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What'sNEW

19 Apr 2017
The Hubble Telescope imaged a 62-mile-high plume of water on Europa, in Feb 2016. It was in the same location as a plume seen two years earlier. NASA says that Europa Clipper, the planned mission to Europa, could fly through the plume to sample Europa's ocean. If the ocean harbors life, the plume should contain evidence thereof.
Active Cryovolcanism on Europa? W. B. Sparks et al., n2, v839, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 13 Apr 2017.
Europa Water Vapor Plumes - More Hubble Evidence, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, 13 Apr 2017.
Hubble Spots Possible Venting Activity on Europa, HubbleSite, 13 Apr 2017.
> Life on Europa...? has related links. > The abundance of H2... introduces related news about Enceladus, 13 Apr 2017. > George Nickas wonders when we will actually look for life itself, 21 Apr 2017.
Water plumes on Europa, 2014 & 2016

17 Apr 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
We have analyzed the genomes from 195 insect species and found that no fewer than 2,248 events of HT of TEs occurred during the last 10 My. ...Even though our study is restricted to a small fraction of insect biodiversity and to a recent evolutionary timeframe, the TEs we found to be horizontally transferred generated up to 24% (2.08% on average) of all nucleotides of insect genomes. ...Extrapolating our estimates over the ~480 My of insect evolution and the whole insect biodiversity points toward millions of HTT events generating substantial fractions of insect genomes. ...Together, our results establish HTT as a major force shaping insect genome.
Massive horizontal transfer of transposable elements in insects, Jean Peccoud et al., doi:10.1073/pnas.1621178114, PNAS, online 17 Apr 2017.
> Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms cites many more examples of HGT affecting eukaryotes.

13 Apr 2017
NASA illustration of Enceladus Hydrogen The abundance of H2 along with previously observed carbonate species suggests a state of chemical disequilibria in the Enceladus ocean that represents a chemical energy source capable of supporting life.
Cassini finds molecular hydrogen in the Enceladus plume: Evidence for hydrothermal processes, by J. Hunter Waite et al., doi:10.1126/science.aai8703; and commentary: Detecting molecular hydrogen on Enceladus by Jeffrey S. Seewald, Science, 14 Apr 2017.
Saturn moon 'able to support life' by Jonathan Amos, BBC, 13 Apr 2017.
NASA Missions Provide New Insights into 'Ocean Worlds' in Our Solar System, NASA, 13 Apr 2017.
This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment.
Thanks Thanks, Ellen Klyce, NPR, Bob Sweeney and John Bilon.
> Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets?... has related links.
> George Nickas wonders when we will actually look for life itself, 21 Apr 2017.
Life on Enceladus, Chandra Wickramasinghe's letter to The Times, London, 17 Apr 2017.

10 Apr 2017
Tardigrade in Moss, Astronomy Picture of the Day, 26 Mar 2017.

07 Apr 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
Harvard Logo ...Klosneuviruses encode an expanded translation machinery, including aminoacyl transfer RNA synthetases with specificities for all 20 amino acids. An international collaboration of genomicists, using samples from a wastewater treatment plant in Austria, assembled the genome of this newly identified group of giant dsDNA viruses. Studying clues of its phylogenic history, they place it among mimiviruses, although ...the biological underpinning of the high content of translation-related genes ...is uncertain....

Viruses cannot conduct cellular metabolism and have no apparent use for the translation genes that all cells contain. In the standard theory of evolution, the presence of translation genes in viruses is a challenge to explain. In cosmic ancestry, viruses are a principle means of horizontal gene transfer (HGT), so we expect them often to carry genes that only cells can use.

Giant viruses with an expanded complement of translation system components, by Frederik Schulz et al., doi:10.1126/science.aal4657, Science, 07 Apr 2017.
Cell-like giant viruses found, by Mitch Leslie, Science, 07 Apr 2017.
Discovered: Novel Group of Giant Viruses, DOE Joint Genome Institute (+Newswise), 06 Apr 2017.
> ...giant viruses present an astonishing arsenal of genes...., 17 Feb 2017.
> Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms points to many more examples of cellular genes in viruses.

05 Apr 2017 What'sNEW about HGT |
...there might be hundreds or even more than a thousand predicted HGT regions in the human genome.
Widespread of horizontal gene transfer in the human genome, by Wenze Huang et al., doi:10.1186/s12864-017-3649-y, BMC Genomics, 04 Apr 2017. Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.
> Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms is our main related webpage.

03 Apr 2017
A conference in Cambridge MA, April 3-4, commemorates the tenth-anniversary of the inauguration of Harvard University's Origins of Life Initiative. Introducing the sessions, founding Director Dimitar Sasselov outlined a 3-point research program comprising metabolism (proteins), information (nucleotides) and containers (lipids). A lecture by Nobel laureate Jack Szostak and panel discussions on "The Chemistry of Life's Origins" followed. The software problem got no mention, but even the hardware problem was judged to be virtually insurmountable by Harvard chemist George Whitesides. Panelist Steven Benner suggested that if Whitesides is right, creationism could be the default solution!?

Harvard Logo During question-and-answer, I polled the (150 or so?) attendees: does anyone think the just-described chiral organic molecules in meteorites might be, not pre-, but post-biotic? Two hands went up. One was Gary Ruvkin of SETG. He favors panspermia, but believes the RNA World might succeed if the warm little pond includes the whole big-bang universe. He sat by RNA World pioneer Walter Gilbert, whom I was honored to meet.

Over lunch I showed a NASA photo of the crinoid-like fossil on Mars (taken by the Opportunity rover in 2004) to a few at my table. They reluctantly glanced at it. I also showed them one SEM image of fossilized germs from the Orgueil meteorite (published by Richard Hoover in 2011). Benner, a biochemist, rejects these images because Hoover has never revealed all of his other, less interesting ones. Huh?

Astronomers Ann Pearson and David Charbonneau had the most exciting news of the afternoon, the ballooning knowledge of extra-solar Earthlike planets orbiting within the "Goldilocks" zones of long-lived red M-dwarf stars. About 250 such planets are known to lie within 10 parsecs of Earth, close enough to examine in detail with powerful new instruments including the orbiting James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018.

More than one speaker commented that the astrobiology community is a fractious one. Right. And they are smart, dedicated, and committed to their principles. I regret having to miss the second half of the conference, which will consider "The Future of the Field".

> Harvard's Origins of Life program held its inaugural symposium in Cambridge MA, 08 Nov 2006.
> A notice about the crinoid-like fossil on Mars, posted 28 Oct 2015.
> Fossilized germs from the Orgueil meteorite are shown here, with links, posted 03 Mar 2011.
> The RNA World, our webpage about origin-of-life theories, includes more about Walter Gilbert.
> SETG and Gary Ruvkin are glimpsed here, 06 Jan 2017.
COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | Site Search | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved