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What'sNEW Archives, May-June 2000

June 28: More about water on Mars.
Mars May Hold Twice As Much Water As Previously Thought, ScienceDaily, 28 June 2000.
Mars Express, other probes to expand search for water,, 26 June 2000.
Mars Express: Europe Takes the Lead, by Daniel Sorid,, 28 June 2000.
Mars The Soda Fountain, by Bruce Moomaw, SpaceDaily, 27 June 2000.
Mars 2001 Lander Could Still Be Salvaged, by Russel Sax, SpaceDaily, 27 June 2000.
Meteorite Indicates Mars Had Earth-Like Oceans, by Craig Linder,, 23 June 2000.
The Salty Tears of Mars, SpaceDaily, 23 June 2000.
Life on Mars! is a related CA webpage.

Evidendce of water on Mars June 22: Gullies seen on martian cliffs and crater walls in a small number of high-resolution images from the Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor suggest that liquid water has seeped onto the surface in the geologically recent past. In our opinion, the chance that this water would contain life is high.
Michael C. Malin and Kenneth S. Edgett, "Evidence for Recent Groundwater Seepage and Surface Runoff on Mars" [pdf], Science, 30 June 2000.
MOC Images Suggest Recent Sources of Liquid Water on Mars, MGS MOC Releases MOC2-234 to MOC2-245, 22 June 2000.
New Images Suggest Present-Day Sources of Liquid Water on Mars, NASA / JPL, 22 June 2000.
Water on Mars Raises Chance of Martian Life, by Maggie Fox, Yahoo!News, 22 June 2000.
Evidence of recent water flow on Mars, reported in Science, EurekAlert, 22 June 2000.
Visual evidence suggests water springs on Mars,, 22 June 2000.
Underground 'rivers' revealed on Mars, by David Whitehouse, BBC News Online, 22 June 2000.
PDF: Special issue on Mars' water, Marsbugs, 23 June 2000.
Warren E. Leary, "Evidence of Water Invigorates Study of Mars" [text], The New York Times, 23 June 2000.
Usha Lee McFarling, "Mars Images Have Experts Gushing" [abstract], Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2000.

June 22: NASA will hold press conference on Mars water at 11 AM ET today.

June 21: NASA may see brackish water seeping from beneath the surface of Mars. Don Savage, a spokesperson at NASA headquarters, would confirm only that NASA will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 29, for a so-called Space Science Update, the agency's way of announcing what it considers big discoveries. Evidence of possible ponding within the 6,000-km long canyon named Valles Marineris was previously reported in May 1998. The same region is believed to be the subject of the coming announcement.
Water Discovered On Mars, by Andrew Bridges,, 20 June 2000.
Report: Water springs found on Mars,, 20 June 2000.
NASA To Reveal New Evidence For Water On Mars,, 20 June 2000.
Water 'found on Mars', by David Whitehouse, BBC News Online, 21 June 2000.
Mars Orbiter Camera shows probable seepage... is the What'sNEW item of 27 May 1998.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.

NRAO 12-meter tetescope June 19: Scientists Discover Sugar in Space. The discovery of the sugar molecule glycolaldehyde in a giant cloud of gas and dust some 26,000 light-years away, near the center of our Galaxy was made with the National Science Foundation's 12 Meter Telescope, a radio telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona. The scientists identified glycolaldehyde by detecting six frequencies of radio emission in the millimeter-wavelength region of the electromagnetic spectrum. "We don't yet understand how it could be formed there," said one of the discoverers, Jan M. Hollis. Glycolaldehyde contains exactly the same atoms, though in a different molecular structure, as methyl formate and acetic acid, both of which were detected previously in interstellar clouds. How they could have formed nonbiologically is also unknown. As a solution to this puzzle we suggest that these molecules may be not pre-biotic, but post-biotic.
Scientists Discover Sugar in Space, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, 15 June 2000.
Sweet Success: Astronomers Discover Sugar in Interstellar Space,, 17 June 2000.
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's Analysis of Interstellar Dust is a related CA webpage.

June 14: The genesis of life on earth... remains an unyielding problem. And horizontal gene transfer is essential for explaining the new information from sequenced genomes, according to an informative NYT article.
Nicholas Wade, "Genetic Analysis Yields Intimations of a Primordial Commune" [text], The New York Times, 13 June 2000.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]
The Tree of Life is a related CA webpage.

Star-forming region in Orion June 12: Salt in Zag meteorite suggests planets formed early in a warm wet place. "...There was water flooding on the asteroid it came from in the first few million years the solar system existed," said Jamie Gilmour of Manchester University. [Thanks, Larry Klaes and Robert Owen.]
James Whitby, Burgess, Grenville Turner, Jamie Gilmour and John Bridges, "Extinct 129I in Halite from a Primitive Meteorite: Evidence for Evaporite Formation in the Early Solar System" [abstract], p 1819-1821 v 288 Science, 9 June 2000.
A Watery Birth?: Salt From Universe's Beginning May Show Signs of Water,, 8 June 2000.
Water-bearing salt crystals come from dawn of solar system..., EurekAlert, 8 June 2000.
Meteorite challenges theory of when life started,, 9 June 2000.
Extraterrestrial water found on ancient meteorite, by David McCormick, Discovery Channel Canada, 8 June 2000.
Comets: The Delivery System is a related CA webpage.

comet Hale-Bopp June 12: Argon in Hale-Bopp — "The abundance of argon in Hale-Bopp indicates it formed near Uranus or Neptune, and not Jupiter like other comets from the Oort Cloud." The detection of this noble gas in the spectrum of Hale-Bopp was only possible because the comet passed so near to Earth.
Hale-Bopp Observations Give Clues to Its Origin,, c.12 June 2000.
Neptune's Noble Comets,, 10 June 2000.
Comets: The Delivery System is a related CA webpage.

Ernst Mayr June 12: Ernst Mayr does not doubt evolutionary progress. In an informal interview in his Cambridge, Massachussetts office on 7 June, Brig Klyce asked Mayr about evolutionary progress. Mayr, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, Harvard University, replied that there are two kinds of progress, the first being the old teleological kind that is now rejected. The second is analogous to the progress that is apparent in today's automobiles versus the old "Model T" Ford. Mayr agrees that similar progress has occurred in biological evolution. (Whew!) He was a gracious host and showed no signs of his age, 96. Other comments of his were —

  • "Natural selection" should instead be called "natural elimination."
  • Among bacteria, horizontal gene transfer is "all there is."
  • If the strong version of panspermia holds that life cannot originate from ordinary chemicals by natural means, the theory "completely breaks down." (Oh well, you can't have everything.)
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a CA webpage where evolutionary progress is discussed.
What'sNEW 23 November 2000: Monad to Man, a book review, mentions Mayr on progress.
Ernst Mayr and the Evolutionary Synthesis from the PBS Evolution Library, 2001.
4 Feb 2005: Ernst Mayr died yesterday at 100 years of age.

Tagish Lake Map June 1: Tagish Lake Meteorite is "equivalent to a sample-return space mission." This meteorite, formerly called the Yukon meteorite, fell on 18 January 2000. So far, 500 fragments have been found and hundreds have been recovered from the site — many still encased in ice. "This is the find of a lifetime," says Peter Brown, meteor scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Western Ontario and co-leader of the meteorite recovery investigation. "The size of the initial object, the extreme rarity and organic richness of the meteorites combined with the number we have uncovered make this a truly unique event." "Of all the times I dreamed of finding meteorites, I never thought of finding them like this," says Alan Hildebrand, planetary scientist in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Calgary and the other investigation co-leader.

Other meteorites in this category, carbonaceous chondrites, have been found to contain fossilized bacteria. However, some scientists say those bacteria could possibly have been contaminants introduced after the meteorite landed on Earth. It may be possible to rule out contamination of the Tagish Lake Meteorite, especially for the several dozen samples that were collected within a week of the fall. Of course, any bacterial fossils in an uncontaminated meteorite would be quite significant. The University of Calgary has custody of the samples and they are being offered to qualified researchers around the world. [Thanks, Ron Baalke and Ken Augustyn.]

Canadian meteorite composed of rare, organic material, by David McCormick, Discovery Channel Canada, 31 May 2000.
Largest meteorite find in Canadian history, University of Calgary, 31 May 2000.
Arctic Asteroid!, by Tony Phillips, Newswise, 2 June 2000.
The Find of a Lifetime, Reuters,, 1 June 2000.
Comets: The Delivery System is the related CA webpage.

Beagle 2 May 24: Beagle 2 — a tiny Mars lander scheduled for launch aboard ESA's Mars Express orbiter mission in 2003 could become the next spacecraft to make a soft landing on the planet. [Thanks, Larry Klaes.]
U.K. to Launch Mars Probe, by Andrew Bridges,, 22 May 2000.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.

May 24: An enzyme from a bacterial virus carries out the efficient, site-specific integration of incoming plasmids into human DNA. This fact interests the geneticists from Stanford University who discovered it primarily because of its potential applications in genetic engineering in the future. It also implies, we notice, that plausible mechanisms are available to account for evolution by horizontal gene transfer in the past.
Amy C. Groth, Eric C. Olivares, Bhaskar Thyagarajan, and Michele P. Calos, "A phage integrase directs efficient site-specific integration in human cells" [abstract], p 5995-6000 v 97, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 23 May 2000.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

May 22: An online review of origin-of-life theories — "The latest experimental findings... are raising more questions than they're answering." [Thanks, Stan Franklin.]
It's alive — isn't it?, by Jon Evans, chembytes e-zine, May 2000.
chembytes e-zine The RNA World is the related CA webpage.

A Different Approach to Cosmology May 20: A Different Approach to Cosmology, by Hoyle, Burbidge and Narlikar, will appeal to professional cosmologists and astronomers, but non-specialists can also enjoy it. The presentation of their "quasi-steady state" theory — no longer just "steady state" — is undogmatic and includes several open questions. And their history of 20th century cosmology is more balanced and informative than the usual account.

There are heroes (Arp), villains (Ryle), and plenty of anecdotes. According to one, if Hoyle and Herman Bondi had acceded to Tommy Gold's opinion, they could easily have predicted a cosmic microwave background radiation temperature of 2.78 K in the decade before 1965 — and cosmology might look quite different today. In any case, their theory does account for this radiation, contrary to the common assertion that only the standard big bang does.

Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey Burbidge and Jayant V. Narlikar, A Different Approach to Cosmology: from a Static Universe through the Big Bang towards Reality, Cambridge University Press, April 2000. buying info, table of contents, reviews, etc.
The End and the Big Bang is the related CA webpage.

May 19: Do rhythms in the 1976-1977 Viking data point to life on Mars? Joseph Miller, a specialist in circadian rhythms at Texas Tech University contends that data from a Viking biological experiment show a circadian rhythm that only life produces. Former Viking project scientist Gerald Soffen, on the other hand, says the rhythms may result from "temperature swings on the spacecraft and equipment onboard due to Mars' day and night cycles." Although "mining" the data will take lots of work, Miller wants a closer look. [Thanks, Barry DiGregorio.]
Old Data Holds New Hope for Life on Mars, by Leonard David,, 19 May 2000.

Marsbugs May 18: A report from a recent "Life Detection" workshop, and insights about NASA's Mars program are in the current "Marsbugs" Newsletter — a serious publication with a playful logo.
The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter, edited by David J. Thomas, v 7 n 18, 15 May 2000.
Marsbugs: The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter [Homepage].
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.

May 18: Horizontal gene transfer produces extremely dynamic bacterial genomes. A trio of biologists have announced in Nature a number of findings that document the importance of this process in bacterial evolution. Some of the points from the article —

  • "It is difficult to account for the ability of bacteria to exploit new environments by the accumulation of point mutations alone. In fact, none of the phenotypic traits that are typically used to distinguish the enteric bacteria Escherichia coli from its pathogenic sister species Salmonella enterica can be attributed to the point mutational evolution of genes common to both. Instead, there is growing evidence that lateral gene transfer has played an integral role in the evolution of bacterial genomes, and in the diversification and speciation of the enterics and other bacteria."
  • "The amount of horizontally acquired DNA... ranges from virtually none in some organisms with small genome sizes... to nearly 17%.... In all cases, very ancient horizontal transfer events, such as those disseminating transfer RNA synthetases, would not be detected [by comparing open reading frames]." Gene capture and expression by integrons
  • The delivery of donor DNA into the recipient cell, and the incorporation of the acquired sequences into the recipient's genome... can occur through three mechanisms: transformation, transduction and conjugation.
  • "The amount of DNA that can be transferred in a single [transduction] event is limited by the size of the phage capsid, but can range upwards of 100 kilobases (kb)."
  • "Phage-encoded proteins not only mediate the delivery of double-stranded DNA into the recipient cytoplasm, but can also promote the integration of DNA into the chromosome and protect the transferred sequences from degradation by host restriction endonucleases."
  • "DNA assimilation into the bacterial genome can exploit one of a number of processes including: (1) persistence as an episome... (2) homologous recombination... (3) integration mediated by bacteriophage integrases or mobile element transposases; and (4) illegitimate incorporation through chance double-strand break repair...."
  • Through these mechanisms, "virtually any sequence — even those originating in eukaryotes or Archaea — can be transferred to, and between, bacteria."
  • Acquired genes can contribute antibiotic resistance, virulence attributes, and metabolic properties.
  • "The acquisition of new metabolic traits by horizontal transfer emphasizes the importance of natural selection as the arbiter of lateral gene exchange — the duration of acquired sequences will be fleeting if the genes do not contribute a useful or meaningful function upon introduction to the recipient cell."
  • "Horizontal transfer has been estimated to have introduced successfully 16 kb per million years into the E. coli genome."
  • "We would expect that the successful mobilization of complex metabolic traits requires the physical clustering of genes, such that all necessary genes will be transferred in a single step."
  • "Bacterial genomes are sampling rather than accumulating sequences, counterbalancing gene acquisition with gene loss."
Howard Ochman, Jeffrey G. Lawrence and Eduardo A. Groisman, "Lateral gene transfer and the nature of bacterial innovation" [abstract] p 299-304 v 405, Nature, 18 May 2000.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

Mechanical Characteristics of Very Small Cells, by David Boal May 16: Proceedings of a conference on nanobacteria, October 22-23, 1998. Following NASA's announcement that a meteorite from Mars might contain fossilized nanobacteria, "Nearly two dozen researchers applied their diverse expertise to the problem of extrapolating from what we know about Earth's abundant microbial population and the laws of physics and chemistry to draw conclusions about size limits for putative extraterrestrial life forms." With deep theoretical analysis, they tend to the conclusion that nothing smaller than about 200 nanometers can meet the requirements of a cell. The participants at the conference included several distinguished scientists. Anyone seriously interested in nanobacteria is encouraged to look at the proceedings.
Steering Group for the Workshop on Size Limits of Very Small Microorganisms, "Size Limits of Very Small Microorganisms: Proceedings of a Workshop" [National Academy Press], 1999.
Life on Mars! is a related CA webpage.
Fossilized Life Forms in the Murchison Meteorite is a related CA webpage.

May 9: "Reverse panspermia?" Michael Mautner proposes sowing the seeds of life throughout the cosmos. A similar motive could have led to our own existence.
To Seed the Heavens with Life: Panspermia In Reverse, by Andrew Bridges,, 8 May 2000.
How Is It Possible? is a related CA webpage.

COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved