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

What'sNEW Archives, June - July 1999

Sky and Telescope July 31: "Seeding the Universe with Life" is the caption on the cover of September's Sky & Telescope. "Now astronomers, biologists, and impact specialists question whether our planet was... laced with organisms from neighboring worlds and beyond." Stories by Paul Davies and J. Kelly Beatty, and reviews of pertinent recent books are featured. We are pleased that modern panspermia is becoming a better known and respected alternative. Thanks to Larry Klaes for alerting us.

Sky & Telescope, v 8 n 3, Septmber 1999.
Interplanetary Infestations, by Paul Davies, reprint from S&T posted at
Introduction: More Than Panspermia is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Later: Astrobiology Science Conference at Ames postponed until spring, 2000.

July 25: Ames Research Center and the NASA Astrobiology Institute announce the First Annual Astrobiology Science Conference, to be held at NASA Ames Research Center the week of November 15-19, 1999. The meeting will focus on the 10 goals as outlined by the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap.

First Annual Astrobiology Science Conference, November, 1999.
1999, January 12: NASA has published its Astrobiology Roadmap is a related What'sNEW item.

Nakhla July 21: New evidence of fossilized bacteria found in two Martian meteorites was presented yesterday at the SPIE astrobiology conference in Denver. David McKay, co-leader of the NASA team that in 1996 claimed to have found fossilized life in a Martian meteorite, presented new images of purported Martian fossils, including the first ever taken with a traditional light microscope, during the conference's keynote speech.

New Evidence of Life on Mars?, by Michael Ray Taylor, Discovery News Brief, 21 July 1999.
Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Science July 15: A recent issue of Science features evolution, with ten articles listed in a special box in the Table of Contents. In one, science writer Tim Appenzeller describes an ongoing series of experiments in Richard Lenski's laboratory at Michigan State University, covering 24,000 generations of Eschereichia coli. They are nifty, closed system experiments of the kind sorely needed in biology. If neo-Darwinian evolution by itself can produce the kind of evolutionary progress that leads to people, one would expect these experiments to show evidence of such progress. After all, as the article notes, that many generations of people takes about half a million years — that long ago there were no people. In actual runs of the experiments, bacteria were able to shift survival strategies under different environments. For example, bacteria that had thrived on glucose could evolve to thrive on maltose if necessary. But such changes apparently depend on mutations that switch control genes on and off, or make other adjustments requiring no long new instruction sequences. Although rearrangements by transposition and recombination were frequent, no new genes with wholly new functions were observed to have been generated. The most striking evolutionary development Appenzeller mentions is the emergence of "a new acetate-scavenging strain." But each time it apeared, "a mutation in the regulatory region of a gene that influences acetate uptake was responsible." So acetate scavenging was a capability for which the ancestral bacteria were already genetically programmed. In our opinion, Lenski's experiments do not support, but rather cast doubt on the assertion that neo-Darwinian evolution by itself can produce significant evolutionary progress requiring new genes with new functions.
Appenzeller, Tim, "Test Tube Evolution Catches Time in a Bottle," p 2108-2110 v 284 Science, 25 June 1999 [Summmary] [Reprint].
Papadopoulos, Dimitri; Dominique Schneider; Jessica Meier-Eiss; Werner Arber; Richard E. Lenski and Michel Blot, "Genomic evolution during a 10,000-generation experiment with bacteria," p 3807-3812 v 96 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 22 June 1999 [Abstract].
Vulic, Marin; Richard E. Lenski and Miroslav Radman, "Mutation, recombination, and incipient speciation of bacteria in the laboratory," p 7348-7351 v 96 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 30 March 1999 [Abstract].
...Is Evolutionary Progress in a Closed System Possible? is a related CA webpage with a separate What'sNEW section, Lenski et al..
Contacting Richard Lenski, in August 2000, was not fruitful.

Science writer Virginia Morell tells us, "beneficial mutations were thought to come along so rarely that many models simply assumed that they play no part in adaptation," an earlier development that had not been well publicized. But nevermind, because that development also will apparently be reversed. Graduate student Corbin Jones at the University of Rochester in New York has found with genetic mapping that major adaptations among fruit flies can be accounted for by "only a few genes, but with big effects." Jones' advisor, H. Allen Orr, says these results, "contradict theory." If the mutations are changes in one or very few nucleotides in control genes, we are not surprised. If they are novel instruction sequences of dozens of nucleotides, or wholly new genes, then the term "mutation" seems misused. But lateral transfer could account for the presence of such long sequences.
Morell, Virginia, "Size Matters: The Genes Behind Adaptation," p 2106-2107 v 284 Science, 25 June 1999 [Summmary].

In an article by science writer Richard A. Kerr about the hardiness of early life on Earth we read, "...The severity of the bombardment suggests another possibility: that Earth was seeded with life from elsewhere, namely Mars." Wow.
Kerr, Richard A. "Early Life Thrived Despite Earthly Travails," p 2111-2113 v 284 Science, 25 June 1999 [Summmary].

And molecular biologist W. Ford Doolitttle of Dalhousie University writes, "If 'chimerism' or 'lateral gene transfer' cannot be dismissed as trivial in extent..., then no hierarchical universal classification can be taken as natural.... because the history of life cannot be properly represented as a tree." Doolittle acknowledges neo-Darwinism's conservatism by referring to Lateral Gene Transfer ("LGT") as a possible "threat" or "problem" for existing theory that "compromises the definition of taxa...", and by mentioning a need to "save the trees." But he closes by suggesting, "biologists might rejoice in and explore, rather than regret or attempt to dismiss, the creative role of LGT."
Doolittle, W. Ford, "Phylogenetic Classification and the Universal Tree," p 2124-2128 v 284 Science, 25 June 1999 [
The Tree of Life is a related CA Webpage.

New evidence is forcing the theory of evolution to be revised. The evidence described in Science is consistent with Cosmic Ancestry.
Neo-Darwinism: The Current Paradigm and the pages following it in the chapter "How Does Life Evolve?" are related Cosmic Ancestry webpages.

Deep Impact July 7: A mission to excavate the interior of a comet has been selected by NASA's Discovery Program. Deep Impact will be launched in January 2004 toward a July 4, 2005, encounter with comet P/Tempel 1. The mission will send a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) copper projectile into the comet at an approximate speed of 10 kilometers per second (22,300 mph), creating a crater as big as a football field. A camera and infrared spectrometer on the spacecraft, along with ground-based observatories, will study the debris blasted off the comet and the interior material exposed by the impact. The total cost of Deep Impact to NASA is $240 million. "Comets are leftovers from the birth of the Sun and the planets, and Deep Impact will punch through the dark crust of P/Tempel 1 to give us our first look at what's inside," said JPL director Dr. Edward Stone. NASA does not mention whether the mission would be able to detect germs or signs of life on the comet. We wonder if that capability could be easily included.

JPL'S New Deep Impact Asteroid Mission OK'd by NASA, 7 July 1999.
Comets: The Delivery System is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage. Several related recent developments with direct links to other agencies' stories are listed under What'sNEW there.

July 1: Life-sustaining planets in interstellar space? A story published in Nature suggests that planetary bodies not in close orbits around stars could sustain life. David J. Stevenson of Caltech says that a hydogen atmosphere on the bodies could create a kind of blanket, trapping radioactive heat, that could allow for liquid water and primitive forms of life. "It's just an idea. And it's fun," says Stevenson.

Stevenson, David J. "Life-sustaining planets in interstellar space?" p 32 v 400, Nature, 1 July 1999.
Leary, Warren E. "Sunless, Airless, and Full of Life?" The New York Times, 6 July 1999.
Life on Drifting Worlds by Kenneth Chang,, 1 July 1999.
Isolated giant planets forming is a related CA What'sNEW item of 6 October 2000. NEW

Beagle 2 Lander June 27: The European Space Agency's Mars Express will be launched in June 2003. When it arrives at the red planet six months later, it will begin to search for water and life. Seven instruments, provided by space research institutes throughout Europe, will make observations from the main spacecraft as it orbits the planet. Just before the spacecraft arrives, it will release a small lander named "Beagle 2", provided by research institutes in the UK, that will journey on to the surface to look for signs of life.

Britain Funds Mars Lander..., SpaceViews, 5 August 1999.
Britain to Send Probe to Mars in 2003,, 2 August 1999.
ESA's Rosetta comet chaser unveiled in London, ESA, 1 July 1999.
Mars Express launch contract signed at Le Bourget, ESA, 15 June 1999.
ESA forges ahead with mission to search for water and life on Mars.
Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Scientific American June 22: "How comets and meteors seeded life on Earth" is the subtitle of the cover story of July's Scientific American. In "Molecules from Space," a team from the Astrochemistry Lab at NASA's Ames Research Center detail the newly accepted role for space in the origin of life on Earth. The authors do not say that whole cells arrived on comets, but the story, in such a mainstream publication, is evidence that a change of thought is under way. Paradigm shifts usually happen in tiny steps, after all.

Bernstein, Max P.; Scott A. Sandford and Louis J. Allamandola. "Molecules from Space" p 41-49 v 281 Scientific American, July 1999. [Full Article]
Introduction: More Than Panspermia is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Coelacanth June 3: Example of Microevolution — Biologists at Syracuse University have shown how the vision of a fish that lives 200 meters deep is adapted to the dim blue light down there. The fish uses only two visual pigments whose optimal light sensitivities, when compared to the corresponding pigments in land animals with color vision, are shifted toward the blue. "Mutagenesis experiments show that each of these coadapted changes is fully explained by two amino acid replacements." The fish is a coelacanth, a "living fossil," so its visual pigments may predate land animals'. Whichever came earlier, evolution can apparently optimize the light sensitivity of photoreceptors by changing very little. Two amino acid changes could be accomplished with possibly only two nucleotide substitutions. This would be a good example of microevolution, a small change — but often a crucial one, nonetheless. The example can withstand mathematical scrutiny and the neo-Darwinian account of it is quite plausible. Macroevolution producing wholly new functions and requiring new genes with dozens to hundreds of properly sequenced nucleotides is another matter, however.

Yokoyama, Shozo; Huan Zhang; F. Bernhard Radlwimmer and Nathan S. Blow. "Adaptive evolution of color vision of the Comoran coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae)" p 6279-6284 v 96 Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 25 May 1999. [Abstract]
Pennisi, Elizabeth, "Gaining New Insight Into the Molecular Basis of Evolution," p 654-655 v 285 Science, 30 July 1999 [Summmary].
Neo-Darwinism: The Current Paradigm is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

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