In a press release roundly denounced by the interwebs, the usually respectable American Chemical Society writes that “advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe.”
Um what? While our BS detectors just started blinking bright red, this press release is really a perverse kind of genius. When was the last time the science media lit up with a very technical paper on the origins of homochirality? (Before we get back to “advanced” dinosaurs, chirality refers to molecules that can exist in left- and right-handed forms; some organic molecules like DNA and proteins tend to be made of molecules only in one form. Why is that? This is an interesting question. It also has nothing to do with dinosaurs.)
Now the press release writer didn’t exactly pull the dinosaur reference out of nowhere, but the author of the paper did. After suggesting that early meteorites may have seeded a pre-life earth with chiral amino acids, Dr. Robert Breslow ends this paper with this flight of fancy:
An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D amino acids and L sugars, depending on the chirality of circular polarized light in that sector of the universe or whatever other process operated to favor the L α‐methyl amino acids in the meteorites that have landed on Earth. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.
We’d like to point out that Dr. Breslow is a very distinguished chemist at Columbia, a National Medal of Science winner, and former president of the American Chemical Society—the very organization who wrote the press release and whose journal published his paper. As good as he clearly is at chemistry, we will refrain from judging his sense of humor.
This bit with advanced dinosaurs has nothing to do with chirality and doesn’t make much evolutionary sense either, which Brian Switek has very eloquently broken down at Dinosaur Tracking. The lesson of all this is may be that if you want to get away with silly alternative history jokes, do it in a journal published by an organization you used to run.
[via KSJ Tracker]
Image via quickmeme