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Got acetylene: A personal research retrospective

July 31, 2021

In research, sometimes sheer happenstance and serendipity make for an unexpected discovery. Once revealed and if interesting enough, such a finding and its follow-up investigations can lead to advances by others that leave its originators ‘scooped’ and mulling about what next to do with their unpublished data, specifically what journals could it still be published in and be perceived as original. This is what occurred with us nearly 40 years ago with regard to our follow-up observations of acetylene fermentation and led us to concoct a ‘cock-and-bull’ story. We hypothesized about a plausible role for acetylene metabolism in the primordial biogeochemistry of Earth and the possibility of acetylene serving as a key life-sustaining substrate for alien microbes dwelling in the orbs of the outer solar system. With the passage of time, advances were made in whole-genome sequencing coupled with major in silico progress in bioinformatics. In parallel came the results of explorations of the outer solar system (i.e. the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons). It now appears that these somewhat harebrained ideas of ours, arisen at first out of a sense of desperation, actually ring true in fact, and particularly well in song:

‘Tell a tale of cock and bull,

Of convincing detail full

Tale tremendous,

Heav'n defend us!

What a tale of cock and bull!'

From ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ by Gilbert & Sullivan.

Publication Year 2021
Title Got acetylene: A personal research retrospective
DOI 10.1093/femsmc/xtab009
Authors Ronald S. Oremland
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title FEMS Microbes
Index ID 70234095
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division