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What'sNEW

12 Dec 2017
...our results provide new understanding of the minimal nutritional requirements for life and open the possibility that atmospheric gases support life on other planets.
Atmospheric trace gases support primary production in Antarctic desert surface soil by Mukan Ji et al., doi:10.1038/nature25014, Nature, online 06 Dec 2017.
Bacteria discovery in Antarctica prompts rethink of humanity's search for alien life by Nick Whigham, News.com.au, 11 Dec 2017. Thanks Thanks, Ronnie L. McGhee. Life on Mars! has more about the positive results from Viking.

12 Dec 2017
Large impacts on Mars can launch meteorites without heavily shocking them, according to an analysis from Japan. With almost 200 meteorites from Mars now discovered on Earth, this means that the transfer of microbial life from Mars would be easier than we thought before. Impact/escape mechanism
Meteorites from Mars suffer a velocity boost due to the material pileup, Chiba Institute of Technology / Tokyo Institute of Technology, 12 Dec 2017, re:
Hydrocode modeling of the spallation process during hypervelocity impacts: Implications for the ejection of Martian meteorites by Kosuke Kurosawa et al., doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2017.09.015, Icarus, Feb 2018. Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.
Life on Mars! begins with ALH84001, a martian meteorite with lifelike fossils.

Bert Poolman
11 Dec 2017
...we find that even a minimal cell is still very complex. — Biochemist Bert Poolman
...The Dutch Synthetic Cell, interview with Suzan Mazur, HuffPost, 10 Dec 2017.
The RNA World and What Is Life? are related local webpages.

06 Dec 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
Viruses share genes with organisms across the tree of life A new study reveals that viruses share genes across the three superkingdoms of life, from ...bacteria and archaea, to eukarya.... The study ...adds to the evidence that viruses ...are agents of diversity.... The data also point to other, as yet unknown, mechanisms that allow viruses to exchange genetic material with cells....
Do Viruses Exchange Genes across Superkingdoms of Life? by Shahana S. Malik et al., Frontiers in Microbiology, 31 Oct 2017.
Viruses share genes with organisms across the tree of life by Diana Yates, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 06 Dec 2017.
Earlier research from UI/U-C also relies on protein structure.
Viruses... has more about HGT. Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin.
We discovered many virus-hallmark genes in cellular organisms those viruses are not known to infect — Arshan Nasir

05 Dec 2017
Growing evidence points to a once-habitable world–and recent findings suggest that life could exist on Mars today.
Search for Life on the Red Planet by Diana Kwon, The Scientist, 01 Dec 2017. Life on Mars! has more.

02 Dec 2017
...bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module ...have come from outer space and settled along the external surface.
Scientists find living bacteria from outer space on ISS satellite's surface, TAAS Russian News Agency (+Space.com +Independent), 27 Nov 2017. Thanks Thanks, many correspondents.
Microrganisms on ISS? were also reported from Russia in May 2017. Unclear if there is new evidence.

21 Nov 2017
...the mechanism proposed in this paper for propelling small particles into space could provide a universal mechanism both for the exchange of the atomic and molecular constituents between distant planetary atmospheres and for initiating the first step of the panspermia process.
Space dust may transport life between worlds, The University of Edinburgh (+PhysOrg.com), 20 Nov 2017.
Did life hitchhike through the Solar System? by Jake Parks, astronomy.com, 21 Nov 2017.
Are We the Aliens We Seek? by Prakash Chandra, The Wire, India, 22 Nov 2017.
Space dust collisions as a planetary escape mechanism by Arjun Berera, arXiv:1711.01895 [astro-ph.EP], 06 Nov 2017. Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin and Google Alerts.
> Ted Steele asks Berera for fuller citation for Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 23 Nov 2017.

18 Nov 2017
The results ...testify that long-term preservation of microbial life inside Martian permafrost is possible.
100 kGy gamma-affected microbial communities within the ancient Arctic permafrost under simulated Martian conditions by Cheptsov, V.S., Vorobyova, E.A., Manucharova, N.A. et al., Extremophiles, Nov 2017.
Is there (frozen) life on Mars? by Alison Klesman, Astronomy.com, 09 Nov (+Discover, 15 Nov) 2017.
Thanks Thanks, Martin Langford. > Bacteria... has lots about extremophiles. > Life on Mars! has related information.

08 Nov 2017
Enceladus's hot, gritty core may cook up ingredients for life by Leah Crane, New Scientist, 06 Nov 2017, re:
Powering prolonged hydrothermal activity inside Enceladus by Gaël Choblet et al., Nature Astronomy, 06 Nov 2017.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin. > Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets? has related links.

03 Nov 2017
Photosynthesis is evolution's "killer app" says Victoria Meadows, Virtual Planet Laboratory, University of Washington.
Oxygen, made on Earth by photosynthesis, has a distinctive spectral signature. Its detection in the atmosphere of another planet would suggest that photosynthesis produced it there as well. Of course, microbial life on Earth was present for two billion years before O2 became abundant here. Other clues also matter. How to detect life on exoplanets light-years away, with coming telescopes, is the subject of a review,
Signs of life by Daniel Clery, Science, 03 Nov 2017.
> Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets? has links about possible life elsewhere.

01 Nov 2017
The interstellar asteroid A/2017 U1 (circled) is rushing away from Earth and is currently traversing the Pisces constellation. We are seeing a body from elsewhere in the Galaxy passing through our Solar System says UCLA Astronomer David Jewitt. The asteroid, less that 400 meters across, came from a direction almost perpendicular to the ecliptic plane and reached its perihelion inside Mercury's orbit on 9 September. It was first spotted with the Pan-STARRS1 telescope atop Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii in mid-October. Its reddish hue suggests that it is coated with organic compounds. Redirected by the sun, it will soon again vanish into interstellar space.

Even some astrobiologists have thought that interstellar panspermia is unlikely, because traffic can hardly span the long distances. But comets and, now we know, asteroids can. Jewitt expects that we will see many more interstellar asteroids.
...first interstellar asteroid ever seen by Ken Croswell, Nature, 31 Oct 2017.
A brief visit from a red and extremely elongated interstellar asteroid by Karen J. Meech et al., Nature, 20 Nov 2017.
It Came From Beyond by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, AirSpaceMag.com, 06 Dec 2017.
Small Asteroid or Comet 'Visits' from Beyond the Solar System, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 26 Oct 2017. > Comets: The Delivery System has a few links about interstellar comets.

31 Oct 2017
We have wondered if "abiotic" methane, from volcanoes for example, might actually be postbiotic. Now we read ...recent hydrothermal experiments simulating serpentinization have failed to generate methane so far.... If methane is always biologically made, the implications go beyond Earth.
Methane: Fuel or Exhaust at the Emergence of Life? by Michael J. Russell and Wolfgang Nitschke, doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1599, Astrobiology, online 26 Sep 2017.
> Interstellar Chemistry, under "Can The Theory Be Tested?" introduces this topic.

29 Oct 2017
Carbonaceous Chondrites, Comets, Cosmic Dust and Life will be the subjects of a Special Issue of Life, "an international, peer-reviewed open access journal that publishes scientific studies related to fundamental themes in life sciences with a particular emphasis on prokaryotic and eukaryotic origins and evolution." Guest Editors for the issue are Prof. Richard B. Hoover of the Buckingham Center for Astrobiology, and Academicians Eric M. Galimov and Alexei Yu. Rozanov of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Life journal logo
Special Issue "Carbonaceous Chondrites, Comets, Cosmic Dust and Life"
> email from Richard Hoover with background, 19 Oct 2017.
Thanks Thanks for a comment about life on Mars, Gil Levin.

24 Oct 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
A virus carries a gene essential for insect metamorphosis. The virus apparently acquired the gene from bacteria, and provides its enzyme without incorporation into the insect genome. It's another example of genetic programs — including eukaryotic ones — transferred and supplied by viruses, as in cosmic ancestry.
A virus carries a gene encoding ...a key regulatory enzyme in insect metamorphosis by Jun Takatsuka, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-14059-8, Scientific Reports (nature.com), online 19 Oct 2017.
> Viruses... has a primer and links to many more examples.

19 Oct 2017
W. Ford Doolittle, Professor Emeritus, Dalhousie University George E.Fox, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Biology and Biochemistry and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Houston ...I think most molecular biologists did not seriously read the evolutionary literature, probably still don't. Mostly evolution is something you talk about in the last paragraph of the paper and I think, and over a few beers kind of thing because I think there was a general feeling amongst the molecular biological community that evolution obviously was important but also there is nothing you can really say about it so you could just say whatever you wanted and everybody would accept that politely. — W. Ford Doolittle, 2016 (pictured, left)
The Origins of the RNA World, panel discussion among Doolittle, George Fox (pictured, right), Walter Gilbert and Ray Gesteland, Library of Congress, 17 Mar 2016. Thanks Thanks, William Smith.
> Neo-Darwinism... and > The RNA World are related webpages. > Introns... are discussed at length by the panel.

18 Oct 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
Our results reinforce the idea of parasitoid wasps as frequent agents of horizontal transfers in eukaryotes. Additionally, this Helitron-bracovirus segment is the first example of a transposable element that effectively became a whole viral circle.
A Horizontally Transferred Autonomous Helitron Became a Full Polydnavirus Segment in Cotesia vestalis by Pedro Heringer, Guilherme B. Dias and Gustavo C. S. Kuhn, G3, online 17 Oct 2017.
> Viruses... has a primer and related links.

The Eridania region in the southern highlands of Mars
15 Oct 2017
The Eridania region in the southern highlands of Mars once contained a vast inland sea with a volume of water greater than that of all other Martian lakes combined.
Ancient hydrothermal seafloor deposits in Eridania basin on Mars by Joseph R. Michalski et al., Nature Communications, online 10 Jul 2017.
Ancient Hydrothermal Vents... Could Have Been a Cradle for Life by Matt Williams, Universe Today, 12 Oct 2017.
> Life on Mars! has more about water and possible life there.
Thanks Thanks, Martin Langford.

10 Oct 2017
Unfortunately, with the exception of the two Viking landers in 1976, all other lander and rover missions to Mars have been in fact primarily geology focused, although they are often put forward as astrobiology missions.
Searching for Life on Mars Before It Is Too Late by Alberto G. Fairén et al., Astrobiology, online Sep 2017.
> Life on Mars! has more about Viking.

05 Oct 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
The New York Times
Ancient Viruses Are Buried in Your DNA by Carl Zimmer, The New York Times, 04 Oct 2017.
> Viruses... has a primer and related links. Thanks Thanks, Ronnie McGhee.

Methyl Chloride in a young star system 400 light-years away.
03 Oct 2017
Astrobiologists have recently proposed to use Methyl Chloride as a biomarker — its detection in the atmosphere of an exoplanet would mean life is probably there. Now astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) see Methyl Chloride in a young star system 400 light-years away (see right). Interestingly, it was also detected by the Rosetta mission, in May 2015, in bursts when comet 67P was nearest to the sun. Early detection of the molecule means to some, by curious logic, that it isn't a biomarker.

Protostellar and cometary detections of organohalogens by Edith C. Fayolle et al., Nature Astronomy, 02 Oct 2017.
Astronomers Discover Traces of Methyl Chloride around Infant Stars and Nearby Comet, The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (+PhysOrg +Newswise), 02 Oct 2017.
Biomarker found in space complicates search for life on exoplanets, European Space Agency, 02 Oct 2017.
> ...Interstellar Dust has historical information and links. Thanks Thanks, Chandra Wickramasinghe.
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