What'sNEW Apr - Jun 2021
"Beyond coronavirus: the virus discoveries transforming biology" by Amber Dance, doi:10.1038/d41586-021-01749-7, Nature, 30 Jun 2021.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has discussion.
Are Planets with Continuous Surface Habitability Rare? by Alex Tolley, Centauri Dreams, 28 May 2021; re:
"Efficiency of the oxygenic photosynthesis on Earth-like planets in the habitable zone" by Giovanni Covone et al., doi:10.1093/mnras/stab1357, Monthly Not. RAS, 19 May 2021.
Gaia explains how life could steer and stabilize a planet's environment.
Life could exist in the clouds of Jupiter but not Venus, Queen’s University Belfast +Newswise, 28 Jun 2021.
14 Sep 2020: Venus backstory. Life on ...Other Planets? has links.
— Harmit Malik, evolutionary geneticist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
...Asking experts how Darwin's theories hold up..., interviews by Rita Ponce, Massive Science, 27 Jul 2021.
Tianwen-1, the Chinese Mars mission, Wikipedia.
"A living bdelloid rotifer from 24,000-year-old Arctic permafrost" by Lyubov Shmakova et al., Cur. Biol., 07 Jun 2021.
'Zombie' organism comes back to life after 24,000 years, Yahoo News, 18 Jun 2021.
"We discuss the implications for the Giant Arc... for the fundamental assumption of homogeneity in cosmology" by A. M. Lopez et al., [abstract only], American Astronomical Society annual meeting, 07 Jun 2021.
Thanks, John Hughes, Whitefish MT.
The End... cites alternatives to the standard big bang, with updates.
The rate of actual horizontal transfer is probably much, much higher than we realize.
The detected transfer events must ...be only a tiny proportion of the full number of transfers that occur.
The unsettling possibility is that horizontal DNA transfers could happen all the time.
Whatever the rate of horizontal transfers, their cumulative impact on evolutionary history is undeniable.
"DNA Jumps Between Animal Species. No One Knows How Often." by Christie Wilcox, Quanta Magazine, 18 May 2021.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has many examples.
"Inside Deep Undersea Rocks, Life Thrives Without the Sun", by Jordana Cepelewicz, Quanta Magazine, 13 May 2021.
Bacteria... has lots more about their versatility.
"Tardigrade Survival Limits in High-Speed Impacts – Implications for Panspermia and Collection of Samples from Plumes Emitted by Ice Worlds", by Alejandra Traspas and Mark J. Burchell, doi:10.1089/ast.2020.2405, Astrobiology, 11 May 2021.
Tardigrades survive impacts of up to 825 meters per second by Bob Yirka, Phys.org, 21 May 2021.
Thanks, Peter S. Thompson. More about tardigrades: "the theory that microbes in space transmit life to habitable bodies" is the definition of panspermia that I have long accepted. Am I negligent to ignore the possible role of larger specimens? In addition to tardigrades, many plant seeds can tolerate extremes. French botanist David Tepfer has long advocated panspermia by plant seeds.
"The origin of life, panspermia and a proposal to seed the Universe", by David Tepfer, Plant Science, Dec 2008.
Yes, he admits, lots is unknown. But from our unorthodox perspective, some of his most casual assertions were jarring. Brave origin-of-life researchers are sustained by the knowledge that life did have a beginning. It's only a conviction, isn't it? Later, Deamer says the organic compounds in Murchison must have been synthesized by non-biological chemical reactions. Wait, when did biology get ruled out for that?
As usual, the software aspect of the origin-of-life problem is effectively ignored. I think it's a fatal problem by itself. Obviously, I do not share Deamer's faith. Nonetheless, he is a very respected origin-of-life researcher whom I admire. For a brief wide-angled introduction to the field, with lots of orthodox knowledge that's easy to read, this book is perfect.
Origin of Life:
What Everyone Needs to Know, by David W. Deamer, Oxford University Press, 2019.
Deamer says panspermia lacks testable predictions, but panspermia makes firm predictions: life on Mars – and anywhere else – will be related to life here. If there's water, there's life. Meteorites will contain evidence of life. In cosmic ancestry, HGT must first deliver the innovative genetic programs. Viruses will transfer genes. Plenty of testable predictions.Life on Mars! contains a table with panspermia's  predictions for life there.
The Evolution Prize, New genetic programs and 09 May 2002: more tests or predictions.
Can The Theory Be Tested? includes a Postscript with relevant discussion.
We believe viruses are the primary driver of evolutionary innovation. Their infectivity allows whole populations to be transformed at once, as Susumu Ohno wrote 50 years ago. The MIT researchers know this. Indeed, nonretroviral RNA virus sequences have been detected in the genomes of many vertebrate species, with several integrations exhibiting signals consistent with the integration of DNA copies of viral mRNAs into the germline via ancient long interspersed nuclear element (LINE) retrotransposons.
Today genomicists recognize endogenous retroviruses making up 8% of the human genome. Whether any of the genome of the new coronavirus (illustrated in blue) gets endogenized – becomes part of the human genome – remains to be seen."Reverse-transcribed SARS-CoV-2 RNA can integrate into the genome of cultured human cells..." by Liguo Zhang et al., doi:10.1073/pnas.2105968118, PNAS, 25 May 2021.
"Do coronavirus genes slip into human chromosomes?" by Jon Cohen, Science, 14 May 2021.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has background and updates.
"An ancient viral epidemic involving host coronavirus interacting genes more than 20,000 years ago in East Asia" by Yassine Souilmi et al., doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.067, Current Biology, 24 Jun 2021.
"Horizontal Gene Transfer in Vertebrates..." by Laurie A. Graham and Peter L. Davies doi:10.1016/j.tig.2021.02.006, Trends in Genetics, 01 Jun 2021.
Viruses... lists many examples of HGT in all domains, but few or none directly between vertebrates.
Fungi on Mars?... by Rhawn Joseph et al., ResearchGate, May 2021.
...claims for life on Mars are shoddy and unscientific by Jackson Ryan, ccnet, 06 May 2021.
Thanks, Lee Edwards and Stan Franklin.
FWIW, I think Joseph et al. are onto something with the blueberries. But the "white amorphous mass" (Fig. 17) could simply be a spot of sunlight.
17 May 2020: also from Joseph et al.
Life on Mars! has background.
"The effect of core formation on surface composition and planetary habitability" by Brendan Dyck, Jon Wade and Richard Palin, arXiv:2104.10612, 21 Apr 2021.
"Virus-derived variation in diverse human genomes" by Shohei Kojima et al., PLoS Gen., 26 Apr 2021.
Viruses and HGT has more.
"Cometary Origin of COVID-19" by Edward J. Steele et al., Xixra, 30 Mar 2021.
"Growing Evidence against Global Infection-Driven by Person-to-Person Transfer of COVID-19" by N Chandra Wickramasinghe et al., Virol Curr Res, Apr 2020.
Comets: The Delivery System has background and related links.
Influenza from Space? has correpondence with updates since 2000.
07 Feb 2018: High winds carry countless viruses around the world.
"Life on Mars: Independent Genesis or Common Ancestor?" by Alfonso F. Davila, Astrobiology, 13 Apr 2021.
"Could We Really All Be Martians?" by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Air & Space, 30 Apr 2021.
Life on Mars! includes a Comparison of predictions.
"ZTCG: Viruses expand the genetic alphabet" by Michael W. Grome and Farren J. Isaacs, doi:10.1126/science.abh3571, Science, 30 Apr 2021.
"Weird viral DNA spills secrets to biologists" by Ewen Callaway, Nature, 29 Apr 2021. Intriguingly to us, the Z nucleobase has been detected in carbonaceous meteorites.
"Carbonaceous meteorites contain a wide range of extraterrestrial nucleobases" by Michael P. Callahan et al., doi:10.1073/pnas.1106493108, PNAS, 23 Aug 2011.
"Widespread lateral gene transfer among grasses" by Samuel G. S. Hibdige et al., doi:10.1111/nph.17328, New Phytologist, 22 Apr 2021.
"Grasses pass genes from one species to another but ...how" by Michael Marshall, New Scientist, 23 Apr 2021.
...how plants and animals steal genes from other species to accelerate evolution by Luke Dunning, The Conversation +Physorg.com, 23 Apr 2021. "Widespread occurrence of natural genetic transformation of plants by Agrobacterium" by Tatiana V. Matveeva and Léon Otten, doi:10.1007/s11103-019-00913-y, Plant Molecular Biology, 21 Sep 2019.
Naturally transgenic plant species occur on an unexpectedly large scale.
Viruses and HGT has more.
Back to the Moon – and beyond, 1.5 hr powerpoint video, recorded Apr 2021.
Richard Hoover: collected articles
Ingenious mechanism for sucrose metabolism in lepidopteran insects Zhejiang University Newsroom, +Mirage News, 15 Apr 2021.
Viruses and HGT has lots more.
Chapter 4 covers the Viking missions. We learn much about Carl Sagan and something of the hidden politics that damaged his career. We also meet Wolf Vishniac and his proposed experiment nicknamed "Wolftrap" to look for microbial life on Mars. It was dropped, but another experiment flown on Viking detected active bacterial metabolism. 'We were so excited, we sent out and got champagne, cigars,' Gulliver's lead recalled (p 70). Gulliver had become the Labelled Release (LR) experiment, whose leader was Gil Levin. But without turning to the fine print in the endnotes, a reader would never even learn his name.
Chaper 5, "Stone from the Sky" tells the story of the Allen Hills meteorite (ALH84001). In 1996, NASA geologist David S. McKay and co-workers reported that it contained good evidence for past life on Mars. But after much excitement, skepticism took over. Johnson pronounces that neither the LR experiment nor the analysis of ALH84001 produced anything conclusive. Both projects came before her active involvement, so she is likely just relaying NASA's official position. I think it's whitewashed.
By the time Opportunity and Spirit rovers were launched for Mars, Johnson was on the team. Right away, in 2004, Opportunity photographed tiny shapes that clearly resemble fossilized crinoid pieces. She has studied crinoids and she is well aware of that image, but now she ignores it. Later Mars missions like Phoenix and Curiosity didn't include life-detecting experiments. Not even the current one, Perseverance. This intransigence is quite puzzling. Is hidden politics still at work at NASA?
But Johnson's book is really a memoir. She fell in love, she almost died, and she is ever enchanted with the wonders of Mars. Her own story is engaging and the writing excellent. I hope she writes more.The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Stewart Johnson, ISBN:9781101904817, Crown/Penguin Random House, 07 Jul 2020.
Countdown to Mars, 2.5 min. YouTube video with Dr. Sarah Johnson, posted 06 Jul 2020.
Thanks, Mark Frederick at the Memphis bookstore, Novel.
Life on Mars! has background with updates about Viking and ALH84001.
Sea Lilies on Ancient Mars: a poster about the fossilized crinoids.
Environmental DNA Can Be Pulled from the Air by Amanda Heidt, TheScientist, 07 Apr 2021.
Time-resolved comparative molecular evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis by Thomas Oliver et al., doi:10.1016/j.bbabio.2021.148400, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Bioenergetics, 01 Jun (online 19 Feb) 2021.
Photosynthesis could be as old as life itself by Hayley Dunning, Imperial College London +ScienceDaily, 16 Mar 2021.
Thanks, Martin Langford. In mainstream darwinian theory, genetic programs are composed gradually, by trial-and-error. For decades now, around the world, genomicists have been sequencing and cataloging genes, so clear examples of the darwinian process should be abundant. They aren't. Instead, genes seem to come abruptly, whole or in large pieces, as expected in cosmic ancestry. Sometimes the parts arrive long before they are deployed, as it seems here. Many more examples of genes that appear to precede their own deployment are discussed and linked from:
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa?
Genes Older Than Earth?