How I wish that cells’ ancestors were not, now, being named after Norse gods.
The whole of Norse mythology is dark, superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Giving names of non-existent quasi-humans to hypothetical organisms inferred from metagenomes is an obstacle to thought, and an open invitation to anthropocentricity.
The usually admirable Ed Yong in The Atlantic, 11th January 2017:-
In Norse mythology, humans and our world were created by a pantheon of gods who lived in the realm of Asgard. As it turns out, these stories have a grain of truth to them.
No they don’t. They are complete tosh.
The precedent for the terminology seems to be a fascinating mid-ocean hydrothermal field gratuitously named “Loki’s Castle” (Pedersen et. al., 2010) – by researchers, as it happens, from Norway. From Science Daily:-
The field has been named Loki’s Castle partly because the small chimneys at the site looked like a fantasy castle to the scientists. The Loki part refers to a Norwegian god renowned for trickery. A University of Bergen press release about the discovery said Loki “was an appropriate name for a field that was so difficult to locate.”
That explains it, then. Give me strength.
The origin of eukaryotes itself is unsolved, interesting, and raises many important questions. There is progress.
But is there not an element of parochial atavism in Nordic researchers claiming ties to their local demon-haunted world? Might one reference The Mabinogion for no better reason than happening to have some connection with Wales? Who else might wish to get their oar in? Terms from classical Greek and Latin were chosen for their wide intelligibility, not as cultural public relations.
For the prokaryotic host in the symbiosis that produced eukaryotes we now have an array of proposed, whole phyla – Lokiarchaeota, Thorarchaeota, Odinarchaeota and Heimdallarchaeota. “We decided to name this archaeal clade Asgard, after the realm of the gods in Norse mythology.” (Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka et al., 2017). Who next? Freya must surely get a mention soon. And could Darwin have been inspired by Yggdrasil?
I fear that we may be working towards the kingdom Valhalla. That was the location, in the after-life, of warriors who had died in combat. It could be appropriate. A reminder that there is no evolution without extinction? A tribute to the branches that led nowhere?
Or could Valhalla become the metaphor of choice for discarded evolutionary hypotheses?
Pedersen et. al. (2010) Discovery of a black smoker vent field and vent fauna at the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge. Nature Communications doi:10.1038/ncomms1124
Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka, K. et al. (2017) Asgard archaea illuminate the origin of eukaryotic cellular complexity. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature21031
McInerney, J. O. and O’Connell, M. J. (2017) Mind the gaps in cellular evolution. Nature doi:10.1038/nature21113