The Autotrophs Began to Drool: Part 2

We are going to take a quick break from the recent multi-part segment “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comics Books: Iron Man Edition” to revisit an old blog post.

Specifically, a blog post titled “The Autotrophs Began to Drool” (

In that blog post we took a look at the theme song to the hit TV series “The Big Bang Theory”

Originally, we looked at the line “the autotrophs began to drool”, and the controversy regarding that particular passage.  We then went on to investigate what exactly an autotroph is (an organism that produces its own food) and explain how exactly an autotroph would begin to drool (it would not actually begin to drool, instead it would pave the way for species that would someday begin to drool).  As it turns out, things are not quite as simple as I made them out to be.

As is often the case within the scientific community, there are often several legit/reasonable trains of thought regarding a particular topic.  There is often evidence both for and against each particular train of thought.  This is especially true when it comes to the origin of life on earth.

As reader “Biogirl” pointed out, my assertion that autotrophs pre-dated heterotrophs (hence the line, the autotrophs began to drool) was not exactly correct.  After doing some additional research, as best as I can tell, the general consensus within the scientific community is that heterotrophs pre-date the first autotrophs.  Although there are some legitimate arguments to the contrary, our best evidence seems to indicate that heterotrophic organisms where the first (or 1st for my good friend Ernie) life form on the planet earth.

Let us explore this topic a little bit further shall we.

The current consensus is that prokaryotes where the first life form on the planet.  Prokaryotes are defined by what they lack.  Specifically, prokaryotes are typically single celled organisms (although there are a few varieties that are multi-cellular) that lack a cell nucleus, or any membrane bound organelles for that matter.  It is worth noting that although this is the general consensus in the scientific community it is far from being considered fact.  There is a reasonable amount of data to support the theory that eukaryotes where the first organisms on the planet, that the first prokaryotes (that we have fossil records of) evolved from them and then that the eukaryote ancestors that we have in our fossils records evolved from those prokaryotes (you still with me!?).

Let us work from the assumption that prokaryotes where in fact the first organism on the planet, when we consider the line “The autotrophs began to drool”, this leads us to the obvious question, did the autotrophs in fact begin to drool (or maybe put a little more scientifically, which came first the autotrophs or heterotrophs).  My initial assertion was that the autotrophs came first which then paved the way for the development of heterotrophs (see the original blog post for a more detailed explanation of this process).  Turns out this may not be the case.  As we discussed above, the details regarding subjects such as the origin of life on earth are far from set in stone (get it!?  Many of the details we have regarding organisms from the past are from fossils that are…wait for it…physically set in stone!).

The first life form on earth was the chemotroph.  Chemotroph is just a fancy way to say that these organisms obtain energy by the oxidation of electron donors from the environment.  This raises the obvious question, where the 1st chemotrophs autotrophic of heterotrophic?  Although, the answer is still being debated amongst the scientific community, our best evidence tells us that the 1st chemotrophs where most likely heterotrophic.  That is they consumed nutrient sources outside of their “body” in order to run internal processes (versus utilizing internal processes to produce nutrient sources).

So what does this mean for our now infamous line “the autotrophs began to drool”?

Well, according to our best evidence the autotrophs did not in fact begin to drool!  Instead the heterotrophs began to self produce!  Looks like we need to change the lyrics of the song!  Or at least modify it to indicate something to the effect of “some within the scientific community believe that the evidence supports the notion that the autotrophs did not in fact began to drool, but instead the heterotrophs began to self produce”

Has a nice ring to it does it not!?

On a related note…

This blog series (The Autotrophs Began to Drool: Part 1 and 2) is an example what I love about skepticism.  Contrary to what many have you believe, skepticism is not about heading out into the world and debunking everything that you come across, quite the contrary actually.  Instead, skepticism is about the process of inquiry.  Sometimes you are educating others and other times you are the one being educated.  So I want to take a moment to officially thank “Biogirl” for her contribution to the blog!

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


4 Responses to “The Autotrophs Began to Drool: Part 2”

  1. Funny, is it not? Scientists make statements as if they’re fact, when in reality, they’re theory, which even they cannot agree on. The “big bang theory,” for example, was first supported by the Catholic Church, as further evidence that God got it all started, and so it was not supported by science, especiallly atheists. Today, realizing that there may be something to this theory, it’s been embraced, and twisted a bit. For those of us who DO believe in God and creationism, we have our own thoughts. The reality is that it’s all theory; to suggest that creationism is invalid is wrong, since neither evolution nor creationism can be proven. But, I do enjoy the flip flopping on the science side of things. Which came first … no one knows.

    • theskepticalsamurai Says:

      Oh this old gem! “It is not a fact it is just a theory! Even scientists cannot agree upon what the theory is!”

      In science the term theory is used to denote our best understand of the natural world before us.
      For example the “theory” of gravity. Taken from Wikipedia the theory of gravity “is a natural phenomenon by which all physical bodies attract each other. It is most commonly experienced as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped.” This is not really up for debate. This is something that is agreed upon within (and for the most part outside of) the scientific community.

      However there are aspects of gravity that are most certainly up for debate. As our understanding of the natural world changes and evolves, there is new information that comes to light and this raises new questions. This is what is up for debate, not the foundation of information that constructs the theory (with the exception of extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims). This is why (at least in my opinion) why the term “theory” is used. Theory does not mean we do not know what is going on or that we do not agree what information is contained within the theory. Instead theory is the term used to denote our current understand of the natural world, and that our understanding of a particular concept will change/evolve as new information comes to light.

      I find your claim that the Catholic Church first supported the “big bang theory” interesting. Care to provide a reference for this?
      I assume that you are referring to Georges Lemaître who was one of the 1st to introduce the idea of a “big bang”. Georges Lemaître claim was originally not supported because there was no evidence for it, not because of its religious undertones. So if this in fact the situation you are referring to, i think you are misunderstanding the situation. As more evidence came to light, the theory gained greater acceptance. Why, because there was evidence to support it.
      Additionally, at his centre, Georges Lemaître was a scientist. The claims he made where based on actual science and then (in a manner retrofitted) to be a possible explanation for who “god” can fit into the science equation. Additionally, i would argue that the “catholic church support” for the big bang theory was not in the theory itself, but instead just because it allowed for an all powerful god.

      Again, the Big Bang Theory is our current best understanding of the natural world that we live in. The reason why this theory changes and evolves is because we are constantly getting new information and this information informs our understanding of the natural world.

      I have no problem with the “belief” in god and creationism.
      The problem that arises is when you indicate that these concepts are theories/truths and then make testable claims. When you make testable claims…These claims can be tested to prove or disprove them!

      Specifically regarding creationism vs. evolution. Evolution has made hypothesis/predications for years now. Predications/hypothesis regarding finding transitional fossils, what these fossils should look like, etc. And an overwhelming amount of information has been found to support the claims within the theory of evolution. It should also be noted that some of these hypothesis/predications are found to be incorrect and in this case the theory of evolution is altered to reflect this new information. Creationism on the other hand does not do this. Creationism makes similar predications/hyothesis and when these claims/hypothesis are proven wrong, nothing within the “theory” of creationism changes. The same old claims are made regardless of the info. This is not a theory, this is more of a dogma.

      Lastly i will leave you with a question regarding the question of an all powerful god (which i am going to take a leap and assume that you support the notion of).
      -Could an omnipotent being (in this case god) create a stone so heavy that even he could not lift it? Because god is omnipotent, i am assuming that you would answer “of course, he could!”
      -Well if he could lift the rock, then he failed in his initial task, thus proving that he/she/it is not in fact omnipotent.
      -But what if he/she/it cannot lift the rock. Although succeeding in his/her/its initial task, the being has now failed to lift said heavy rock, again proving that the being is again NOT omnipotent.

      Again, testable claims can be tested/measured.

      Look forward to hearing from you!

  2. Mary Barnack Says:

    I like your consideration of this question but I can’t figure out why you keep using the word “where” when you mean “were.” Are you using a speech to text program that doesn’t sort out your accent? That is not the kind of mistake that someone would make whether as a grammatical error (were is a verb and where is an adverb) or a typo (since it occurs repeatedly).

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