What'sNEW January–March 2010

30 March 2010
Debra Fischer
Planet Hunter Debra Fischer in front of the Shane 3-meter Reflector at Lick Observatory.
The search for life beyond Earth is the subject of a National Geographic television special that will air at 8PM (Eastern) Thursday night, April 1st. Nevermind if the promotional material shows an alien spaceship over a metropolis; some respectable experts were interviewed. These include Peter Smith, NASA; Richard Greenberg, University of Arizona; Geoff Marcy, University of California Berkeley; Debra Fischer, Yale; Seth Shostak, SETI; Simon Conway Morris, Cambridge University; and Geoffrey Landis, NASA. Maybe worth watching?

Naked Science: Hunt for Alien Life, National Geographic TV Special, 8PM (Eastern), 1 Apr 2010.
Thanks Thanks, Larry Klaes.

25 March 2010
The closer we look, the more water and ice we discover beyond Earth. In a special issue about water, National Geographic includes a page comparing the amount of water on water-bearing planets and moons in our solar system. Some have little or none, but four moons are estimated to have several times more water than Earth has. Those four, and their multiples of are Earth's water volume, are — Jupiter's Europa=2.9x, Callisto=27x, and Ganymede=36x; and Saturn's Titan=29x. Some of this water is frozen, but not all; about half of Titan's water may be liquid. The story mentions that more water is stored as ice in comets and other bodies, farther out in the solar system. Water

Water is the only unalterable requirement for life as we know it. Where there's water, there may well be life.

"Water's Out There," page c.28, National Geographic [
contents], Apr 2010.
Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets? is a local webpage with related links.

20 March 2010
Molecular Midwives? One problem for the RNA World origin-of-life theory is that incipient strands of RNA nucleotides tend to join at their ends, forming small loops. These cannot grow into the long chains that might carry genetic instructions or fold to become catalysts. Now biochemists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University propose that "molecular midwives" can prevent this end-joining. with/without ethidium

In the RNA World, end-joining is only one of many issues in the hardware aspect of the origin-of-life problem. (The even more difficult software aspect goes unmentioned nowadays, in all scenarios.) While we admire the imagination of the Georgia team, this proposal introduces another step into the RNA World's hardware solution. We are reminded of Ptolemaic astronomy that required epicycles within epicycles.

Eric D. Horowitz, Aaron E. Engelhart et al., "Intercalation as a means to suppress cyclization and promote polymerization of base-pairing oligonucleotides in a prebiotic world" [abstract], doi:10.1073/pnas.0914172107, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, online 8 Mar 2010.
Unselfish Molecules May Have Helped Give Birth to the Genetic Material of Life, Georgia Institute of Technology, 8 Mar 2010.
Did 'midwife molecule' assemble first life on Earth? by Bob Holmes, NewScientist.com, 9 Mar 2010.
The RNA World is the main local webpage about origin-of-life theories.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin and Bob Sweeney.

11 March 2010
International Space Station Tanpopo will collect particles in space to test panspermia, according to a Japanese team promoting the mission. They plan to place aerogel, like that used by Stardust, on the Japanese Experimental Module on the International Space Station (pictured). For a year there, it will capture impacting particles. Then the aerogel will be sealed and returned to laboratories for study. The possibility that some particles may be viable or dead microorganisms will be the focus of the mission, which may begin by 2012. The plan will be presented at the upcoming Astrobiology Science Conference. "Tanpopo" is Japanese for "dandelion".

dandelion K. Kobayashi et al., "The Tanpopo: an Astrobiology Mission on the International Space Station to Test Panspermia and Quasi-panspermia Hypotheses" [5223.pdf], abstract for the Astrobiology Science Conference 2010, League City, TX, 26-29 Apr 2010.
Tanpopo Working Group, "Capture and Detection of Microorganisms in Space: the Tanpopo Mission" [3.8 MB PDF], [nd].
Akihiko Yamagishi et al., "TANPOPO: Microbe and micrometeoroid capture experiments on International Space Station" [abstract], p.3524, 37th COSPAR Scientific Assembly, Montréal, Canada, 13-20 Jul 2008.
Kensei Kobayashi et al., "Capture of Cosmic Dusts and Exposure of Organic Compounds on International Space Station: Astrobiological Objectives of the Tanpopo Mission" [abstract], p.1558, 37th COSPAR Scientific Assembly, Montréal, Canada, 13-20 Jul 2008.
Can The Theory Be Tested? is a related local webpage with information about Stardust and its aerogel.
17 Oct 2018: Results from the Japanese mission Tanpopo "support the panspermia hypothesis."
30 Aug 2021: An open-access review of Tanpopo.
13 Dec 2021: Updates on Tanpopo in more Open Access articles.

5 March 2010
Our Other Genome Genes in the microbes in our guts are 150 times more numerous than human genes. This news comes from the Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract Consortium, the name of a collaboration of Chinese and European scientists who sequenced 3.3 million genes found in stool samples from 124 people. The study should lead to benefits for public health, and it reinforces our view that opportunities for horizontal gene transfer (HGT) are not rare. Nature calls the intesinal gene pool "Our Other Genome".

Junjie Qin, Ruiqiang Li et al., "A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing" [abstract | Editor's Summary], doi:10.1038/nature08821, p59-65 v424, Nature, 4 Mar 2010.
Liping Zhao, "Genomics: The tale of our other genome" [html], doi:10.1038/465879a, p879-880 v465, Nature, 17 Jun 2009.
Gut bacteria gene complement dwarfs human genome by Andrew Bennett Hellman, doi:10.1038/news.2010.104, NatureNews, 3 Mar 2010. "...More than 25% of the genes have never been seen before...."
Human gut microbes hold 'second genome' by Doreen Walton, BBC News, 3 Mar 2010.
What Is Life? is a related local webpage.
Bacteria... is a related local webpage.
Viruses... is a related local webpage.
What'sNEW about HGT |
15 Apr 2010: Germs we eat may supply genes to ...our guts.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin.

2 March 2010
Thomas Alva Edison American inventor Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) believed life on Earth came from space. After the earth cooled of the great heat of its assemblage, life units came to it through space, into which they had been thrown from some other more developed sphere or spheres. These and more of Edison's words are quoted with references in a new online journal.
Musings on the Origin of Life and Panspermia by Milton Wainwright, p1091-1100 v5, Journal of Cosmology, online 31 Jan 2010.
The Diary and Observations of Thomas Alva Edison, D.D. Runes, New York, Philosophical Library, 1948.
Introduction: More Than Panspermia is a related local webpage.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.

Neil de Grasse Tyson 26 February 2010
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson endorses panspermia in a ten minute video.
UFOs, Panspermia, & Extra-terrestrial Intelligent Life, YouTube, posted 9 Feb 2010.
Introduction: More Than Panspermia is a related local webpage.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.

18 February 2010
Extraterrestrial chemodiversity is high compared to terrestrial relevant biological- and biogeochemical-driven chemical space. This observation comes from a European science consortium that identified 14,000 different compounds in the Murchison meteorite. The analysts believe that many more different kinds of molecules, possibly even millions, are present in it. Several hundred organic compounds have been already identified in space, but this variety surprises almost everyone.

Murchison fragment and solution Today, scientists agree that space contains organic compounds that could serve as starter-ingredients for the origin of life in a prebiotic soup. However, in non-sterile environments these origin-of-life scenarios are questionable because there are too many possible reactions that would contaminate and ruin the process. The new analysis from Europe shows the severity of this problem, at least for Murchison's parent body.

But if life is already well-distributed in space, as we believe, the European analysis is less surprising. Perhaps the mixture in Murchison includes ancient life's degradation products that have been occasionally agitated by radiation or impacts for billions of years. If so, like petroleum or coal, the meteorite would be necessarily contain a wide variety of organic compounds.

Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin, Zelimir Gabelica, Régis D. Gougeon, Norbert Hertkorn et al., "High molecular diversity of extraterrestrial organic matter in Murchison meteorite revealed 40 years after its fall" [abstract], doi:10.1073/pnas.0912157107, p2763-2768 v107, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 16 Feb 2010.
Meteorite That Fell in 1969 Still Revealing Secrets of the Early Solar System by John Matson, ScientificAmerican.com, 15 Feb 2010.
Space rock contains organic molecular feast by Doreen Walton, BBC News, 16 Feb 2010.
Meteorite contains complex organic molecules by Gemma Black, Cosmos Online, 16 Feb 2010.
New Chemical Diversity Discovered in Old Meteorite by Brandon Keim, Wired Science, 16 Feb 2010.
Comets: The Delivery System is a related local webpage. Search for "Murchison".
Harvard Chemistry Professor George Whitesides says, "There are simply too many possible reactions," What'sNEW, 9 Nov 2006.
Thanks Thanks, Mike Peabody, Alex Tarakanov, Stan Franklin, Bob Sweeney, EurekAlert! and Google Alerts.

For additional evidence that carbonaceous meteorites once contained life, see:
Amino Acid Asymmetry in the Murchison Meteorite! posted 14 Feb 1997.
Fossilized Life Forms in the Murchison Meteorite posted 29 Jul 1997.
Evidence for Indigenous Microfossils in a Carbonaceous Meteorite posted 2 Aug 2004.

17 February 2010
In cosmic ancestry, major evolutionary steps depend on pre-existing genetic programs that were originally acquired by some form of horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Biologists agree that even whole bacteria were once imported to become eukaryotic organelles; we have characterized this endosymbiosis as "wholesale" HGT. The mitochondria that produce energy in eukaryotic cells are a prime example.

Endosymbiont's genes encode transport mechanism But this endosymbiosis would not be automatic. Many of the details are not clear. For example, mitochondria must import host proteins across a membrane via some mechanism. How did that mechanism arise? Now biochemists and molecular biologists at Monash University suggest that those genetic programs were also pre-existing:

We suggest that both the TOM complex in the outer membrane and the transporter in the inner membrane (TIM complex) were derived from ancestral bacterial proteins—that is, proteins originally encoded by the bacterial endosymbiont's genome.

HGT dominates prokaryotic evolution. Examples of HGT in eukaryotic evolution have become too numerous to list. We think the evidence supports our opening supposition — major evolutionary steps depend on pre-existing genetic programs. On the other hand, if major evolutionary steps can arise from genetic programs that are composed de novo by trial and error, where's the supporting evidence? Seriously.

Felicity Alcock et al., "Tinkering Inside the Organelle" [summary], doi:10.1126/science.1182129, p649-650 v 327, Science, 5 Feb 2010.
An answer to another of life's big questions, Monash University, 5 Feb 2010.
Viruses... is the main related local webpage.
What'sNEW about HGT |
New genetic programs in Darwinism and strong panspermia suggests a way to test for programs composed de novo by trial and error, as in strict darwinism. It was proposed for human genes, but the method is universally applicable.

15 February 2010
The possibility that life was shared between Earth and Mars could be tested with a DNA analyzer.
Detecting Our Martian Cousins by Michael Schirber, Astrobiology Magazine, online 15 Feb 2010.
Life on Mars! is a related local webpage.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.

8 February 2010
Such lateral gene transfers between bacteria and animals could be an important source of evolutionary innovation. This comment comes from a deep genomic study of parasitic wasps by an international, interdisciplinary team of more than a hundred scientists. Recent gene transfers from bacteria into these wasps have been previously identified, but ancient transfers are more difficult to detect. Using phylogenetic analysis, this research group constructed a maximum-likelihood tree that links certain proteins among the wasps, bacteria and Pox viruses. These links reveal likely ancient gene transfer.

The Nasonia Genome Working Group (John H. Werren, Stephen Richards et al.), "Functional and Evolutionary Insights from the Genomes of Three Parasitoid Nasonia Species" [abstract], doi:10.1126/science.1178028, p343-348 v327, Science, 15 Jan 2010.
Genome sequencing of three parasitoid wasps, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 11 Feb 2010.
Viruses... is the main related local webpage.
What'sNEW about HGT |

4 February 2010
Spectrum of dry E. coli versus interstellar dust
Chandra Wickramasinghe reviews the case for panspermia. In a new article he discusses in depth the spectroscopy of interstellar dust, which best matches a mixture containing dried bacteria. This claim, first made thirty years ago, is only reinforced by sharper observations since then. And Wickramasinghe argues that Occam's razor, correctly applied, favors panspermia.

Chandra Wickramasinghe, "The astrobiological case for our cosmic ancestry" [abstract | local pdf], doi:10.1017/S1473550409990413, v 9 n 2 p 119-129, International Journal of Astrobiology, Apr 2010.
Professor's alien life 'seed' theory claimed, BBC News, 1 Feb 2010.
We are all aliens, says professor by Emma Woollacott, TG Daily, 3 Feb 2010.
We're all aliens, says Brit scientist by Vince Soodin, The Sun, 4 Feb 2010.
Introduction... , ...Analysis of Interstellar Dust and Chandra Wickramasinghe are related local webpages.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts and Stan Franklin.

4 February 2010
Our results imply that natural selection has favored both the movement and fixation of these exceptional invasive alleles. These words come from a study of the threat that foreign genes may pose to an endangered species, because the genes can quickly become widespread and fixed. We note that the study also illustrates again the power of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in evolution.

Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick et al., "Rapid spread of invasive genes into a threatened native species" [abstract], doi:10.1073/pnas.0911802107, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, online 2 Feb 2010.
Viruses... is the main related local webpage.
What'sNEW about HGT |

16 January 2010
The chimpanzee and human Y chromosomes have undergone wholesale renovation since the species diverged, according to an international team sequencing the chimp one. The two genomes differ elsewhere by less than 2%, but each of their Y chromosomes contains 30% that has no match in the other. This surprises darwinists because, "Given that primate sex chromosomes are hundreds of millions of years old, theories of decelerating decay would predict that the chimpanzee and human MSYs should have changed little since the separation of these two lineages just 6 million years ago."

Chimp and human Y chromosomes The chromosomal differences are various, but one is an endogenous retrovirus acquired by chimps and expanded to 23 copies since the split. Retroviruses are efficient means of horizontal gene transfer (HGT), able to deliver new genetic programs as must happen in cosmic ancestry. After delivery, software management systems would be needed to relocate, retain, reassemble, copy, test, optimize, silence or delete the new programs. If so, the details remain to be discovered, but the phenomenon of "wholesale renovation" does not surprise us.

Jennifer F. Hughes et al., "Chimpanzee and human Y chromosomes are remarkably divergent in structure and gene content" [abstract], doi:10.1038/nature08700, p536-539 v463, Nature, 28 Jan (online 13 Jan) 2010.
Lizzie Buchen, "The fickle Y chromosome" [html], doi:10.1038/463149a, p 149 v 463, Nature, 14 Jan 2010.
Chimp and human Y chromosomes evolving faster than expected by Nicole Giese, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 13 Jan 2010.
Y Chromosome Evolving Rapidly by Ann Gibbons, ScienceNOW Daily News, 13 Jan 2010.
Viruses... is a related local webpage.
What'sNEW about HGT |

13 January 2010
A sea slug acquired photosynthesis from algae. So reports Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa, at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, 7 January.

Sea slug Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body.... Even unhatched sea slugs, which have never encountered algae, carry 'algal' photosynthetic genes.

Evolutionary advances depend on the availability of new genetic programs. In cosmic ancestry, these are acquired by various forms of horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Photosynthesis in sea slugs would be a spectacular example of this phenomenon.

Sea slug steals genes for greens, makes chlorophyll like a plant by Susan Milius, ScienceNews, 10 Jan 2010.
Surprising Sea Slug Is Half-plant, Half-animal by Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience, 12 Jan 2010.
Viruses... is a related webpage (search for "photosynthesis").
What'sNEW about HGT |
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin.
NEW Debashish Bhattacharya et al., "Genome analysis of Elysia chlorotica egg DNA provides no evidence for horizontal gene transfer into the germ line of this kleptoplastic mollusc" [abstract], doi:10.1093/molbev/mst084, Mol Biol Evol, online 2 May 2013.

12 January 2010
Comets and the Origin of Life Comets and the Origin of Life examines deeply and thoroughly the case for cometary panspermia. Topics include extremophiles, cosmic dust, cometary dust, the Oort cloud, galactic tides, impact craters, liquid water in comets, fossils in carbonaceous meteorites, and many others. The authors apply the relevant science and mathematics to the growing bodies of data to ask if a coherent theory can be sustained. The work could well serve as a college textbook, but any interested reader will be rewarded.

Comets and the Origin of Life, by Janaki Wickramasinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe and William Napier, ISBN:978-981-256-635-5, 232 pages, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., Aug 2009.
Review... by Marcus Chown, NewScientist.com, 3 Oct 2009.
Comets: The Delivery System is the main related local webpage.
+ Research by the authors of this book has been supported by our sponsor, Astrobiology Research Trust.

7 January 2010
endogenization of viruses A gene from a non-retroviral virus has been integrated into various mammalian genomes, including our own. These integrations were separate events, at times ranging from 40 million years ago in anthropoid primates to less than 10 million years ago in squirrels. After installation, this gene was preserved by darwinian natural selection; it contains an open reading frame that is transcribed. (Darwinian natural selection can also deactivate useless or harmful acquired genes, as illustrated.)

Most viruses that become endogenized are retroviruses — they constitute ~8% of the human genome. But this gene came from a different kind of RNA virus. It exemplifies another way for species to acquire genes from viruses.

Masayuki Horie, Tomoyuki Honda et al., "Endogenous non-retroviral RNA virus elements in mammalian genomes" [abstract | Editor's Summary], doi:10.1038/nature08695, p84-87 v463, Nature, 7 Jan 2010.
Cédric Feschotte, "Virology: Bornavirus enters the genome" [text], doi:10.1038/463039a, p39-40 v463, Nature, 7 Jan 2010.
Carl Zimmer, "Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA" [text], pD1+D4, The New York Times, 12 Jan 2010. "Scientists estimate that 8.3 percent of the human genome can be traced back to retrovirus infections. ...That's seven times more DNA than is found in all the 20,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome. But that figure may be too low...."
Viruses... is the main related local webpage.
What'sNEW about HGT |

6 January 2010
z = ~10 It doesn't accord with what we would expect theoretically or logically — Garth Illingworth, University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of an international team of astronomers making observations with the new wide field infrared camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. This team found tentative evidence of three galaxies with redshifts [z] of around 10. These would have existed when the Universe was just 3-4% of its current age, and would be among the oldest objects ever seen.

Closer looks at the farthest stars, as often as not, furnish data that do not neatly fit with the standard big bang theory. Therefore we think that cosmology still lacks the authority to place boundaries around the rest of science. That authority has been the basis for assuming that everything must "originate". We think it may be fruitful to question that assumption.

R.J. Bouwens et al., "Constraints on the First Galaxies: z~10 Galaxy Candidates from HST WFC3/IR" [abstract | 38-page pdf], arXiv:0912.4263v2, revised 23 Dec 2009.
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, "Oldest Galaxies Show Stars Came Together in a Hurry" [summary], p258 v327, Science, 15 Jan 2010.
Dennis Overbye, "With Updated Hubble Telescope, Reaching Farther Back in Time" [text], pD3, The New York Times, 12 Jan 2010.
Researchers claim most distant galaxies yet by Lizzie Buchen, doi:10.1038/news.2009.1165, Nature, online 24 Dec 2009.
The End and the Big Bang is the main related local webpage.

4 January 2010
Local, national, and even international polls show that many people--often the majority of people surveyed--believe in creationism or believe that evolution is not well supported by evidence. So says a yearend news summary from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the anti-creationism lobbying organization.

We are not surprised if most people have doubts about the modern theory of evolution. We strongly question its claim that new genetic programs can be composed from old ones by the accumulation of mistakes. This implausible claim could be made plausible by direct supporting evidence, but there is virtually none for it. Therefore we think alternatives should be considered. For example, could new genetic programs actually be existing ones, delivered by various forms of horizontal gene transfer? Would NCSE consider acknowledging this scientific alternative?

Top Ten Evolution/Creationism Stories of the Year, hosted by Newswise for NCSE, 31 Dec 2009.
Evolution versus Creationism is the main related local webpage.
Testing Darwinism versus Cosmic Ancestry elaborates on the allegation that there is virtually no direct supporting evidence.

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