What'sNEW Oct - Dec 2017

28 Dec 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
...some bacteria inject a toxic cocktail into their competitors causing cell lysis and death. Then, by integrating the released genetic material, which may also carry drug resistance genes, the predator cell can acquire antibiotic resistance. Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) among bacteria is no longer news, but this case is interesting, because the recipient kills the donor in order to acquire its genes. Researchers from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel observed the latest example of this phenomenon.
The Role of Type VI Secretion System Effectors in Target Cell Lysis and Subsequent Horizontal Gene Transfer, doi:10.1016/j.celrep.2017.12.020, by Peter David Ringel, Di Hu and Marek Basler, Cell, 26 Dec 2017.
Bacteria acquire resistance from competitors, University of Basel (+Newswise), posted 27 Dec 2017.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts and Stan Franklin.
7 July 2014, 19 Jan 2015 & 13 Oct 2016: we describe more examples of recipient-initiated HGT.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms is the main related webpage.

24 Dec 2017. Revised Jul 2022.
Jerry Fodor I think the central story of the theory of evolution is wrong in a way that can't be repaired....
Jerry Fodor, 2008, coauthor of What Darwin Got Wrong (2010)

In 2010, I reviewed Jerry Fodor's book and corresponded briefly with him, wishing to form an alliance with a fellow non-Darwinist. He patiently answered, but I had unwisely chosen a peripheral issue to raise with him. (Can neo-darwinism allow microevolution?) We got stuck there. He certainly agreed that mutation-and-selection cannot invent wholly new genetic programs. Of course, the subject could be better analyzed with improved understanding of the details of molecular biology, genetics and related science, but Fodor's interest was more philosophical. Now, sadly, he has died, November 29th, 2017.

Thanks Thanks, Suzan Mazur. Her
2008 interview with Fodor is on Huffpost, updated 24 Dec 2017.
Why Pigs Don't Have Wings by Jerry Fodor, London Review of Books, 18 Oct 2007. ...Darwin's theory of evolution has two parts. One is its familiar historical account of our phylogeny; the other is the theory of natural selection, which purports to characterise the mechanism ...of all evolutionary changes in the innate properties of organisms.
> What Darwin Got Wrong, reviewed 13 Jun 2010.
> Correspondence with Fodor, 14-29 Jun 2010.
Remembering Jerry Fodor and his work by Georges Rey, Mind & Language, 2018 (Sect. 3.4.2, "The Darwin book").

Circle graph: The Cosmic Zoo
23 Dec 2017
Are humans a galactic oddity, or will complex life with human abilities develop on planets with environments that remain habitable for long enough? "In a clear, jargon-free style, two leading researchers in the burgeoning field of astrobiology critically examine the major evolutionary steps that led us from the distant origins of life to the technologically advanced species we are today."

The Cosmic Zoo is well-illustrated, edifying and analytical — including a List of Terms with more than 1,500 entries, by our estimate. (But no Panspermia?) It's a deep, up-to-date resource on the chosen themes. Lots to learn from it.
The Cosmic Zoo: Complex Life on Many Worlds by Dirk Schulze-Makuch and William Bains,
ISBN 978-3-319-62045-9, Springer International, 2017.

22 Dec 2017
...an insulating organic-rich layer on its surface ...could have protected an ice-rich interior....
Interstellar message of 'Oumuamua, Nature, 20 Dec 2017.
...Mysterious Asteroid Oumuamua Could Be a Galactic Bus Carrying Life Between Solar Systems (with 3 min. video) by Meghan Bartels, Newsweek.com, 21 Dec 2017.
> 01 Nov 2017: Our first notice about Oumuamua, an asteroid from beyond the solar system.

21 Dec 2017
Mars advocate Robert Zubrin favors panspermia. In a new essay he first notices the negative results from SETI, but radio is the wrong way to communicate between star systems anyway, he explains. Bacteria would be much more efficient, propelled by light pressure, as Arrhenius proposed a century ago. So, in answer to "Where are they," he concludes, "They're here." Robert Zubrin

Zubrin is entirely optimistic about the opportunity for bacteria to travel and survive between star systems, even without cometary panspermia. He knows that bacteria swap genes rampantly and he conjectures that they might contain undeployed genes and enable evolutionary advances among eukaryotic species via their microbiomes. The essay is edifying and imaginative, as he freely ranges to several unorthodox speculations like our own. He gets it. Recommended.
So, it should be clear. If we are going to transmit across the ages, we need to send instructions on how to make ourselves. Such messages are not sent via radio. They are sent using genes.

Interstellar Communication Using Microbes: Implications for SETI by Robert Zubrin, intro by Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams, 21 Dec 2017.
Thanks Thanks, Tom Mazanec.
Introduction: More Than Panspermia has background.
How is it Possible? includes similar speculations.
What Is Life? sees the same the analogy: A Cell Is Like a Computer.

20 Dec 2017
Organic clast-enclosed specimen of P. amoenum J. William Schopf
Ancient fossil microorganisms indicate that life in the universe is common by Stuart Wolpert, UCLA News (+SciTechDaily), 18 Dec 2017, re:
SIMS analyses of the oldest known assemblage of microfossils document their taxon-correlated carbon isotope compositions by J. William Schopf (pictured) et al., doi:10.1073/pnas.1718063115, online 18 Dec 2017.
...the preservation in this ~3,465 Ma deposit of such Archaea and λ-proteobacteria suggests that methane cycling methanogen-methanotroph communities were a significant component of the Paleoarchean biosphere.
Thanks Thanks, Kevin Hatfield, Stan Franklin and Martin Langford. And Bob Sweeney.
Life Before 3850 Million Years Ago? has more evidence for early life.

19 Dec 2017
...ancient Archea, millions of years old, have been brought back to life from salt mined from deep inside the earth.
Science, but not fiction by Gerry Boyle, Colby Magazine, 15 Dec 2017.
If mcrobes can remain viable while dormant for millions of years, and probably forever, panspermia is entirely possible.
Bacteria: The Space Colonists has much more about their survival capabilities.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.

Chandra Wickramasinghe remembers Arthur Clarke, born 16 Dec 1917.

15 Dec 2017
The seasonal dark streaks that run downhill on Mars may be sand, not water. Many thousands of these Martian features, collectively called "recurring slope lineae" or RSL, have been identified in more than 50 rocky-slope areas, from the equator to about halfway to the poles. "We've thought of RSL as possible liquid water flows, but the slopes are more like what we expect for dry sand," said Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. His team observes that the dark flows stop when the slope is shallower than 27°. They say water would keep going.
Recurring Martian Streaks: Flowing Sand, Not Water?, NASA JPL, 20 Nov 2017.
28 Sep 2015: Water on Mars! Life on Mars! has background.

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 ...prompts rethink of ...search for alien life by Nick Whigham, News.com.au, 11 Dec 2017.
Scientists Find Antarctic Microbes That Live on Air Alone by Mark Mancini, HowStuffWorks, 18 Dec 2017.
Thanks Thanks, Ronnie L. McGhee. And Jim Powers.
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.
Life on Mars! begins with ALH84001, a martian meteorite with lifelike fossils.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.

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 (+Astrobiology, 01 Dec) 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 CfA, 26 Oct 2017.
> Comets: The Delivery System has a few links about interstellar comets.
Spectroscopy and thermal modelling of the first interstellar object 1I/2017 U1 'Oumuamua by Alan Fitzsimmons et al., doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0361-4, Nature Astronomy, online 18 Dec 2017.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin and Google Alerts.
> 22 Dec 2017: More from Nature and Newsweek.com.
> 29 Jun 2018: It was an interstellar comet, not an asteroid....

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.
...An Interview with Ford Doolittle, by Jane Gitschier, PLoS Genet, 07 May 2015.
> 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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