WhatsNEW Archives, January-February 2000
Sha Mi, Xinhua Lee, Xiang-ping Li, Geertruida M. Veldman, Heather Finnerty, Lisa Racie, Edward Lavallie, Xiang-yang Tang, Philippe Edouard, Steve Howes, James C. Keith and John M. McCoy, "Syncytin is a captive retroviral envelope protein involved in human placental morphogenesis" [abstract], p 785-789 v 403 Nature, 17 February 2000.
Sweeping up Stardust, by Tony Phillips, Space Science News, 27 February 2000.
Going Comet Wild, by Tony Phillips, Space Science News, 27 February 2000.
Can The Theory Be Tested? is a related CA webpage.
February 25:Some horizontally transferred genes target the host's germ cells and avoid the somatic cells! This is among the findings by Margaret G. Kidwell, Regents Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. She and colleague Damon Lisch conclude that transposable elements can play a useful role in evolution, including humans', where they constitute more than 35 percent of the genome. In a 1997 article, Kidwell and Lisch had already observed, "The number of well documented cases in which element sequences appear to confer useful traits on the host, although small, is growing rapidly."
Margaret G. Kidwell and Damon R. Lisch, "Transposable elements and host genome evolution," p 95-99 v 15 n 7 Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 2000.
Margaret G. Kidwell and Damon R. Lisch, "Transposable elements as sources of variation in animals and plants" [text], p 7704-7711 v 94 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, July 1997.
Jumping Genes Play Useful Role In Human Evolution, by Lori Stiles, UniSci, 21 February 2000.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]
A Reply from Damon Lisch clarifies this finding, 7 Sep 2001.
David McKay et al. maintained, last year, that their fossils were integrated with the (Nakhla and Shergotty) meteorite matrix in ways that earthly contaminants wouldn't be. It is not clear whether this position has changed. Zhmur and Gerasimenko said the same thing about their (Murchison and Efremovka) fossils, and we have asked them to comment.
Steele et al. conclude with a surprise: "We therefore, propose that... apart from some low molecular weight organic material... all other compounds could be the products of microbial and terrestrial contamination." We have previously suggested that the complex organic compounds in space may be post-biotic instead of pre-biotic. Do Steele et al. somehow almost agree with us on this point?
The papers containing the contamination findings (and many other papers) will be delivered at the 31st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, March 13-17, 2000, in Houston Texas.
31st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, from the Johnson Space Center. The website has instructions for downloading papers. The three referenced below are from session 50.
The same charge, contamination, was made against the lefthanded amino acids in Murchison, in the 1990s. Subsequent isotopic analysis proved they are indigenous.
Since the 1960s, when Bart Nagy published his photos, sceptics have invoked a "Catch-22" against microfossils in meteorites. If they look earthly, they're judged to be contaminants. If they don't look earthly, they're deemed nonbiological altogether. (In all versions of panspermia, earthly germs will resemble cosmic germs, to which they are related.)
We will post developments as they unfold. [Thanks, Larry Klaes.]
Fossilized Bacteria Found in Ancient Meteorite, by Michael Paine, Space.com, 21 February 2000.
Fossilized Bacteria in Murchison and Efremovka is the CA webpage with microfossil photos (470K).
Amino Acid Asymmetry in the Murchison Meteorite is a related CA webpage.
February 22:Stardust collected interstellar dust today. Its aerogel collector was aimed at the dust stream overtaking it from behind. [Thanks Ron Baalke.]
Successful Start of the Historic Interstellar Dust Collection by STARDUST, by Tom Duxbury, Stardust Status Report, 22 February 2000.
Stardust Mission Status, by Ron Baalke, 22 February 2000.
Utah-Bound Spacecraft Sweeps Stardust Today, by Lee Siegel, The Salt Lake Tribune, 22 February 2000.
Spacecraft collects stardust, by David Whitehouse, BBC News Online, 23 February 2000.
27 Apr 2000: Most interstellar particles captured by Stardust are complex organic compounds.
First Direct Chemical Analysis of Interstellar Dust in Sterne und Weltraum p 326-329, v 39, May 2000.
February 18:If life can exist in the ice above Lake Vostok, thousands of metres below frozen Antarctica, who is to say that it might not be found also below the ice fields of Europa?
The ice microbes cometh, by Philip Ball, Nature: Science update, 11 February 2000.
Life on Europa... has links to WhatsNEW on Jupiter's and other moons.
NASA Begins Building Next Mission to Study Comets, NASA press release 00-26, 15 February 2000.
NASA gives go-ahead to Cornell-led 2002 mission to explore comets, Cornell University news release, 16 February 2000.
NASA Gives Green Light to Comet Mission, SpaceViews, 15 February 2000.
Discovery Mission: CONTOUR, a homepage for the mission.
Comet Rendezvous is a related section of the CA webpage "Can the Theory Be Tested?"
February 14:NEAR spacecraft achieves orbit around asteroid 433 Eros. The asteroid is only 21 miles long, so the orbit insertion reqired delicate maneuvering. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous craft had sailed right by its target on the first try, in December, 1998. New discoveries are almost sure to come from this mission.
First Orbit Around an Asteroid, Space Science News, with links, 14 February 2000.
Now Orbiting, ABCNews.com, with links, 14 February 2000.
NEAR home page, Johns Hopkins University.
NEAR's Encounter with Asteroid 433 Eros, SpaceRef.com, with links.
Warren E. Leary, "Trailblazing Craft Exposes an Asteroid" [text], The New York Times, 18 February 2000.
Can the Theory Be Tested? is a related CA webpage.
February 12:Chandra Wickramasinghe and Barry DiGregorio chat with Laura Lee about life on Mars, panspermia and related topics. This interview program will be available on the Internet in two one-hour parts, February 18 and February 25, at 7PM PST, 10PM EST.
The Laura Lee Show, with schedule and Internet audio feed instructions.
Life on Mars! is a related CA webpage.
February 1:Two new Mars meteorites found — The pair had languished for twenty years in the back yard of a Los Angeles rock collector. Only a dozen Mars meteorites were previously known.
Old rocks are new Mars meteorites, by Alan Boyle, MSNBC, 31 January 2000.
New Mars Meteorite Found In California, by Ron Baalke, SpaceDaily, 31 January 2000.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.
January 28:Russia plans space probe to Mars in 2005. "We hope to gather information which may help us to understand why there is no life on Mars," said Leonid Ksanfomality, of Russia's Academy of Sciences' Space Studies Institute. (Or maybe if there is life?)
Russia Eyes Mars 2005 Probe, SpaceDaily, Moscow: 28 January 2000.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.
Stanislav I. Zhmur and Lyudmila M. Gerasimenko: "Biomorphic forms in carbonaceous meteorite Alliende and possible ecological system - producer of organic matter hondrites" in Instruments, Methods and Missions for Astrobiology II, Richard B. Hoover, Editor, Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 3755 p. 48-58 (1999).
SpaceDaily ran the story and pointed to our related webpage.
Fossilized Bacteria in Murchison and Efremovka is the CA webpage with the pictures.
January 27: A radiation-driven ecosystem on Europa? — It's possible, according to calculations in a new article by Chris Chyba of Stanford University and the SETI Institute. "But only direct exploration will reveal whether life on Europa actually exists." January 25: January 21: January 20: January 20:
January 25:Yukon Meteor Blast — "A thunderous meteor streaked over the Yukon last week. Now a NASA airplane has flown through the debris cloud in search of extraterrestrial particles."
January 21:Scientific American recognizes the evolutionary importance of lateral gene transfer. "...Vertical inheritance is not the only important process that has affected the evolution of cells. Rampant operation of a different process — lateral, or horizontal, gene transfer — has also affected the course of that evolution profoundly. Such transfer involves the delivery of single genes, or whole suites of them, not from a parent cell to its offspring but across species barriers." Intriguingly, the article also notes, "Many eukaryotic genes ...seem to have come from nowhere."
January 20:Are viral influenza epidemics correlated with solar activity? Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe have long thought so. The current epidemic also coincides with a peak in the 11-year cycle. An article in Current Science, a weekly journal of the Indian Academy of Sciences, will reiterate the case and propose a mechanism. [Thanks, Barry DiGregorio.]
January 20:Could adenine be synthesized in collapsing interstellar clouds? A study from Calcutta suggests so. (This line of investigation supports "abiogenesis" without confining it to Earth.)
Pennock's support for Darwinism, however, is less thorough. His crowning example of a computer model of evolution, to which he devotes several pages, is Tom Ray's Tierra. Pennock is apparently unaware that no evolution in Tierra has generated any lengthy new programs that would be necessary for sustainable evolutionary progress. Some virtual creatures do become longer, but they exhibit no progress and they survive poorly. Indeed, the best survivors in Tierra are have shorter instructions than their ancestors (p 106-108). Later, Pennock zealously defends Richard Dawkins' virtual "biomorphs," while admitting their limitations. In 1986, Dawkins had written that when the limitations were overcome "Evolution in the computer would then really take off...." Pennock says this prediction has now been upheld by Tierra (p 262). But Tom Ray is still looking for a way to produce "a large spiraling upwards in complexity" in his model. Apparently its evolution hasn't really taken off yet. In biology proper, Pennock adopts the mainstream position that microevolution can easily produce unlimited macroevolution.
Pennock specifically addresses creationists' attack on "naturalism," which could also be called "scientific faith" or "LaPlace's wager." It is the principle that there is nothing supernatural within nature. Pennock carefully outlines and refutes the creationist argument against naturalism authored by Berkeley Law professor Phillip Johnson. On this issue we completely agree with Pennock — if creationists want to do science, they must do it scientifically.
One may ask why creationists are bold enough to challenge professional scientists in the first place. Pennock gives the standard answer — that science has always had conservative, non-scientific, religious, sometimes powerful opposition. But in a 1997 Gallup poll, 68% of American adults thought creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools. What other modern scientific theory is so widely doubted? Could there be a grain of truth in the opposition to evolution? Of course there could. Science has not suddenly become infallible. Perhaps the neo-Darwinian molecular mechanism behind evolution really is inadequate for producing sustained progress. But this inadequacy would not mean that we have to abandon science altogether — as both sides in this controversy seem to suggest!
Our issues aside, Tower of Babel is the most thorough opposing review of creationism that we have seen.Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, The MIT Press, 1999.
Evolution vs Creationism is a related CA webpage.
Computer Models of Evolution has more about Richard Dawkins, Tom Ray and others.
January 12: Astronomers have found a pair of bacteria that might have been able to survive a trip from Mars. Curt Mileikowsky of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm said Bacillus subtilis and Deinococcus radiodurans are resistant to high speeds, extreme heat and radiation. The report came at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Atlanta. January 11: January 10:
January 11:More evidence for Europa's ocean — Changes in Europa's magnetic field indicate that the moon has an outer layer of conducting material such as a salty ocean. The Galileo spacecraft that collected the data, on January 3, continues to function after completing its primary mission to Jupiter two years ago.
January 10:Mars meteorite contains biologically produced magnetites? What if much of the magnetic material on Mars' surface is biogenic? The debate continues. [Thanks, Larry Klaes.]