.

Re:increases exponentially (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464647)

Nice to see I'm not the only one to think that. I mean part of the "paradox" relies on Presumably some of these civilizations will develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now; [wikipedia.org].....notice the big fat gaping hole in the logic? It automatically assumes that FTL drives are not only possible but that some intelligent races WILL be able to build these. That would be all well and good if it weren't for the theory of relativity which so far nobody has been able to even come close to breaking.

So the whole "paradox" rests on the assumption that Star Trek is not only possible but anybody with a brain will advance to that point when we have seen exactly ZERO evidence that it is even possible. Just because a civilization is older than ours doesn't give them the ability to do real magic or bend reality with their minds yet his paradox all hinges on FTL being as easy to come up with as a toaster if a civilization survives long enough and again no evidence that FTL is even possible, much less reasonably easy to do..

Re:increases exponentially (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464759)

Nobody said FTL

Re:increases exponentially (1)

infodude (48434) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464831)

Indeed, I think ~30 million years was calculated for populating the entire galaxy with beings using only sedentary, rocket launched, ark-ships. 300 year voyage followed by 300 years of settlement on each planet before the next diaspora.

Re: increases exponentially (1)

Crazy Taco (1083423) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465883)

That makes a couple bad assumptions. First, we don't know how to protect humans from Cosmic radiation on even a short voyage, let alone a super long 300 year voyage. Second, the advances of our civilization depend on having a very large population in which people can specialize in just about every possible way. I doubt you could make a spacecraft big enough to carry all the different kinds of specialists you'd need at the other end to even rebuild a rocket of known design. You'd have to be able to fully colonize and exploit the world and train all the different kinds of scientists and engineers you'll need to design new rockets and systems to cope with different conditions and resources on alien worlds. So even if you could survive the voyage, 300 years and then launching new expeditions seems ridiculously optimistic.

Re:increases exponentially (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464871)

>the theory of relativity which so far nobody has been able to even come close to breaking

Actually, superluminal speeds are already achieved by distant galaxies due to the Hubble effect. Superluminal spaceship transport may likewise be possible with Alcubierre drive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcubierre_drive

Here, the spacecraft is stationary but is dragged in space moving at superluminal speeds.

The Alucbierre drive requires negative energy, which could be possible with some kind of spongy foam exploiting the Casmir effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casmir_effect

Re:increases exponentially (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464963)

.notice the big fat gaping hole in the logic? It automatically assumes that FTL drives are not only possible but that some intelligent races WILL be able to build these.

Umm, "interstellar travel" != "FTL drives".

Last I looked at the Fermi Paradox, it assumed STL (Slower Than Light) expansion across the galaxy/universe

Re:increases exponentially (2)

Hatta (162192) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464971)

It automatically assumes that FTL drives are not only possible

No it doesn't. Von Neumann probes traveling at sub lightspeed and replicating exponentially could have traversed the galaxy in less time than it takes life to evolve on a bare rock.

Re:increases exponentially (1)

Immerman (2627577) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465073)

Nobody said anything about FTL. The Milky Way is only about 100,000 light years across. If a race could travel at even a measly 10% of lightspeed they could have crossed the entire galaxy 1,000 times in a paltry billion years, and sunlike stars started forming several billion years before our own. Even if they were just explorers their microbes would likely have colonized and terraformed every vaguely hospitable planet they stopped at, and had plenty of time to evolve into potentially starfaring races in their own right by now.

Re:increases exponentially (1)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464689)

Hey, at least it's a step up from people who use "exponentially" to mean anything that changes "a whole lot, really fast!".

Really? (1)

RatBastard (949) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464339)

Look, we already know that genetic diversity doesn't increase at any predictable rare. For most pf life's existence on earth it was limited to anaerobic bacteria and that there was very little genetic diversity. Then the oxygen levels in the oceans and atmosphere reached saturation levels and aerobic live took over. And with the higher complexity of possible life forms, the increase in reproductive frequency, and the over-all speedup of this rocket-fueled form of life genetic diversity exploded.

Read up on Histones (2)

clonan (64380) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464803)

Not true. Histones, the proteins that keep DNA ordered, are some of the earliest proteins. They provide an extremely accurate clock for when species diverged.

While on a short term, a few million years, you are right when you say the rate of genetic drift is not predictable. However, over a longer period of time the rate SEEMS to be fairly consistent. That is the point of the article.

You seem to be confusing genetic diversity with Phylogenetic diversity. Phylogenetic diversity describes how genes change physical differences while genetic diversity talks about the complexity of the genes themselves.

You can have genetic diversification without the physical structure of the organism changing, especially if there are environmental restrictions.

Alternate Titles (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464361)

"SARS and the Origin of Life"
"Horny Rabbits and the Origin of Life"
"Rice on a chess board and the Origin of Life"

PROTIP: Just because there is exponential growth doesn't mean a subject has anything to do with Moore's "Law".

Ask God and Study God (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464439)

God says...
5:17 All these were reckoned by genealogies in the days of Jotham king
of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam king of Israel.

5:18 The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and half the tribe of
Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to
shoot with bow, and skilful in war, were four and forty thousand seven
hundred and threescore, that went out to the war.

5:19 And they made war with the Hagarites, with Jetur, and Nephish,
and Nodab.

5:20 And they were helped against them, and the Hagarites were
delivered into their hand, and all that were with them: for they cried
to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them; because they put
their trust in him.

Uh... no. (2)

mark-t (151149) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464463)

"life as we know it originated 9.7 billion years ago."

Uhmmm.... "life as we know it" happens to be limited to life that originated on Earth. Earth isn't 9.7 billion years old. I trust you can see the problem with this notion.

Certainly the possibility exists that life on earth actually originated elsewhere and happened to land here after the earth was formed, this is far from an actual testable scientific theory until at least we find any evidence of life outside of this planet that we can verifiable say did not come from here.

Re:Uh... no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465127)

I'm very disappointed with the comments so far... The paper is not about what people is commenting here. I know, I am new here..
This is in an important paper, in my opinion, the first simple, congruent explanation of Fermi paradox.

Re:Uh... no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465149)

The tittle of the paper is "life before earth", genious..

About the same is a big difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43464525)

The summary proposes that the timescale for life in other parts of the universe is about the same as it is here.
        (On an age of the universe time scale.)

If you look at how much we have advanced in the last 100k years. and guess were we might be if we survive for the next 100k.
    That's quite a difference in capability, but not much in terms of age of the universe.

If some aliens showed you that were only a miniscule 100K years ahead, we probably wouldn't notice unless they wished it so.

Extrapolation! (4, Insightful)

nedlohs (1335013) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464597)

what could possibly go wrong, particularly when you extrapolate twice as far as you actually have data for.

Re:Extrapolation! (1)

Doug Otto (2821601) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465407)

In all fairness, if you had all the data you wouldn't have to extrapolate....

Re:Extrapolation! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465679)

They are extrapolating from five data points. I'm sure that, if they bothered to produce an actual scientific paper instead of wild speculation, they could have found more data.

the interesting part here (1)

waddgodd (34934) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464617)

What I'm interested in is how MIT came to be in possession of a Cornell paper. Were they strictly authorized to use the paper in such a manner? Did they actually use their proper login credientials? Did they tell Cornell in advance of the fact they wished to cross state lines with it? If the answer to any of the above is "no" can we hound them to death about it like they did to Swartz?

Truer than it looks! (2)

cervesaebraciator (2352888) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464743)

This is clearly a solid comparison since I found a related correlation between Moore's law and humanity. Having met humanity, I can definitively say that the software doesn't take full advantage of the hardware's advances.

Missing mass? (1)

sinij (911942) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464891)

This nicely explains where missing mass of the universe went - Dyson Spheres. I always thought "dark matter" suffered from Occam's Razor.

Re:Missing mass? (1)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465295)

Aside from the evidence (via gravitational lensing measurements) for dark-matter halos with distinctly different spatial distributions from known-matter galactic disks (loose "blobs" indicating different, extremely-weakly-interacting types of matter than the normal stuff that accretes into galactic disks). So, your "Occam's Razor" solution is that observed mass distributions (consistent with two types of matter, visible/interacting and "dark"/non-interacting except through gravity) are due to super-advanced civilizations Dyson-sphering a few times the observable mass of the universe, motoring out of the galactic disk, and conspiring to re-position themselves in distributions mimicking dark matter. How elegantly minimalistic.

Holy Data Cherrypicking! (3, Interesting)

femtobyte (710429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43464913)

The critical "plot" in the article from which the age estimate is derived has 6 data points: "prokaryotes," "eukaryotes," "worms," "fish," and "mammals." Nowhere in the article is the selection criteria for these 6 particular categories explained. In other words, out of the hundreds of major categories of life which the authors might have chosen to plot, they arbitrarily pick 6 that vaguely fall on a log-linear line (with a bit of fudging for "functional, non-redundant genome"). Give me a big scattery cloud of hundreds of potential data points, and I can reach whatever conclusion you want with the proper selection of a half dozen.

Let me solve the Fermi Paradox for you (0)

Reality Man (2890429) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465135)

There isn't one. Physics, chemistry and engineering show that we'll never go there, and they'll never get here. Just getting a signal across the gulf of space is hard enough.

Re:Let me solve the Fermi Paradox for you (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | 1 year,1 day | (#43465567)

There isn't one. Physics, chemistry and engineering show that we'll never go there, and they'll never get here. Just getting a signal across the gulf of space is hard enough.

and man will never land on the moon

I'm a little skeptical (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,1 day | (#43465213)

The article really is not convincing, for several reasons:
Their graph, the one that supports the whole enchilada, has five data points. Color me unimpressed that they were able to fit a function to five data points. Furthermore, the specificity of classification even within the graph varies a lot- prokaryotes are a much broader classification than worms, fish, or mammals. Is there variance in the amount of functional base pairs within the prokaryotes? I don't know- I'm not a biologist. Their paper doesn't clarify this point at all. How do I know that they are not cherry-picking their organisms to fit an exponential curve?

They're extrapolating backwards without good justification. Even if the growth is exponential, what affects the time constant? Some organisms reproduce slower than others, which surely affects the exponential rate of growth. If bacteria existed on space-bound pieces of rock, would they be able to reproduce at the same rate as a bacterium in a pond? Surely the microbiology of the "first organism" would be very different than that of organisms many billions of years following? Would mutations occur more rapidly in space, increasing the rate at which function base pairs would grow?

They assume the origin of life had one base pair. I'm not a microbiologist- does it make sense for the DNA of the first organism to have one base pair? If the organism instead had 10 base pairs, their estimate for the origin of life is knocked forward by a billion years or so. Even without that, the error bars on their analysis are +/- 2.5 billion years, just due to statistical uncertainty.

They reference a "Another complexity measure yielded an estimate for the origin of life date about 5 to 6 billion years ago." Why are the results so different? What were the error bars on their data? They claim that those results are incompatible with an origin on Earth, but if the error bars are similar to those on their claims, then that statement doesn't hold water.

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