Moselio Schaechter

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September 23, 2010

Talmudic Question #66

What if someone found an organism whose genes assignation is 1/3 bacterial, 1/3 archaeal, and 1/3 unknown?

We jumped the gun and posed this question to our friend Ramy Aziz. He responded with answers that reflect various phylogenetic points of view.

  • Scientist A thinks this organism is whatever its ribosomal DNA tells us it is.
  • Scientist B believes it's whatever its recA gene tells us it is.
  • Scientist C proposes that this is proof that there is no tree of life, but rather a reticulum.
  • Scientist D declares that, whatever it is, it’s certainly not a prokaryote (as there is no such thing).
  • Scientist E tells us that it's an unknown organism that ate both a bacterium and an archaeon.
  • Scientist F puts forth that that proves there is a fourth domain of life, or—just wait a while—that it's a synthetic, biologically-created hybrid.
  • Scientist G says that it's proof of a viral origin of life.

And yours?


The diversity of opinions is, itself, interesting. Does this show how much is, as yet, unknown? Or does it show that we are still in the "phlogiston" stage of discovery?

Scientist P argues that 1/3 unknown are uncharacterized transposases.

Scientist O says that the 1/3 unknown represents unassigned phage genes.
Totally dig scientists A, E, and J. Anthrax gene contamination case is cool too.

Scientist T claims Eubacteria are paraphyletic while Archaea are sister to this strange organism, and spends 80 pages of dense text doing so, citing himself 120 times in the process.

-Bigshot- Scientist K writes it off as 'not worthy of [their] consideration'.

Is it sad that I can substitute a large chunk of those 'hypothetical' scientists with real names?

Think I may need a life about now...

Would make a nice easy quiz for someone's comps =P

With alliteration:
Scientist J laughs at your little joke, then rejects your paper
Philosopher K thinks Immanuel would be pleased
Scientist L think that whatever it is it wanted to be that way
Professor M likens the communal nature of DNA to proof that life strives toward a cetain bearded viewpoint
Scientist N think microbes are on to us and have started to select for grant winning traits ($ = more cultures)

I'm sure we could hit Z quite easily...

I too would first suspect an error, not so much sequencing itself as human error in labeling leading to an erroneous assembly. I myself encountered such a case where anthrax genes were found in an eukaryotic draft genome. What, you don't recall the reading the paper, which would be a major finding? That's because we figured out the error in time (another group was sequencing anthrax at the same time as our eukaryote)

Scientist I is a Bayesian.

It would be funny to list names of cheerleaders for each point of view, but that might be seen as sounding critical or snarky.

Opinions are important in science. Elio, I think that this would be a great "end of the semester" discussion: assign groups of two to each "scientist" and have the groups present a "speech to convince" of that point of view after a week or two of journal searching and thought.

Bioinformaticist H says it's a sequencing error.

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