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What'sNEW Archives, September-December 2001

Astrobiology Research Trust December 31: Next year we will concentrate on research funding. Our primary activity will be to solicit research proposals under the program announced here 9 October. To rephrase the question given then, What is the mechanism behind sustained evolutionary progress? Does neo-darwinism adequately account for it? Or, does strong panspermia deserve consideration? We invite enquiries from qualified researchers of all persuasions.
The Astrobiology Research Trust homepage.
Funds available for research — the program announcement, 9 Oct 2001.

Sean B. Carroll
Sean B. Carroll
December 21:
A gene needed for multcellularity is present in a single-celled organism. Two genetic researchers at the University of Wisconsin were surprised to find a receptor tyrosine kinase in choanoflagellates. These kinases are molecular sensors that enable the activation of signaling pathways inside the cells of multicelled animals. The function they serve in choanoflagellates is not known. The report in PNAS says that this discovery "provide[s] robust support for a close [evolutionary] relationship between choanoflagellates and Metazoa." Co-author Sean B. Carroll also says, "We believe we can discover in this organism more elements of the genetic toolkit that was first used to build animals." We notice that the presence among protists of genetic tools needed by more highly evolved animals is consistent with cosmic ancestry. In the Wisconsin press release Carroll says, "It's a confirmation of the idea that the genes come first, before their exploitation by organisms." Interesting. [Thanks, Stan Franklin, Jack Foster and Jim McGee.]
Nicole King and Sean B. Carroll, "A receptor tyrosine kinase from choanoflagellates: Molecular insights into early animal evolution" [
abstract], p 15032-15037 v 98 n 26 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 18 Dec 2001.
Primitive Microbe Offers Glimpse of Animal Evolution, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 18 Dec 2001.
Microbe genes help scientists reconstruct animal origins, University of Wisconsin, 17 Dec 2001.
Neo-Darwinism... is a related CA webpage.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? is a related CA webpage.


Murchison meteorite
Murchison fragment [scalebar = 1.5 cm]
December 19:
Sugar in the Murchison and Murray meteorites has been detected by a team of NASA exobiologists. The sugars do not appear to be earthly contaminants because they include isomers rare on earth, and they do not include common earthly sugars like ribose. The NASA team concludes that the sugars are "pre-biotic" compounds that hepled life originate on Earth. However, these sugars and the amino acids already found in meteorites could also be "post-biotic," as we believe.
George Cooper et al., "Carbonaceous meteorites as a source of sugar-related organic compounds for the early Earth" [
abstract], p 879-883 v 414 Nature, 20/27 Dec 2001.
Mark A. Sephton, "Meteoritics: Life's sweet beginnings?" p 879-883 v 414 Nature, 20/27 Dec 2001.
Meteorites: One lump or two?, Nature: highlights, summary and links to both articles, 20/27 Dec 2001.
Researchers find sugar compounds in meteorites, by Alex Dominguez, Associated Press / Nando Times, 19 Dec 2001.
Sweet Meteorites, Science@NASA, 20 Dec 2001.
Amino Acid Asymmetry in ...Murchison is a related CA webpage.
Fossils in Murchison and Efremovka is a related CA webpage.


December 19: Astrobiology Science Conference 2002, April 7-11, will be held at NASA's Ames Research Center. Ames and the NASA Astrobiology Institute are conference co-hosts. "All areas of Astrobiology are welcome, including the origin of the solar system, evolutionary biology, life in extreme environments, microbiology, ecosystem science, global change, educational programs, and space missions." The early registration and abstract submission deadline is February 1, 2002. [2nd notice]
Astrobiology Science Conference 2002, Lynn J. Rothschild, Science Organizing Committee Chair and Rho Christensen, Local Organizing Committee Chair.
Astrobiology Science Conference 2002 — abstracts from Astrobiology.com.


Wet ancient Mars
Wet ancient Mars, by Greg Shirah, GSFC, NASA
December 15:
Mars may have formed with enough water to cover its entire globe to a depth of 1.25 kilometers (about 4,000 feet). Vladimir A. Krasnopolsky (Catholic University of America) and Paul D. Feldman (Johns Hopkins University) used data from the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer ("FUSE") orbiting 760 km above Earth to reach this conclusion. FUSE revealed that Mars's atmosphere has a deuterium-to-hydrogen (D:H) ratio 5.5 times higher than Earth's today. The deuterium enrichment was only 1.9 roughly, 3 billion years ago, judging from meteorites that were ejected from Mars's surface then.

When molecules of water vapor high in the atmosphere break apart, hydrogen is lost to space. This escape process favors the lighter H molecules and leads to a gradual enrichment of deuterium. With this understanding and the FUSE data Krasnopolsky and Feldman modeled the atmosphere's evolution to deduce the water volume initially present on Mars. A caveat: the volume of deuterium-enriched cometary water delivered to Mars during its history is unknown. If substantial, it would change the calculation. [Thanks, Larry Klaes.]

Vladimir A. Krasnopolsky and Paul D. Feldman, "Detection of Molecular Hydrogen in the Atmosphere of Mars" [abstract], p 1914-1917 v 294 Science, 30 Nov 2001.
Was Mars All Wet?, by J. Kelly Beatty, Sky & Telescope, 14 Dec 2001.
Life on Mars! is a related CA webpage.


Europa December 7: Do bacteria give Europa its color? Astrogeophyscist Brad Dalton notes that remnants of extremophile bacteria from the ocean below would neatly account for the pink and brown patches on Europa's icy surface. [Thanks, Andrew Yee and CC-Net.]
Bacterial explanation for Europa's rosy glow, by Nicola Jones, New Scientist, 5 Dec 2001.
Life on Europa... has links to WhatsNEW on Jupiter's and other moons.


O.U. November 21: The University of Oklahoma will probe for evolutionary progress in closed systems. Tom Ray, author of the artificial life model Tierra, will head a team using computers to explore the human genome and other sequenced genomes. They will attempt to identify uniquely human gene families and ascertain their sources. The sponsor of this website will provide funding for the research under a program announced here October 9.
Human Genome Search at University of Oklahoma — the research plan.
Is Sustained Macroevolutionary Progress Possible? is a related CA webpage.
In Real or Artificial Life, Is Evolutionary Progress in a Closed System Possible? is a related CA webpage.
Funds available for research — CA's announcement of the program, 9 Oct 2001.
Tom Ray — homepage.


November 8: "Deadalus thinks that ...junk DNA is a store of unused genes. He would like to think it might be a store laid for the future." We think that Nature's humor writer, David Jones, has been visiting the CA website.
David Jones, "The meaning of junk" [
text], p 792 v 413 Nature, 25 Oct 2001.
How Is It Possible? is the related CA webpage.


Bo Yuan
Bo Yuan
October 13:
70,000 human genes? The number of human genes reported in February, by the two original sequencing groups may have been too low. "Although Celera and the consortium together predicted 31,098 new genes, only one gene in five had a place on both lists," said Michael Cooke of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego. In August, his group raised the estimate to around 42,000 human genes. Now a team at Ohio State University has pooled information from every available database and performed its own count. "The new database placed 75,982 genes on the genome," The Scientist reports. Bo Yuan, director of the bioinformatics group in the division of Human Cancer Genetics at OSU says the new count is sure to be revised as the research continues.
Tom Hollon, "Human Genes: How Many?" [
text], v 15 n 20 The Scientist, 15 Oct 2001.
Human gene number climbs, by Helen Pearson, NatureScienceUpdate, 24 August 2001.
Can The Theory Be Tested? has a special section, Sequencing the Genome.


Astrobiology Research Trust
168 Grove Park Cir.
Memphis, TN 38117-3134
October 9:
Funds available for research. This website has long promoted a basic question regarding evolution. Now our sponsor has obtained funds to support research to tackle the question. We are actively seeking qualified researchers, and we solicit written proposals to the Astrobiology Research Trust. The question in simplest form is, Is evolutionary progress possible? Most scientists think that the question has already been answered in the affirmative. We think it is still open, as two published papers elaborating versions of the question explain —
In Real or Artificial Life, Is Evolutionary Progress in a Closed System Possible? and
Is Sustained Macroevolutionary Progress Possible? are the two published papers.
Macroevolutionary Progress Redefined.... is also a related CA webpage.
The Astrobiology Research Trust homepage.


Chromosomes by Katherine Rudd October 5: Science features genome research in today's special issue headlined "Genome: Unlocking Biology's Storehouse." An introduction by Barbara R. Jasny and Leslie Roberts mentions topics including Global Health Equity and Protein Structure Prediction. There's also a review of the new biography of Barbara McClintock. Some comments in an article by John C. Avise of the University of Georgia caught our attention, because they confirm the importance of lateral gene transfer in evolution —

  • "Astonishingly, at least 50% of the human sequence is derived from transposable elements (TEs) that have dispersed themselves across the genome either as mobile DNA or via reverse-transcribed RNAs. Some of these smaller jumping genes are freeloaders that hitch rides on the backs of larger roving elements, like mites on fleas."
  • "Most important is the realization that some TEs (or their immobile offspring) also confer significant benefits to host genomes. For example, many TEs carry regulatory sequences that over evolutionary time have been drafted into the adaptive service of modulating gene expression."

John C. Avise, "Evolving Genomic Metaphors: A New Look at the Language of DNA" [abstract], p 86-87 v 294 Science, 5 Oct 2001.
Barbara R. Jasny and Leslie Roberts, "Unlocking the Genome" [summary], p 81 v 294 Science, 5 Oct 2001.
Mark J. Adler, "A Novel Mechanism for Evolution?" [text], p 53-54 v 294 Science, 5 Oct 2001.
Viruses... is a related CA webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

October 2: Mars sample return strategies — the range of possibilities is expanding. And forward contamination of Mars may have already happened. [Thanks, Barry DiGregorio.]
Returning Rocks from Mars: The Latest Plans, by Leonard David, Space.com, 1 October 2001.
If Life Exists On Mars, Our Robotic Probes May Have Brought It There, by Laura Woodmansee, SpaceDaily, 1 October 2001.
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.


Borrelly September 29: Deep Space 1 photos comet Borrelly. The result is a complete bonus from a mission designed to test a new propulsion system.
Warren E. Leary, "Probe Sends Postcards From Comet's Core" [text], The New York Times, 26 Sep 2001.
Deep Space 1 Mission Status, JPL, NASA, 22 Sep 2001.
Comet Borrelly's Nucleus, Astronomy Picture of the Day, 26 Sep 2001.
Borrelly: This Comet's A Star, by Robert Roy Britt, Space.com, 27 Sep 2001.
Comets... is the related CA webpage.


September 19: NASA's 2nd Astrobiology Science Conference will be held 7-11 April 2002, at Ames Research Center, California.
Astrobiology: Conferences, NASA Ames.


September 14: A rain of plankton supplies genes to bacteria in the deep sea, according to a report by Dr. Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK.
Deep Sea Bacteria Get Genes Like Manna From Plankton, UniSci, 12 September 2001.
C.M. Turley and P.J. Mackie, "Bacterial and cyanobacterial flux to the deep NE Atlantic on sedimenting particles," p 1453-1474 v 42 n 8, Deep-Sea Research, 1995: Background for the new report.


Changing dark spots on Mars September 7: Dark spots which spread every Martian spring could prove there is life on Mars. "We cannot find anything else to explain it," said evolutionary biologist Tibor Gánti, one of three Hungarian scientists issuing the report. The team studied 60,000 photographs taken by the Mars Global Surveyor Probe before concluding that the organisms lived by photosynthesis. Some NASA scientists disagree, saying that the spots are dark sand that becomes more visible when frost on its surface sublimes away in warmer weather. [Thanks, Jim Galasyn.]
New Evidence for Life on Mars, Wired.com, 7 Sep 2001.
Not Vegetation! Defrosting Sand Dunes in Late Southern Winter, Malin Space Science Systems, 12 Jun 2001.
Mars: An Active Planet, Malin Space Science Systems, 10 Aug 1999.
Latest Claims Of Martian Life Are Erroneous Says USGS Scientist, by Timothy N. Titus, MarsDaily, 20 Sep 2001. "The dark spots are either exposed soil or dark dry ice."
Life on Mars! is the related CA webpage.

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