Wednesday, 8 December 2010

An xenobiological conference call

Just a short post this time. If you read this blog, it is a safe bet that you are interested in speculative biology, astrobiology, xenobiology and/or exobiology. I mention all four terms as they are about more or less different things. 'Speculative biology' seems to stand apart from the others; it is about any kind of biology that is not about real living beings, here, there, then or now. It can be about alternative evolution on Earth, such as dinosaurs in the present or about evolution on Earth in the future. Xenobiology, exobiology and astrobiology are restricted to unearthly life. The words 'exobiology' and 'xenobiology' are clearly older, but the newcomer 'astrobiology' seems to have won the day. Personally, I prefer 'exobiology', in part because it evokes 'exotic' and in part because I am linguistically conservative. 'Xenobiology' literally refers to the biology of 'strangers', and so it comes very close, etymologically, to 'alien biology'. 'Astrobiology' is literally about life on stars, and while I am willing to listen to any hypothesis about life, life on or in stars seems unlikely. But I will not be difficult about this; after all, 'astronomy' deals with more than just stars. Essentially xeno-, exo- and astrobiology are all about the same subject.

So, would you wish to go to a xenobiological conference? The full title is '18th International Congress of Xenobiology and Planetary Biology'. The program looks interesting: there will be talks on topics such as 'Xenophages and other new treatments and their impact on Human physiology'. As if Earth viruses and bacteria aren't enough, modified or with their wholly natural charm, you can now get treated with alien organisms. It's completely harmless, really! The introduction of Earth lifeforms in alien ecologies is always good for a controversy, so the talk on 'Introduction and Establishment of Terrestrial Insectoids in Rigel Kentaurus' is bound to draw a large audience. Then again, what do we care about Rigel Kentaurus?

You can read more on the conference on the following website. You will have to be patient though, as the conference will be held on 16-21 September, 2206. Aha; while there are serious conferences on astrobiology, this one is fictitious. The website is beautifully made, and if you ever been to a scientific conference, you will know that this is an excellent parody. It is all there!: there is a social program, a timetable, information about the venue and the hotel, and a list of sponsors. Whoever made this knew what he or she was doing. The author can be found by stripping the web address, and that yields something else altogether.

The website is in Finnish, a language I can recognise but not understand. Luckily, there is a copyright name there: credit to whom it is due, which in this case is Sampsa Rydman. If you work your way through the various options in the menu, you will find some interesting ones. One definitely worth a visit is 'Xenobiologia', proving that some Finnish words are easy. But from then on I would advise you to use Google's translation services. You will find a page with interesting pencil drawings on it, of which I will show two.

Click to enlarge; copyright Sampsa Rydman

This creature is a Löyhkähaahkaja. So what does Google make of the accompanying text? Here it is, without embellishments: "This is a great size (4-5 feet), carnivorous plants attract prey lemullaan intolerable. Although it elääkin entire life rooted in one place, its great tarttumaelimellä a wide freedom of movement. Löyhkähaahkajat spread and multiply rihmajuurakkoaan along."

Well, reading that definitely evokes a 'sense of wonder'. I think that we are looking at a sessile but mobile life form. Other life forms on the page seem to have elements of plants as well as animals, a feature they share with Furahan mixomorphs. The limits of sessile life forms perhaps deserve a post of their own, some day.

Click to enlarge; copyright Sampsa Rydman

And this is a Haaskahyppiäinen. "The kolmeraajaisten hyppiäisten sect belonging to the plains inmate is about 20 cents higher, munimalla growing insect-like vikkeläliikkeinen hajoittajaeläin. They are found largely blue-green leaves and raipparepsukoiden hills and mustaruohotasangoilta."

Right. I thought as much. But look at it: it appears to be a triradial life form, and I have a definite soft spot for radial animals, particularly ones with complex motor skills.

Have a look at the other animals yourself. They are probably more graphically pleasant than biologically plausible, but every once in a while that is admissible. Mind you, if you wish to have a look at the other pages, turn off the translation, or else you will not see the illustrations on the pages. There is a nice planetary map here. I rather liked the images advocating 'robot equality'. I hasten to say that I do not object to treating robots humanely (of course not!) but I hope that does not mean they fall under the heading of 'speculative biology'. Dear me.

I will keep it at this. This is a nice site! I would have liked to have seen more animals, but I guess I will have to wait for the conference...


Luciano N. Ribeiro said...

'Astrobiology' is literally about life on stars, and while I am willing to listen to any hypothesis about life, life on or in stars seems unlikely.

I recommend a short story by Hal Clement called "Proof" which deals with sun-dwelling creatures. Hal Clement was not only a sci-fi writer but also a xenobiologist at heart, this is particularly evident in his book "Iceworld", which I consider his best work

Just thought you'd enjoy reading in case you haven't already

Really cool site by the way! :-)

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Hello Luciano,

I do not think I know this particular Clement story, but I was aware of the concept of life in stars. Is it impossible? No, I do not think so. But it does seem a lot less likely than life in our sort of environment, i.e., a planetary one. Mind you, considerations of likelihood never prevented me from having fun while reading SF.