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What'sNEW Archives, September - December 1997

1997, December 19: Horizontal gene transfer is looking more important than ever as a driver of evolution. Microbiologist Robert Miller of Oklahoma State University reports, "Genes travel between independent bacteria more often than once was assumed." And because such exchange can occur across the boundaries separating bacteria, eukaryotes and archaea, he concludes, "Horizontal gene exchange may thus have influenced any number of life-forms." Even without the help of viruses, "some 'promiscuous' plasmids can transfer DNA between very unrelated species... even from bacteria to yeast cells and plants." Evolutionary mechanisms such as this are required in Cosmic Ancestry.

Miller, Robert V. "Bacterial Gene Swapping in Nature" p 66-71 v 278 n 1, Scientific American. January 1998.
Viruses... is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]


Europa 1997, December 16: NASA's Galileo spacecraft today successfully made its closest-ever flyby of Jupiter's icy moon Europa, marking the start of an extended mission that will focus on new and tantalizing scientific questions.... Galileo dipped over Europa at an altitude of only 124 miles (200 kilometers), with the signal received on Earth at 7:49 a.m. EST [16 Dec, 1997]. This was the first encounter of the Galileo Europa mission, which began formally on Dec. 8, following the end of Galileo's primary mission. The Galileo Europa mission will study Jupiter's icy satellite in detail in hopes of shedding more light on the intriguing prospect that liquid oceans may lie under Europa's ice crust. Today we begin to get the closest look ever at Europa's surface. It resembles rafted ice. Liquid water is the only invariable requirement for life to grow. Cosmic Ancestry predicts that, if Europa has a liquid ocean, as it appears, there's life in it. The exploration of Europa will be fascinating and directly relevant to Cosmic Ancestry.

Closest Europa Flyby Marks Start of Galileo Mission "Part II", NASA / JPL. 16 December 1997.
Europa, from Bill Arnett's "The Nine Planets", a fine general resource.
Kerr, Richard A. "Tidings of a Hidden Ocean" p 30 v 279, Science. 2 January 1998.
Life on Europa... has links to WhatsNEW on Jupiter's and other moons.


SPIE Meeting 1997, December 13: A portion of the SPIE 1998 annual meeting will be devoted to astrobiology, and specifically, "Investigations of terrestrial extremophiles (e.g. hydrothermal vent and deep subsurface chemolithoautotrophs; thermophiles, permafrost cryptoendoliths/cryophiles, halophiles, barophiles and radiation resistant archaea, nano-bacteria, diatoms, and cyanobacteria) ...[their] viability and survivability ranges and ...models for possible extraterrestrial life of value to future space instruments, and missions to search for extraterrestrial microbial life." At the same conference in 1997, Richard Hoover first showed pictures of lifelike microfossils in the Murchison meteorite.

Technical Conference on Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology (sd15), Richard B. Hoover, Chair, at the SPIE Annual Meeting, San Diego, 19-24 July 1998.
Bacteria: The Space Colonists is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
July 29, 1997: Fossilized Life Forms in the Murchison Meteorite describes Hoover's report of that date.


1997, December 9: Scepticism about the tiny comets reported by a NASA scientist in May is growing. At the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held in San Francisco, December 8-12, George K. Parks, Mitchell Brittnacher, L. Chen, R. Elsen, M. McCarthy, Glenn Germany, and James Spann presented a paper, "Does the Ultraviolet Imager on Polar Detect Cometesimals?" The debate afterwards was sometimes heated, according to reporters present.

Comet Rain Debate Continues, from the Marshall Space Flight Center, December 9, 1997.
NASA Newsrelease 97-173, NASA Coordinates Effort to Independently Verify Small Comets, December 9, 1997.
Kerr, Richard A. "'Atmospheric Holes' Assailed" p 30-31 v 279, Science. 2 January 1998.
May 28, 1997: NASA Sees Comets Entering Atmosphere is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage with other references and links about the December 1997 developments.


1997, December 4: The debate over the evidence for past life on Mars continues. Three eminent meteoriticists have made their own examination of samples from ALH84001 and conclude that the shapes resembling nanofossils are probably "emergent substrate lamellae or magnetite whiskers." They say that among other problems, the gold coating used on the NASA sample can create the appearance of segmentation. McKay et al. respond that they are aware of the appearance of lamallae and they allowed for the effect of the coating, but the shapes they saw are biological. The question probably will not be resolved until samples of martian soil are returned to Earth.

Bradley, J. P.; R. P. Harvey and H. Y. McSween Jr. "No 'nanofossils' in martian meteorite" p 454 v 390, Nature. 4 December 1997.
McKay, David S.; Everett Gibson Jr; Kathie Thomas-Keprta and H. Vali. [reply] p 455-456 v 390, Nature. 4 December 1997.
Kerr, Richard A. "Putative Martian Microbes Called Microscopy Artifacts" p 1706-1707 v 278, Science. 5 December 1997.
Fossils in Martian Meteorite: Real or Imagined?, by G. Jeffrey Taylor, PSR Discoveries, December 18, 1997.
August 7, 1996: Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.


1997, November 23: The integration of genes from a non retroviral RNA virus into the DNA of eukaryotic cells has been demonstrated. Three scientists from the Institute of Experimental Immunology in Zurich have shown that genes from a segmented RNA virus can become reverse-transcribed into the DNA of its host, a mouse. Retroviruses, which carry a gene for reverse transcriptase, are known to have this capability, but ordinary RNA viruses such as the one in this study carry no such gene. Opponents of cosmic ancestry had previously argued that only genes from retroviruses, not ordinary RNA viruses, could become integrated into their hosts' DNA.

Klenerman, Paul; Hans Hengartner and Rolf M. Zinkernagel. "A non-retroviral RNA virus persists in DNA form" [abstract], p 298-301 v 390, Nature. 20 November 1997.
Weiss, Robin A. and Paul Kellam. "Illicit viral DNA" p 235-236 v 390, Nature. 20 November 1997.
Viruses... is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]
The genes can even become part of the germline: Nonretroviral RNA viruses may have contributed more substantially and directly to the volution of mammalian genomes than has been assumed so far, 19 Jan 2009.


Mars frost 1997, November 22: Four of the NASA scientists who first announced evidence of life in a martian meteorite now say that Mars may still support life — they never said that before. The comment springs from accumulating evidence for water on Mars including a sharp 1979 Viking 2 color photo of water-frost, apparently, on the martian ground. In a Scientific American article they also give a clear and concise review of the case underlying their original conclusion, and they cite several new studies that support it. One example is an analysis suggesting that the ancient martian bacteria consumed methane.

Gibson, Everett K., Jr.; David S. McKay; Kathie Thomas-Keprta and Christopher S. Romanek. "The Case for Relic Life on Mars" p 58-65 v 277 n 6, Scientific American. December 1997.
Forget, François and Raymond T. Pierrehumbert. "Warming Early Mars with Carbon Dioxide Clouds That Scatter Infrared Radiation" p 1273-1276 v 278, Science. 14 November 1997. (This theory would extend the distance from the sun at which planets could retain liquid water.)
Kasting, James F. "The Early Mars Climate Question Heats Up" p 1245 v 278, Science. 14 November 1997.
Colorful Water Clouds Over Mars, Astronomy Picture of the Day, 17 April 2001.
August 7, 1996: Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.


1997, November 6: NASA approves comet sample return mission: DS-4 mission is a NASA program... to be launched in the year 2003.... Following a two-year journey, it will rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1 in late 2005.... After studying the comet by orbiting around it, the spacecraft will send a lander down to the surface of the comet.... Once firmly in place, the lander will use a one-meter drill to collect and analyze the make-up of the comet nucleus at various depths below the surface.... The lander will then return to the orbiter and transfer the sample to the spacecraft....The comet samples will arrive back on Earth in June 2010.

Deep Space 4 (DS-4), the NASA source for excerpt above, contains additional details.
Comet Rendezvous is a related section of the Cosmic Ancestry website.


The Inflationary Universe 1997, October 30: The inventor of inflationary cosmology, the leading version of the big bang theory, reinforces the idea that the universe(s) may be eternal. In The Inflationary Universe Alan H. Guth of MIT says, "...I believe that soon any cosmological theory that does not lead to the eternal reproduction of universes will be considered as unimaginable as a species of bacteria that cannot reproduce" (p 252). This process could extend backward as well as forward. Thus the argument that life must have a beginning because the universe has a beginning is shown to be questionable. The book is a readable and personal account of modern cosmological theory with lots of helpful introductory material and a Foreword by Alan Lightman.

Guth, Alan H., The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. 1997.
The Origin of Life: What a Piece of Work, a September, 1997, Internet discussion at hmsbeagle, for example, has University of Arizona astronomer Christopher Chyba explaining that life must have a beginning only because the universe has a beginning.
The End is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.


1997, October 23: The amino acids in the Murchison meteorite now weigh even more heavily in favor of life. As a letter to Nature from Stephen F. Mason of Cambridge explains, synchrotron radiation is not likely to have caused the amino acids in Murchison to accumulate excesses of the L-enantiomer. Synchrotron radiation from a neutron star had been the leading non-biological explanation for the observed excess. But after reviewing two studies done in the 1930s, Mason concludes that the mechanism would work only in highly contrived situations unlikely to occur in space.

Mason, Stephen F. "Extraterrestrial handedness" p 804 v 389, Nature. 23 Oct 1997.
February 14, 1997: Amino Acid Asymmetry in the Murchison Meteorite is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
July 29, 1997: Fossilized Life Forms in the Murchison Meteorite is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.


Mars: The Living Planet 1997, October 5: A new book by Barry DiGregorio gives a behind-the-scenes account of the Viking LR experiment and explains other evidence — especially the colors of rocks and soils — for life on Mars. Mars: The Living Planet also stresses the danger of forward- and back-contamination by interplanetary spacecraft. It contains many references, one chapter by Gilbert Levin, and one by Patricia Ann Straat.

DiGregorio, Barry E. Mars: The Living Planet with Dr. Gilbert V. Levin and Dr. Patricia Ann Straat. Berkeley, CA: Frog Ltd. 1997.
An Interview with Barry by Laura Lee, broadcast May 2, 1998 on 75 US radio stations.
Book Review, by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, ICAMSR, 2000.
August 7, 1996: Life On Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.


1997, September 18: Michael H. Engel and Stephen A. Macko announce additional evidence that the excess of left-handed amino acids in the Murchison meteorite was not caused by earthly contamination. Using new techniques, they analyzed Nitrogen isotope ratios from tiny samples taken from the amino acids, not the surrounding material. The ratios establish that the amino acids are indiginous to the meteorite. Engel and Macko comment, "The origins of the excess in the L-enantiomers presently remains unclear." Life is the only process that we know can create excesses of left-handed amino acids.

Engel, M.H and S.A. Macko. "Isotopic evidence for extraterrestrial non-racemic amino acids in the Murchison meteorite" p 265-268 v 389, Nature. 18 September 1997.
February 14, 1997: Amino Acid Asymmetry in the Murchison Meteorite is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
July 29, 1997: Fossilized Life Forms in the Murchison Meteorite is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved