What'sNEW Jan - Mar 2023

31 Mar 2023
Dyson's table of very distant eventualities Freeman Dyson, mathematician and physicist, thought about eventualities in a future so distant that the rest of us can hardly imagine it (see table.) But he was also grounded in this world, contributing wisdom on issues of great societal importance, like nuclear disarmament and genetic enginering. He died three years ago.
Freeman John Dyson, 15 Dec 1923 - 28 Feb 2020, by Tim Radford, The Guardian, 01 Mar 2020.
Freeman Dyson (19232020) by Frank Wilczek, Science, 15 May 2020.

Disturbing the Universe Disturbing the Universe is his autobiography, published in 1979. It is a series of lively essays, some previously released. Dyson shows us science up close, but enriched with philosophical reflections, literary and historical references, introspection and personal portraits.

Dyson was longtime friends with Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. His priviledged perspective on them makes his account of the deep public rift between them uniquely sensitive. Others he knew fairly or very well include Hans Bethe, Julian Schwinger, Richard Feynman and Wernher von Braun. Episodes, adventures and discussions with them and others are enlightening and fun.

Among a wide range of topics, including classical music and sci-fi movies, Dyson also considers life and its evolution. Extrapolating from the history of life, he thinks that darwinian evolution can produce virtually anything, and technology can accelerate that. When I met him, in about 2001 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton NJ, he had little interest in a proposal to test the power of darwinian evolution in quarantined computer models. That disappointed me. But by 2009 at least, he was favorably disposed toward panspermia. I wish I had known him better. Gone now, he comes alive in his autobiography.

Disturbing The Universe by Freeman Dyson, Sloan Foundation Science Series, 15 Apr 1981.
"Disturbing the Universe - I" - book review by Freeman Dyson (!), The New Yorker [1st paragraph], 06 Aug 1979.
Freeman J. Dyson, "Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe," [link], v 51 n 3 Reviews of Modern Physics, July 1979 (source of the above table). This widely cited article asks how life could last forever.
06 May 2009: Dyson comments on panspermia at a Harvard symposium.
Thanks Thanks for the book, Jim Powers!

ps: Dyson's unquestioning aceptance of the mainstream theory of evolution is not unusual. He also endorsed a strange but common interpretation of quantum theory: the outcome depends on the observer. I can't understand that. Yes, quantum entanglement is proven, but surely it holds whether we observe it or not. What am I missing? Is that interpretation still common?

Chandra Wickramasinghe: personal interview with Mayank Chhaya, 64-min. video, 27 Mar 2023.
Chandra Wickramasinghe: background and updates.

27 Mar 2023
Illustration (from Nature) of a comet path altered near the sun An object with interstellar velocity passed inside the orbit of Mercury in September, 2017. Roughly 400 mters long, it was first thought to be an asteroid, but as looped by the sun it veered from a strictly inertial path. The most natural explanation was venting, typical of comets. Other more exotic ideas were also proposed, and the issue remains unsettled. Could heat from the sun cause a sudden release of trapped hydrogen gas (see illustration)? A geophysical chemist and an astronomer think so:
"Acceleration of 1I/'Oumuamua from radiolytically produced H2 in H2O ice" by Jennifer B. Bergner and Darryl Z. Seligman,
Nature, 22 Mar 2023.
"Scientists explain alien comet 'Oumuamua's strange acceleration" by Will Dunham, Reuters, 23 Mar 2023.

But another team disagrees:
"Implications of evaporative cooling by H2 for 1I/'Oumuamua," by Thiem Hoang and Abraham Loeb, arXiv:2033.13861v1 [pdf], 24 Mar 2023.
"...Avi Loeb's Response to the Molecular Hydrogen Theory," by Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams, 27 Mar 2023.

Biological outgassing should also be considered. If comets carry dormant, frozen life across galaxies, a close pass by the sun would be just the thing to awaken it.
01 Nov 2017: Our first notice of 'Oumuamua with links.
Comets: The Delivery System has more.

22 Mar 2023
"Uracil in the carbonaceous asteroid (162173) Ryugu," by Y. Oba, T, Koga, Y. Takano et al., doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36904-3,
Nature Communications, 21 Mar 2023.
" Uracil found in Ryugu samples," Hokkaido University, 22 Mar 2023.
Thanks Thanks, Jacob Navia and Richard Hoover.
24 Feb 2023: more from Ryugu.

22 Mar 2023
Only about 1.5% of human DNA encodes proteins, but as much as 80% is seen to be transcribed into RNA within the nucleus. From there, familiar mRNA, tRNA and rRNA are transported to the cytoplasm for deployment. Other RNAs may also be exported or remain in the nucleus. Some small RNAs are even transported out of the nucleus and then back in again.

Among lncRNAs ("long noncoding" RNA transcripts of 200 or more nucleotides) only some are exported. The exported ones may act in regulatory roles, encode short peptides, or encode full-length "de novo" genes. Now we read about lncRNAs as transcripts for de novo genes that influence the growth of the human brain.

Comparing gene expression rates in humans, macaques and marmosets A research team in Beijing wanted to know what enabled those lncRNAs to be exported to the cytoplasm, because that looks like the crucial step for allowing a transcript to become translated into a protein. Comparing gene expression rates in humans, macaques and marmosets they said, We identified distinctive U1 elements and RNA splice-related sequences accounting for RNA nuclear export. They note that the sequences are selectively constrained.

They continue: It is also difficult to understand the process by which a de novo gene acquires its biological function. Under darwinian philosophy, you bet it is. But may we please deconstruct this issue? We know that the de novo gene has a function, but that it acquired it is not observed. It's a darwinian assumption that usually leads to a dead end.

The opening sentence of the research paper states Human de novo genes can originate from neutral long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) loci and are evolutionarily significant in general, yet how and why this all-or-nothing transition to functionality happens remains unclear. The word originate carries the same crippling darwinian baggage, but how the transition happens is a well-posed, timely question. The Chinese team has made good progress on that puzzle.

"De novo genes with an lncRNA origin encode unique human brain developmental functionality," by Ni A. An, Jie Zhang, Fan Mo, Xuke Luan et al., doi:10.1038/s41559-022-01925-6,
Nature Ecology and Evolution, 02 Jan 2023.
"De novo gene increases brain size," by April Rich and Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis, Nature Ecology and Evolution, 02 Jan 2023. The de novo emergence of protein-coding genes from ancestrally noncoding sequences was long believed to be nearly impossible. However, many de novo genes have now been discovered that are of high interest because of their potential contribution to novel species-specific traits.
...De Novo Genes has more examples of genes with no detectable darwinian provenance.
Robust Software Management would allow species to acquire and deploy existing genes.
New genetic programs in Darwinism and strong panspermia asks if genes acquire, or already have their functions.

13 Mar 2023
Deinococus radiodurans is a bacterium that can restore its own genome after radiation damage that would kill almost everything else. It must have programming analogous to "Defrag" in computers. Eukaryotes have a capability designated "gene conversion," that enables them to restore corrupted DNA by copying the uncorrupted sequence from the matching allele. These are two examples in genomes of what I call "robust software management" that acts like computer software. There are many examples of robust software management (RSM) in life — most, surely, still unknown. A new example, operating at a very early stage of human development, the oocyte-to-embryo transition (OET), was observed by a team of biologists in China. It may well also operate in other contexts throughout higher life:

Unexpectedly, maternal mRNAs undergo global remodeling: after deadenylation or partial degradation into 3'-UTRs, they are re-polyadenylated to produce polyadenylated degradation intermediates, coinciding with massive incorporation of non-A residues, particularly internal long consecutive U residues, into the newly synthesized poly(A) tails. Moreover, TUT4 and TUT7 contribute to the incorporation of these U residues, BTG4-mediated deadenylation produces substrates for maternal mRNA re-polyadenylation, and TENT4A and TENT4B incorporate internal G residues. (Liu et al.)

the oocyte-to-embryo transition (OET)
"Start of life controlled by poly(A) tail-mediated remodeling," by Chunxia Zhang and Yi Zhang,
TiG, 22 Feb 2023. Because transcription does not take place until zygotic genome activation [4C | 8C in figure], many events occurring during OET are regulated post-transcriptionally through maternal mRNAs.
"Remodeling of maternal mRNA through poly(A) tail orchestrates human oocyte-to-embryo transition," by Yusheng Liu, Han Zhao, Fanghong Shao, Yiwei Zhang et al., OA link, Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, 16 Jan 2023. ...we ...provide evidence of potential regulatory mechanisms during the human OET. As poly(A) tails are universal in eukaryotic mRNAs, poly(A) tail length and non-A-residue-mediated post-transcriptional regulations can be general mechanisms that control diverse biological or disease processes.

This work is a fine example of the deep genomics research going on around the world. Meanwhile, I notice the lack of any useful contribution from neo-darwinism or any of its modern variants. The new findings are almost always "surprising," or "unexpected," with strained evolutionary scenarios concocted post hoc — if at all. We need a new theory of evolution.
Robust Software Management is required in cosmic ancestry.

24 Feb 2023
"High Redshift Caution," by Paul Gilster,
Centauri Dreams, 23 Feb 2023, and;
"The James Webb Space Telescope discovers enormous distant galaxies that should not exist," by Tereza Pultarova, Space.com, 22 Feb 2023; re:
"A population of red candidate massive galaxies ~600 Myr after the Big Bang," by I. Labbé, P. van Dokkum, E. Nelson et al., doi:10.1038/s41586-023-05786-2, Nature, 22 Feb 2023. ...the amount of mass we discovered means that the known mass in stars at this period of our universe is up to 100 times greater than we had previously thought.
Thanks Thanks, Jim Powers.
The End and the Big Bang has thoughts about cosmologies that would not sterilize the universe.

24 Feb 2023
Science Magazine, 23 Feb 2023 Samples from the surface of asteroid Ryugu, collected by the Japanese Hyabusu2 spacecraft, were returned to Earth in 2020. Now, teams of specialists with advanced technology have analysed them, as reported in Science. Five articles discuss the chemistry and mineralogy of the samples, and the likely history and evolution of the asteroid. No article has fewer than 100 authors.

In an introductory piece, Christopher Herd casually comments, The Ryugu samples contain thousands of different types of organic molecules, including amino acids. By modern consensus, the organics formed in the interstellar medium, before the solar system formed. These were incorporated into Ryugu's parent body, along with frozen water which later melted. Of course, there's another way to interpret that evidence, because complex organics are usually symptomatic of life, and liquid water is conducive to life.

"Analyzing asteroid Ryugu," by C.D.K. Herd [
link | ToC], Science, 24 Feb 2023
"Soluble organic molecules in samples of the carbonaceous asteroid (162173) Ryugu," by Hiroshi Naraoka et al., doi:10.1126/science.abn9033 [link | ToC], Science, 24 Feb 2023
Thanks Thanks, Richard Hoover, who notices that three of life's amino acids analyzed in Ryugu have excesses of the L enantiomer. This implicates ancient biology, but the analysts make no comment.
Comet Rendezvous is a related section of "Can The Theory Be Tested?"
22 Mar 2023: Uracil found in Ryugu.

22 Feb 2023
"Evolution: Miniproteins appeared 'from nowhere'," The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine [
link | alt.], 17 Feb 2023.
New genetic programs..., first posted in 2002, explains why programs seeming to have come "from nowhere" support cosmic ancestry ["strong panspermia"].

22 Feb 2023What'sNEW about HGT |
"Bat pluripotent stem cells reveal unusual entanglement between host and viruses," by Marion Déjosez et al., doi:10.1016/j.cell.2023.01.011
Cell, 21 Feb 2023. ...our data suggest that in bats the pluripotent state serves as an 'umbrella' host for a highly divergent viral contingent.

16 Feb 2023What'sNEW about HGT |
In any environment, even in our homes, every time we take a breath, we breathe in probably thousands of different bacterial and virus strains, says Marco Salemi, a pathologist at the University of Florida. He is commenting on a study that sees new viruses "spilling over" from animals to humans. The research team asks, How do we control the damage these viruses cause? Meanwhile, I am struck by the sheer ubiquity of viruses. If only a tiny fraction of their genes become endogenous in infected species, they could supply all the "new" genetic programming evolution needs.
"How do pandemics begin? There's a new theory – and a new strategy to thwart them," Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR Morning Edition [
link], 15 Feb 2023.
"A strategy to assess spillover risk of bat SARS-related coronaviruses in Southeast Asia," by C.A. Sánchez, H. Li, K.L. Phelps et al., Nat Commun, 09 Aug 2022. Like snowflakes during a nice winter snow, spillovers are trickling across our population every day, says Peter Daszak, who led the study.
07 Feb 2018: More than 800 million viruses per square meter per day descend from the high atmosphere....
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms points to many examples of viral genes that become endogenous.

Investiture of Chandra Wickramasinghe into the Order of the British Empire by King Charles III 10 Feb 2023: Chandra Wickramasinghe, for his contributions to Science, Astronomy and Astrobiology, was invested into the Order of the British Empire at Windsor Castle by King Charles III.
31 Dec 2021: First announcement and press release.
Chandra Wickramasinghe: 1981 statement with links and updates
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's Analysis of Interstellar Dust.

08 Feb 2023
A 6-minute narrated cartoon video makes a pretty good case for interplanetary panspermia via meteorites.
The Panspermia Theory, by BBC Ideas, The Open University, on Aeon, 07 Feb 2023.
Thanks Thanks, George Nickas and Google Alerts.
Bacteria... can survive many hazards, as the video affirms.

01 Feb 2023
...the interstellar dimming could only be reasonably attributed to solid particles ...the size of bacteria on the Earth.

Chandra Wickramasinghe is an astrobiologist at the University of Buckingham. Milton Wainwright is a microbiologist at the University of Sheffield. I have known both of these UK astrobiologists for decades. Now they have written a book about their shared interest in panspermia.

Life Comes from Space: The Decisive Evidence, by Milton Wainwright and Chandra Wickramasinghe Wainwright also knows the history of science. Right away we read about pre-socratic Greeks who thought about "seeds" everywhere. Various theories of the origin of life are mentioned, with surprising quotes from Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison and others. French philosopher Benoit De Maillet was the first "modern" proponent of panspermia, Wainwright contends. Did Mary Shelley conceive of Frankenstein after attending a lecture about lightning and the origin of life? Informative, and intriguing.

Wickramasinghe then relates how his collaboration with Fred Hoyle grew into a life in astrobiology. I know the story, and this telling is especially compelling and concise. His spectograpic investigation of interstellar dust is more sustained and penetrating than any before it, I'm sure. Of course Chandra is frustrated that the evidence for signs of biology in the dust is often dismissed without a hearing, or is rebutted with insubstantial, implausible alternatives.

The evidence for microfossils in meteorites like ALH84001, Orgueil and Polonnaruwa gets plenty of attention, as it should. Bacteria in the high atmosphere also get scrutiny, although skeptics may argue that they're from below. To flesh out the story, some scenarios are necessarily speculative, because it's uncharted territory. Me, I'm glad to see panspermia so boldly advocated.

Life Comes from Space: The Decisive Evidence, by Milton Wainwright and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Foreword by Gensuke Tokoro, ISBN-10:9811266255,
World Scientific, 2023.
Light Scattering Functions for Small particles with applications in Astronomy, by N.C. Wickramasinghe, Wiley, 1973.

30 Jan 2023What'sNEW about HGT |
"Sedimentary DNA can influence evolution: Establishing mineral facilitated horizontal gene transfer as a route to bacterial fitness," by Taru Verma et al., doi:10.1101/2023.01.24.525235,
bioRXiv, 24 Jan 2023; and commentary by Keith Cowing, 29 Jan 2023.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has a primer and many examples of HGT.

29 Jan 2023
Wet Panspermia?!
The simplest form of life we know is a single prokaryotic cell. Nothing less could bring life to a lifeless planet. Eukaryotic cells also probably could, and viruses may easily hitchhike on any route cells might use. These microbes, frozen inside comets for example, could persist indefinitely and arrive on a planet intact, perhaps descending as dust. Multicellular life would have more trouble. That's why cosmic ancestry adopts the definition of Panspermia that we have.

Definition of panspermia to be updated But this definition is incomplete. Specialists have often noticed the space-hardiness of Tardigrades. Astrobiologist Devid Tepfer has long advocated plant seeds as vectors for panspermia. Ted Steele et al. suggest cryo-preserved embryos of larger animals may survive in comets. Moreover, life in a comet may not always be dormant. A periodic pass close to a star could warm the comet enough to melt the ice and allow cells to grow.

Even far from stars, radioactive elements with long half-lives could warm a comet interior, as Hoyle and Wickramasinghe knew. Now Richard Hoover expands on that idea, suggesting that radioactivity may allow for "the transfer of intact biospheres across interstellar and possibly intergalactic distances." He's calling it "Wet Panspermia."

25 May 2021: Tardigrades can survive hard vacuum, complete dessication, ionising radiation, etc.
David Tepfer and Sydney Leach, "Plant Seeds as Model Vectors for the Transfer of Life Through Space," doi:10.1007/s10509-006-9239-0, Astrophysics and Space Science, 15 Nov 2006.
Ted Steele et al., "Cause of Cambrian Explosion - Terrestrial or Cosmic?" doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.03.004, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, online 13 Mar 2018.
Richard B. Hoover, "Meteorites comets, rogue planets and the distribution of biosphere" [local abstract | 25-min video begins min:46], World Conference on Basic Sciences and Sustainable Development, Belgrade, Serbia, 19-22 Sep 2022.
09 Jan 2021: ...uranium and thorium isotopes suggest comets may have been wet for long times.
13 Jan 2023: Kevin Peter Hand thinks whole biospheres might cross a galaxy.
Introduction and ...New Questions have more about the word "panspermia."
Richard Hoover: collected articles.

Stanley Phillip Franklin, co-founder of the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis
28 Jan 2023
Stanley Phillip Franklin, co-founder of the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis, died at home, 23 Jan 2023. He was also a founding Advisory Director of the Astrobiology Research Trust, the sponsor of this website. And he was a valued friend and advisor to me. I will miss him.
"Dr. Stan Franklin dies: Memphis genius pioneered 'Artificial Intelligence'" by John Beifuss,
Memphis Commercial Appeal, 26 Jan 2023.
Artificial Minds by Stan Franklin, MIT Press, 1997.
Academic World of Stan Franklin, University of Memphis, posted Jan 2024.
Thanks Thanks for a first alert, Chip Morrison.
Astrobiology Research Trust

15 Jan 2023
Ari Abramóvich Shtérnfeld published an essay, in 1935, suggesting that Titan has an atmosphere and possibly life. This and much more are found in a new retrospective article.
"Brief review about history of astrobiology" by Bruno Leonardo do Nascimento-Dias and Jesús Martinez-Frias,
International Journal of Astrobiology, online 19 Oct 2022.

13 Jan 2023
Kevin Peter Hand learned about astrobiology with Chris Chyba, and James Cameron introduced him to deep seafloor exploration. Loving both, Hand was among the very first to see some of the unusual life swaying or swimming near hydrothermal ocean vents. As a NASA-affiliated astrobiologist, he now advocates missions to look for life in Alien Oceans, the ones under the ice of moons like Europa. He tells a captivating story. Alien Oceans by Kevin Peter Hand

And Hand makes it instructive. When he sees a need, he uses helpful analogies to remind us of the relevant science. He explains how different missions and different scientists with different instruments and methods progressively enabled us to reach our current understanding of other worlds. For example, some moons have magnetic fields that are intrinsic, some that are induced, some, none at all. Each case holds important clues about the structure of that world.

Hand can also be quite imaginative about the life that might be found in those oceans. Could an underwater civilization develop metallurgy, or advanced technology? I gladly welcome such free-thinking. He also considers at length whether life elsewhere could use entirely different chemistry from ours. I think we first need to better understand life-as-we-know-it.

I'm puzzled: why doesn't panspermia get mentioned? He wonders if inhabited moons or planets might get thrown out of orbit and "transport biospheres across the galaxy" (p 134). Heck, that's panspermia at a scale seldom imagined. For finding extra-terrestrial life, he writes, "the easiest and most intuitive biosignature is perhaps the one you can judge with your own eyes: its morphology" (p 238). He must be unaware of the morphology photographed by the Opportunity rover on Mars, 27 Feb 2004. His account of the search for life by the Viking mission, 1976-1977, sticks closely to NASA's hyper-conservative party line. At least he plainly admits, "There has been only one time in the history of space exploration when looking for signs of life was the stated target of the mission [Viking]. This first time was also the last time" (p 231). If this frustrates him, he says no more about it.

Of course Hand does not stray from orthodoxy as far as I do. Still, this book moves the paradigm in the right direction. Besides, it's edifying and enjoyable. Recommended!

Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space by Kevin Peter Hand,
Princeton Unversity Press, 2020.
Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets? has related links.
16 Mar 2015: Ganymede has intrinsic and induced magnetic fields.
Life on Mars! has more about Viking and links to the morphology photographed by Opportunity.
Thanks Thanks for the book, Ellen Klyce.

07 Jan 2023
Nature, Dec 2022
New studies suggest that recently identified archeabacteria evolved into eukaryotes, Elizabeth Pennisi explains in Science. Some species of Asgard are seen to have complex shapes, and internal features resembling the eukaryotic cytoskeleton. Genes once thought exclusive to eukaryotes are found in these archaea. Some of the genes must be behind the surprising features. The story comes across as more evidence in favor of the mainstream theory of evolution. "Until recently, life's journey towards complexity was a blur."

The trouble is, those eukaryotic genes lack any discernable neo-darwinian provenance. They're just already installed in archaea. If we ask how the genes originated, mainstream theory has nothing to offer. A better question is, Where do these eukaryotic genes come from? Apparently, we eukaryotes get them by HGT, possibly from archaea. Before archaea, the trail is lost.

"Did ancient tentacled microbes kick-start complex life?" by Elizabeth Pennisi, Science, 06 Jan 2023.
"Actin cytoskeleton and complex cell architecture in an Asgard archaeon," by T. Rodrigues-Oliveira, F. Wollweber, R.I. Ponce-Toledo et al., doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05550-y, Nature, 21 Dec 2022.
07 May 2015 and 09 Oct 2015: Genes for Eukaryotic Signature Proteins in Archaea.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has more.
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