As the Worm Turns, or Doesn't

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

(Image credit: Geoff Gallice)

Research about a theory about worms
compiled by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff

Velvet Worms and Caterpillars (Yes)
"Caterpillars Evolved from Onychophorans by Hybridogenesis," Donald I. Williamson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 46, November 24, 2009, pp. 19901–5. The author, at the University of Liverpool, explains:

I reject the Darwinian assumption that larvae and their adults evolved from a single common ancestor. Rather I posit that, in animals that metamorphose, the basic types of larvae originated as adults of different lineages, i.e., larvae were transferred when, through hybridization, their genomes were acquired by distantly related animals.

Velvet Worms and Caterpillars (No)
"Caterpillars Did Not Evolve from Onychophorans by Hybridogenesis," Michael W. Hart and Richard K. Grosberg, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 46, November 24, 2009, pp. 19906–9. The authors, respectively at Simon Fraser University and at the University of California, Davis, explain:

Williamson has made a series of predictions arising from his hypothesis and urged genomicists to test them. Here, we use data already in the literature to show these predictions to be false.

Velvet Worms and Caterpillars (Oh, Please)
"On Velvet Worms and Caterpillars: Science, Fiction, or Science Fiction?" Gonzalo Giribet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 46, November 24, 2009, p. E131. The author, at Harvard University, writes:

The matter appears extracted from a science fiction novel but has grave implications. This paper has fallen through the cracks of the review process of one of the most prestigious scientific journals.... [We] should ask whether an individual can propose any theory, no matter how unsupported that idea may be, and demand that others do the work to test it scientifically.

Perhaps the most amazing thing from this article is not the bold proposal, but the fact that the author believes that there is a research program behind his claims: "As an initial trial, it should be possible to attach an onychophoran spermatophore to the genital pore of a female cockroach and see if fertilized eggs are laid." I am not sure this can be taken seriously.

(Image credit: Soniamartinez)

Velvet Worms and Caterpillars (Oh, Thank You)
"Reply to Giribet: Caterpillars Evolved from Onychophorans by Hybridogenesis," Donald I. Williamson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 46, November 24, 2009, p. E132. The author, writes:

I thank Giribet for drawing attention to my paper.

_____________________

This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2013 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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