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

What'sNEW Archives, January-March 2004

31 March 2004
Isotope tests inconclusive. Tests seeking unearthly isotope ratios in bacteria from the stratosphere were attempted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, 24-26 March. For technical reasons only one inorganic particle was fully tested (and isotope analysis of it is ongoing.)

at LLNL
Brig Klyce, Ian Hutcheon, Christie Ramon, Milton Wainwright, Julie Smith and Peter Weber at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, 26 March 2004

Microbiologist Milton Wainwright of the University of Sheffield and I delivered the samples and identified the particles for testing. Physicist Ian Hutcheon directed the investigation at LLNL, with Peter Weber operating the NanoSIMS, and Julie Smith and Christie Ramon providing technical assistance. The Lawrence Livermore team was exceedingly helpful and patient; Milton and I, and the whole India-UK team are grateful to them. We hope they will be willing to look again, when we have new samples properly prepared for the NanoSIMS.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will measure isotope ratios..., is CA's first notice of the tests, 26 Sep 2003.
Bacteria or Viruses in the High Atmosphere — a section of the CA webpage, "Can the Theory Be Tested?".
An Atmospheric Test of Cometary Panspermia is the principal related CA webpage.
M. Wainwright et al., "Studies on bacteria-like particles sampled from the stratosphere" [local PDF], p 237-240 v 20, Aerobiologia, 2004.
Astrobiology Research Trust provided support for this project.


Wolfram No detailed correspondence between thermodynamics and evolution has ever been forthcoming.
Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science, Wolfram Media, Inc., 14 May 2002. p
1003.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a related CA webpage.
Wolfram is not interested in the Evolution Prize, email exchange posted 19 Sep 2006.

LLNL logo Stratospheric bacteria to be analyzed next week. Bacteria recovered by a balloon at altitudes up to 41 km over India will be tested for extraterrestrial isotope signatures the week of 22 March, on the NanoSIMS (mass spectrometer) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Earlier testing was delayed by technical problems that are now apparently resolved.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will measure isotope ratios..., is CA's first notice of the tests, 26 Sep 2003.
An Atmospheric Test of Cometary Panspermia is the principal related CA webpage.
Bacteria or Viruses in the High Atmosphere — a section of the CA webpage, "Can the Theory Be Tested?".


signs of water
c. 3 cm x 5 cm
Meridiani Planum was wet. The Opportunity rover found convincing clues in the composition of a rock outcrop at its Mars landing site. The presence of many sulfates including jarosite, niches where crystals probably grew (gashes in photo), and spherical forms resembling concretions of minerals (beads in photo) strongly indicate that the studied rock was once wet.
Opportunity Rover Finds Strong Evidence Meridiani Planum Was Wet, release 2004-074, JPL, NASA, 2 Mar 2004.
Meridiani Planum: "Drenched", Science@NASA, 2 Mar 2004.
Rover Finds Evidence That Mars Had Water, by Charles Piller, Los Angeles Times, 3 Mar 2004.
Bookies Stop Taking Bets on Life on Mars, Associated Press (+NBCNews.com), 3 Mar 2004.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.
26 Jul 2013: Did NASA's Opportunity rover find evidence for life on Mars in 2004?

Rosetta launch Rosetta launched. "After two previous launch attempts had been postponed Rosetta finally set off on its long journey to comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 0717 UT 2 March 2004. Arianespace Flight 158, with its Ariane 5 rocket and modified upper stage, successfully placed Rosetta onto an escape trajectory and out into the solar system."
Rosetta On Its Way, European Space Agency, 2 Mar 2004.
Comet-chasing spacecraft blasts off, NewScientist.com, 2 Mar 2004.
Comet Rendezvous is the related section of the CA webpage, "Can the Theory Be Tested?"

Nature Nature notices panspermia. [Thanks, Tim Tyler.]
Earth sows its seeds in space, by Philip Ball, Nature Science Update, 23 Feb 2004.
Microorganisms may have spread throughout the galaxy is the related CA What'sNEW item, 15 Nov 2003.
Introduction... is the related CA webpage.

disulfide bond formation pathways Evolution caught in the act? That's what biologists from the Universities of Texas and Michigan say about a complicated genetic engineering project in which they induced bacteria to substitute a single protein for a more complex catalytic system.

First the biologists disabled the catalytic system, without which the bacteria cannot move. Then they introduced variants of the chosen bacterial protein, thioredoxin, into isolated bacterial colonies. "To the researchers' surprise, a mutant carrying only two amino acid changes..., restored the ability of the bacteria to move."

On this website we have adocated experiments that could demonstrate the sustainable creation of new genetic programs in closed systems. Therefore, we carefully studied this report and commentaries on it. Yes, we grant that the right two amino acid substitutions might plausibly occur by random mutation in nature. And this small change apparently caused the bacteria's thioredoxin to acquire a different catalytic function.

However, the new metabolic pathway was not randomly found by desperate bacteria, but designed by the experimenters. Furthermore, the key to it, the succesful variant of thioredoxin, was selected by the bacteria only after the experimenters carefully installed it. After all that, the process only restored a capability previously posessed by the bacteria. Most importantly, darwinian constructive mutation cannot be demonstrated by the existence of a single, carefully staged increment. By searching diligently one may discover, for example, a typographical error that makes sense; this fact does not demonstrate that uncontrolled typos can generate lengthy new sentences. (They can't.)

The darwinian tenet that pointwise mutations on existing genetic programs can create new genetic programs in a sustainable manner remains, to us, undemonstrated. We urge anyone who's interested to read the full report in Science. We invite informed comments.

Lluis Masip et al., "An Engineered Pathway for the Formation of Protein Disulfide Bonds" [abstract], p 1185-1189 v 303, Science, 20 Feb 2004.
Researchers Successfully Force Evolutionary Leap..., University of Texas at Austin, 19 Feb 2004.
Evolution caught in the act, University of Michigan, 20 Feb 2004.
Neo-Darwinism... is one of many related CA webpages.


Chirality from space? Maybe. Life as we know it employs only left-handed protein and right-handed sugar molecules. If life arose on this planet from random, nonliving chemicals, the exclusive chirality it now obeys is puzzling. How did life get that way? Now Sandra Pizzarello of Arizona State University, and Arthur L. Weber of the SETI Institute suggest that the modest chirality in meteorites could explain the puzzle. "The delivery of material from outer space via meteorites - despite the seeming randomness and complexity of these materials - could in fact have 'pushed' chemical evolution on Earth toward homochirality."

We welcome this elaboration on pseudo-panspermia by two veteran astrobiologists. Of course, we believe the chirality in meteorites derives from past life on their parent bodies.

Arizona State University Sandra Pizzarello and Arthur L. Weber, "Prebiotic Amino Acids as Asymmetric Catalysts" [text], p 1151 v 303, Science, 20 Feb 2004.
Life in the universe takes orders from space, Arizona State University, 20 Feb 2004.
Panspermia Asks New Questions is a CA webpage with more about pseudo-panspermia.
Amino Acid Asymmetry in the Murchison Meteorite is a related CA webpage.


Big bang revised again? "Cosmologists Paul Steinhardt and Niel Turok... theorize that the cosmos was never compacted into a single point and did not spring forth in a violent instant. Instead, the universe as we know it is a small cross section of a much grander universe whose true magnitude is hidden in dimensions we cannot perceive. What we think of as the Big Bang, they contend, was the result of a collision between our three-dimensional world and another three-dimensional world less than the width of a proton away from ours — right next to us, and yet displaced in a way that renders it invisible. Moreover, they say the Big Bang is just the latest in a cycle of cosmic collisions stretching infinitely into the past and into the future. Each collision creates the universe anew. The 13.7 -billion-year history of our cosmos is just a moment in this endless expanse of time." Wow.

While it is exciting to elaborate on the big bang, it is wrong to pretend that a theory so fluid has sufficient authority to govern unrelated fields like biology. Obviously, the big bang theory does not confirm that life can originate from nonlife by natural means. Only real evidence could do that.

Discover Michael D. Lemonick, "Before the Big Bang" [first two paragraphs], p 34-41 v 25, Discover, Feb 2004.
Evolution vs Creationism discusses the big bang's role in that controversy.
The End and the Big Bang is a related CA webpage.
Gabriel Manzotti replies with some quotes from Fred Hoyle, 20 Feb 2004.


ECAL 2003 Nonliving to living? Seven distinguished origin-of-life theorists report on two recent international workshops concerning the origin of life and the simplest forms of life. The first, "Bridging nonliving and living matter," was held at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Santa Fe Institute, 9-11 September 2003. Three days later, the 7th European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL 2003) was held in Dortmund, Germany, 14-17 September 2003.

The six organizers of the earlier, New Mexico conference and Mark Bedau of Reed College write, "The transition from nonliving to living matter is usually raised in the context of the origin of life. Two recent international workshops have taken a broader view and asked how simple life forms could be synthesized in the laboratory." (Broader, or more realistic?) One approach is "top-down," by simplifying existing cells. Conversely, the "bottom-up" approach "aims to assemble artificial cells from scratch using nonliving organic and inorganic materials." Because it is so difficult, no one has succeeded at this synthesis yet. We wonder, if it is so difficult for scientists to assemble a cell from selected chemicals in a laboratory, how difficult is it for miscellaneous chemicals by themselves to assemble a cell in nature?

Norman Packard of Prediction Company and Bedau note, "Open-ended evolution is characterized by a continued ability to invent new properties — so far only the evolution of life on Earth (data partly from the fossil record) and human technology (data from patents) have been shown to generate adaptive novelty in an open-ended manner." In other words, no computer model has done so. As President of the International Society for Artificial Life, Bedau should know.

Steen Rasmussen, Liaohai Chen, David Deamer, David C. Krakauer, Norman H. Packard, Peter F. Stadler and Mark A. Bedau, "Transitions from Nonliving to Living Matter" [summary], p 963-965 v 303, Science, 13 Feb 2004.
Transistions between nonliving and living matter at LANL has links for both conferences.
The RNA World is a CA webpage about the origin of life.
Computer Models of Evolution and the 4 "Next" CA webpages discuss the limitations of computer models.


Astrobiology Astrobiology free! All twelve past issues of this quarterly magazine are available online during February. The latest archived issue, Winter 2003, contains a special collection of papers on Europa. [Thanks, Michael Paine.]

Astrobiology, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.


Astronomy and Geophysics A small comet impact caused sixth century global chill? Two undergraduates in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University, UK, calculated that a comet not much more than half a kilometre across could have caused a series of very cold summers around 536-540 AD. The cold weather caused crop failures and wide-spread starvation then. At the same time Europe suffered the Justinian Plague, possibly the first outbreak of the "Black Death".

Emma Rigby, Melissa Symonds and Derek Ward-Thompson, "A comet impact in AD 536?" [abstract], v 45 n 1, Astronomy & Geophysics, Feb 2004.
Astronomers unravel secrets of sixth-century comet, Cardiff University, 5 Feb 2004.
...Undergraduates' Work Blames Comet For 6th-century 'Nuclear Winter', ScienceDaily, 4 Feb 2004.
Comets... is a related CA webpage.
Dim sun conditions of AD 536 has Michael Rampino's opposing view, 18 Feb 2004.


Bioastronomy 2004 The 8th International Conference of Bioastronomy will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, 12-16 July 2004. Astronomers, biologists, geologists and scientists from other fields will discuss extrasolar habitable worlds, the origin and evolution of terrestrial life, life elsewhere in the solar system, life in extrasolar planetary systems and intelligent life beyond the solar system. Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington is Chairman of Science Organizing Committee. [Thanks, Michael Paine.]
Bioastronomy 2004 - Habitable Worlds, 12-16 July 2004.

Nature Reviews Genetics Organelles transfer genes, wholesale, to eukaryotes, according to an international team of biologists based in Australia. This mechanism is yet another way for gene transfer to install genetic programs into eukaryotic species. Among the team's findings—
  • "Genome sequences reveal that a deluge of DNA from organelles has constantly been bombarding the nucleus since the origin of organelles.... at frequencies that were previously unimaginable.
  • "Phylogenetic analyses and genome comparisons show that influx of organellar DNA to the nucleus has had a marked quantitative impact on the gene content of eukaryotic chromosomes.
  • "Translocated genes might be expressed to provide products that are targeted to all parts of the cell.
  • "This mechanism of natural variation is unique to eukaryotic cells and was an important force in the genesis of eukaryotic genomes."
Jeremy N. Timmis, Michael A. Ayliffe, Chun Y. Huang and William Martin, "Endosymbiotic Gene Transfer: Organelle Genomes Forge Eukaryotic Chromosomes" [
abstract], p 123-135 v 5 n 2, Nature Reviews Genetics, Feb 2004.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage about gene transfer mechanisms. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

Journal of Microscopy The case for past life on Mars is bolstered by Australian scientists who compared microfossils in Mars meteorite ALH84001 to bacteria found in mud around Queensland's Moreton Bay. "The fossils that we have in the meteorite are the original material – the only difference is that you need a very high-powered electron microscope to image them, to see them and basically whenever we find these fossils here on Earth, no one ever questions they were made by bacteria," said Dr. Tony Taylor from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. [Thanks, Lawrence Hearn, Bill Thomas and Jim Galasyn.]

A. P. Taylor and J. C. Barry, "Magnetosomal matrix: ultrafine structure may template biomineralization of magnetosomes" [abstract], p 180-197 v 213n 2, Journal of Microscopy, Feb 2004.
UQ researchers edge closer to question of life on Mars, University of Queensland, 05 Feb 2004.
Life once existed on Mars, Australian scientists say, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 29 Jan 2004.
Aussie dog sniffs out possible life on Mars, New Zealand Herald, 30 Jan 2004.
Australian scientists, and their dog, say life once existed on Mars, SpaceDaily.com, 29 Jan 2004.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.


view from Opportunity on Mars

25 January 2004
Mars Rover "Opportunity" returns pictures. It landed on target and radioed home at 12:05 a.m. EST today via the NASA Deep Space Network antennas in California and Australia. Its landing site within a small crater on the Meridiani Planum has the darkest terrain yet seen on Mars. Also, NASA concludes that "Spirit" has a problem with its "flash" memory. Bypassing that has improved communications with the earlier-landing rover.
Latest News from Spirit and Opportunity, updates from JPL, NASA.
Kenneth Chang, "2nd Mars Rover Is in Hole With Nice View" [text], The New York Times, 26 Jan 2004.

Mars Rover "Spirit" continues to malfunction. Meanwhile, its twin, "Opportunity" is scheduled to land on Meridiani Planum on the opposite side of Mars, at 12:05 a.m. EST tomorrow, 25 January. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory website has updates.
Mars Exploration Rover Mission, ongoing press releases, JPL, NASA.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.

Did extraterrestrial germs or genes cause the KT extinction that killed off the dinosaurs? Max Wallis of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology says this hypothesis would account for the beginning of the extinction when iridium-bearing debris and exotic amino acids began to accumulate on Earth, over 50,000 years before the impact that created the Chicxulub crater. Perhaps the impactor was a comet, trailing debris in its orbits through the inner solar system before it ulitmately collided with Earth. Exotic amino acids like the ones accompanying the iridium anomaly are also found in the Murchison meteorite, but among today's terrestrial species they are confined to a few fungi.

Wallis suggests that cometary debris, before the impact, brought microorganisms that introduced the the exotic amino acids into the biosphere. Then, newly arrived or newly evolved microorganisms employing them caused epidemics against which most native species were defenseless. At the same time, other newly introduced genetic material may have prompted an ensuing radiation of new species that were not susceptible to the epidemics.

M K Wallis, "Cosmic Genes in the Cretaceous-Tertiary transition," p 587-592 v 285, Astrophysics and Space Science, 2003: presented at Fred Hoyle's Universe conference, Cardiff University, June 2002.
Cosmic Pathogen Contribution to the K/T Mass Extinction is a new CA webpage, by Max Wallis, that explains the case.


nature Are normal microevolutionary processes sufficient to account for human origins? Only recently, such a question was almost heretical within mainstream science. Now, in commentary on a new human - chimp genome comparison by Andrew Clark et al., the prestigious journal Nature asks it. To be sure, the question is posed rather routinely, as if known alternative mechanisms, like regulatory changes, could easily somehow provide the missing ingredient. But we are very pleased that Nature admits its doubts about a basic tenet of darwinism. This small step brings us closer to bigger questions: Is any mechanism sufficient to account for new genetic programs in a genetically closed system? Can this sufficiency be demonstrated or modeled?

David Penny, "Evolutionary biology: Our relative genetics" [text], p 208 v 427, Nature, 15 Jan 2004.
Andrew G. Clark et al., "Inferring Nonneutral Evolution from Human-Chimp-Mouse Orthologous Gene Trios" [text], p 1960-1963 v 302, Science, 12 Dec 2003.
Does Microevolution Explain Macroevolution? is a related section of the CA webpage, "Neo-Darwinism: The Current Paradigm".
Macroevolutionary Progress Redefined: Can It Happen Without Gene Transfer? is a related CA webpage.
New genetic programs in Darwinism and strong panspermia is a related CA webpage.


CIDA Complex organics in interstellar dust have been confirmed, the scientists managing the German mass spectrometer (CIDA) on the Stardust mission conclude. Their analysis, published this month, supports their announcement, in April 2000, that CIDA had detected complex organic compounds in interstellar dust. The thoughtful new study of 45 impacts measured en route to comet Wild 2 acknowledges many difficulties that hinder collection and interpretation of the data, but its conclusion is well-supported.

After ruling out "a series of substance classes such as minerals, metals (like iron), or pure carbon in any of its phase states," Krueger et al. determine that the dust is most likely "polymers of derivatives of the the quinone type, such as quinoline-quinones." Interestingly, one of these quinones would neatly explain a puzzling feature of the UV spectra of interstellar dust: the "hump" at 218 nanometers corresponds precisely to the main peak of o-dihydroquinone. [Thanks, Daniel Fischer.]

We think that the presence of complex organic polymers in interstellar dust strengthens the case for life out there.

Franz R. Krueger, Wolfgang Werther, Jochen Kissel and Erich R. Schmid, "Assignment of quinone derivatives as the main compound class composing 'interstellar' grains based on both polarity ions detected by the 'Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyser' (CIDA) onboard the spacecraft STARDUST" [abstract], p 103-111 v 18, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Jan 2004.
The Cosmic Mirror, Update # 267, by Daniel Fischer: scroll down to, or search for, the headline, "First science from 'Stardust': interstellar grains made from quinone derivatives?" 25 Dec 2003.
Most interstellar particles captured by Stardust are complex organic compounds, CA's announcement of the first results from CIDA, 27 Apr 2000.
The Physical and Chemical Properties of Interstellar Dust and Dust in Comets: Possible Seeds for Life on Earth [CA reprint] by Franz R. Krueger and Jochen Kissel, May 2000.
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's Analysis of Interstellar Dust is a related CA webpage.
Can the Theory Be Tested? is a related CA webpage.


LLNL logo Isotope analysis of stratospheric bacteria is postponed. Bacteria recovered by a balloon in India will not be tested for extraterrestrial isotope signatures at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 12-14 January, as planned. The filter containing the bacteria is not thin and flat enough to produce a sharply focused image in the NanoSIMS (mass spectrometer). The tests will be rescheduled after the samples are placed onto a flat substrate. This process may take several weeks.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will measure isotope ratios..., is CA's first notice of the tests, 26 Sep 2003.
An Atmospheric Test of Cometary Panspermia is the principal related CA webpage.
Bacteria or Viruses in the High Atmosphere — a section of the CA webpage, "Can the Theory Be Tested?".


Rover "Spirit" bounced safely onto Mars at 11:35 p.m. EST, 3 January. From its landing site within Gusev Crater it transmitted early photos back to the mission's elated flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. "Spirit's task is to spend the next three months exploring for clues in rocks and soil about whether the past environment at this part of Mars was ever watery and suitable to sustain life." A twin rover, "Opportunity," is scheduled to land on the opposite side of Mars three weeks after this one.

mosaic image from Mars Rover

Spirit Lands On Mars and Sends Postcards, JPL, NASA, 03 Jan 2004.
Spirit Hits the Sweet Spot, Science@NASA, 05 Jan 2004.
Life on Mars! is a related CA webpage.

Comet Wild 2 Stardust sailed safely by comet Wild 2 at 2:22 p.m. EST, yesterday, taking pictures and gathering dust samples, as planned. One surprise is that the comet looks nearly spherical. Dust collected in special aerogel panels during the fly-by is scheduled to reutrn to Earth, 15 January 2006. Meanwhile, we await results from measurements by on-board instruments, including the German-made mass spectrometer, CIDA.

Stardust Surprise, Science@NASA, 16 Jan 2004.
NASA Spacecraft Makes Great Catch...Heads for Touchdown, JPL, NASA, 02 Jan 2004.
Probe survives daring comet fly-by, by David C. Chandler, NewScientist.com, 03 Jan 2004.
NASA Pins the Tail of a Comet to Capture a Bit of Its Stardust, by Thomas H. Maugh II and Charles Piller, Los Angeles Times, 03 Jan 2004.
Comets..., a related CA webpage.
...Properties of Interstellar Dust..., a CA webpage about earlier results from CIDA.
Comet Rendezvous, a related section of the CA webpage, "Can the Theory Be Tested?".

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