3D interactive image of the crinoid fossil, by Amine Belkessam on Sketchfab
17 Jun 2024
Mars upates: new image and new video.
3D interactive image by Amine Belkessam on Sketchfab of the crinoid fossil photographed by the Opportunity rover on 27 Feb 2004 (right).
A fossil on Mars.... has discussion and updates.
Water on Mars, 6.5 min video from Brian Cory Dobbs, posted 16 Jun 2024.
Life on Mars! has many links about water there.

14 Jun 2024
The Catalyst: RNA and the Quest to Unlock Life's Deepest Secrets, by Thomas R. Cech The Catalyst is about the growing recognition of RNA and the ongoing exploration of its roles in life. Author Tom Cech is well-qualified to tell the story; he shared the 1989 Nobel Prize for discovering that RNA could act as a catalyst.

The text is highly instructive, but there's no technical jargon and plenty of plot. Scientific mysteries repeatedly force researchers to reexamine their preconceptions. Experiments are often tedious, and the results sometimes puzzling. A finding from an unexpected source may lead to a breakthrough, such as deciphering the genetic code, the surprise of introns, the structure of the ribosome, and catalytic RNA.

Subsequent research opens a world of new possibilities for medicine, like cures for cancer and precise genetic engineering with CRISPR. Cech makes it captivating, with episodes about numerous contributing scientists from near and far. Their dedication is noteworthy, because the needed experiments can be time-consuming and frustrating. It's about science at its best.
The Catalyst: RNA and the Quest to Unlock Life's Deepest Secrets by Thomas R. Cech, W. W. Norton & Company, 04 Jun 2024.

Catalytic RNA also opened a world of origin-of-life research. That and the theory of evolution get pro forma acknowledgement, but neither has much to contribute to the experimental, results-oriented science Cech describes. I wish he would investigate how evolution works.
The RNA World... has background and updates.

11 Jun 2024
A possible direct exposure of the Earth to the cold dense interstellar medium 2-3 Myr ago A collision with a dense interstellar cloud may have collapsed the heliosphere between 2 and 3 million years ago. That would exlain the deposition of rare radioactuve isotopes found in sediments that accumulated then. Astronomers calculate that the sun's path would likely have traversed a known cold gas cloud around that time. It would have squeezed the cocoon of solar wind too small to protect Earth, orbiting 1 astronomical unit (au) away. This exposure must have affected the biosphere.
"A possible direct exposure of the Earth to the cold dense interstellar medium 2-3 Myr ago," by M. Opher, A. Loeb and J.E.G. Peek, doi:10.1038/s41550-024-02279-8,
Nature Astronomy, 10 Jun 2024.
"More than a planetary fender-bender," by Alvin Powell, The Harvard Gazette, 10 Jun 2024.

07 Jun 2024
De novo genes are ones that come from noncoding DNA without any apparent darwinian provenance; they show no evidence of having come from a process of mutation-and­-selection. Yet they are functional genes with programmatic content. Seeming "to have come from nowhere," they confound the mainstream theory of evolution. The resulting DNA encodes a transcript whose translation causes potent growth arrest.

Now, a team at Columbia University sees the origin of certain bacterial ones. The process is complex, involving the repeated reverse transcription of a "rolling circle" of RNA. The resulting DNA encodes a transcript "whose translation causes potent growth arrest." It appears to be an element of the defense system used by bacteria against genetic invaders such as viruses.
"Bizarre bacteria defy textbooks by writing new genes," by Ewen Callaway,
Nature, 22 May 2024; re:
"De novo gene synthesis by an antiviral reverse transcriptase," by Stephen Tang et al., doi:10.1101/2024.05.08.593200, bioRxiv, online 08 May 2024. One-Sentence Summary: Bacterial reverse transcriptases synthesize extrachromosomal genes via rolling-circle amplification to confer potent antiviral immunity.

Calling a repeated sequence of 120 nucleotides —whose effect is to shut down growth— a "de novo gene" expands the definition of that term. But if "de novo gene synthesis" ever produces any genes with lengthy, innovative programmatic content, that would be truly noteworthy — for the mainstream theory of evolution and for cosmic ancestry.
...De Novo Genes: comments, links and updates.
Thanks Thanks, corresponding author Samuel H. Sternberg, for an important correction.

04 Jun 2024
Edward J. Steele Immunologist Ted Steele talks about panspermia in an interview on Australian television. He recognized evidence for Lamarckian evolution well before it became widely accepted. Later he joined Chandra Wickramasinghe in the study of panspermia. The interview covers these and related subjects, including evidence that the virus causing the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic may have come from space on 11 October 2019, when a comet remnant burst into the night sky over northern China. (Ted and I have coauthored several papers, with others.)
Prof. Edward J. Steele on The Lembit Öpik Show, 55 minutes, 1 June 2024.
"Lamarck and Panspermia - On the Efficient Spread of Living Systems Throughout the Cosmos," by Edward J. Steele et al. [link], Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Dec 2019.
06 Nov 2023: comments and links related to the worldwide pandemic.
Lamarck's Signature by Ted Steele et al., Perseus Books, 1998, reviewed 12 May 1999.

04 Jun 2024
If you don't mind the cold temperatures you could survive on these planets for eternity, says Christopher Conselice, professor of extragalactic astronomy, University of Manchester, UK. He is among ESA scientists using the Euclid space telescope to discover seven rogue planets in the Orion Nebula. These are planets that are not orbiting any star. Dozens of others, previously spotted, were confirmed in the same investigation. ...scientists believe there is a chance they could be able to host life—and estimate there may be trillions dotted throughout the Milky Way.

"Starless and forever alone: More 'rogue' planets discovered," by Daniel Lawler,
PhysOrg, 29 May 2024; re:
"Euclid: Early Release Observations – A glance at free-floating new-born planets in the σ Orionis cluster," by E. L. Martín et al., Astronomy & Astrophysics manuscript posted on arXiv, 22 May 2024.
29 Jan 2023: "Wet panspermia" describes the possibility that free-ranging planets or large comets might be warm enough to carry active life across galaxies.
13 Jan 2023: NASA Astrobiologist Kevin Hand thinks rogue moons or planets might "transport biospheres across the galaxy."

30 May 2024 What'sNEW about HGT
GTAs are intricately regulated domesticated viruses that package host DNA into virus-like capsids and transfer this DNA throughout the bacterial community. So say three microbiologists at the University of York, UK, who review the current knowledge of gene transfer agents (GTAs). These reside in bacterial chromosomes and can be pieced together and released, carrying genes of the host. The process of release requires complicated programming and kills the host, so a darwinian origins narrative for GTAs is hard to concoct, but the review is comprehensive and very informative. GTAs are intricately regulated domesticated viruses that package host DNA into virus-like capsids and transfer this DNA throughout the bacterial community. GTAs are an unusual but widespread group of domesticated, selfless viruses that have been co-opted to serve bacterial hosts and are now intricately controlled by interlocking host regulatory circuits. In contrast to bacteriophages, GTAs have no bias towards their own replication and instead exclusively package and transfer small 4-12 kb random DNA fragments of the host cell. ...the GTA genome is fragmented across multiple loci in the host chromosome. ...there is clear evidence of prolonged retention of GTA genes over millions of years....

"Gene transfer agents: structural and functional properties of domesticated viruses," by Matthew W. Craske, Jason S. Wilson and Paul C.M. Fogg,
Trends in Microbiology, corrected proof online 27 May 2024.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts.
New genes can be acquired only via HGT: our hub for bacterial evolution.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has a primer and many updates.
Robust Software Management (RSM) is the capability that enables genomes to acquire, install and test transferred programming. The software that manages GTAs would also exemplify RSM.

05 May 2024
...it is now evident that genes play only a minor role in evolution. This is among five bullet-points introducing a review by Peter A. Corning (pictured), Director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems in Bellingham WA. The most polite reaction I can find is, "evident to whom?" To me, this and other recent articles suggest that the mainstream theory of evolution has lost its way completely. Peter A. Corning, Director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems

Actually, Corning combines hyperbole with an informative brief history of the Modern Synthesis to make the case for an "inclusive new synthesis." I propose a different kind of synthesis, one that attempts to characterize the evolutionary process and its key features - the HOW question. ...We need to know where living systems came from, how they got here, how they work, and perhaps where they are going. That sounds promising.

The new synthesis must not ignore a glaring lack: The ongoing evolutionary innovation that life on Earth exhibits has not been demonstrated in controlled experiments. Without proof, the assertion that life's programming (genetic, epigenetic, synergistic, etc.) can somehow invent itself remains an extraordinary claim. A theory in which life arrives, and the programming is acquired, deserves consideration. Otherwise, the new synthesis is not really "inclusive," and Corning's well-posed questions may remain unanswered.

"Cooperative genes in smart systems: Toward an inclusive new synthesis in evolution," by Peter A. Corning, doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2024.04.001,
Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Jul 2024.
"Do we need a new theory of evolution?" by Stephen Buranyi, The Guardian, 28 Jun 2022. We don't need no friggin' new synthesis. We didn't even really need the old synthesis — W. Ford Doolittle.
"Why we don't want another 'Synthesis'" by Arlin Stoltzfus, Biology Direct, 02 Oct 2017. The era of master theories based on ruling principles and grand schemes is long past.
In Real or Artificial Life, Is Evolutionary Progress in a Closed System Possible?, 1999.
Neo-Darwinism: The Current Paradigm has our early thoughts and updated links.

Bioenergetics of iron snow fueling life on Europa
26 Apr 2024
The iron snow model overcomes critical conceptual roadblocks to life in the oceans of Europa and other icy worlds. ...Thus, iron-reducing anaerobes could flourish in the broad pH conditions while low-productivity methanogens could occupy regions dominated by basic pHs and sulfate reducers in intermediate niches. This suggestion is throughly analysed by geochemists at USC in a report edited by Donald Canfield. It supports the belief that life is likely anywhere liquid water is available.

"Bioenergetics of iron snow fueling life on Europa," by Nita Sahai, Doug LaRowe and John M. Senko, doi:10.1073/pnas.2316452121,
PNAS, 15 Apr 2024.
Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets?... has many links about Europa and other icy moons.

20 Apr 2024
"NASA's Dragonfly Rotorcraft Mission to Saturn's Moon Titan Confirmed,"
NASA, 16 Apr 2024.,
Thanks Thanks, Rob Cooper.
Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets?... has links about possible life in the solar ssystem.

15 Apr 2024
The public acceptance of evolution remains a contentious issue in the United States. This is the opening sentence of a recent report following a longitudinal survey of about 5,000 students, born 1971-1974. They were asked for their opinions about evolution three times over three decades.

"Evolution" has conflicting meanings. As history, the geological record tells a reliable story. But as a mechanism behind major (macroevolutionary) advances, the current science is unclear, undemonstrated and unlikely. The surveyors are disappointed by the students' lack of acceptance, "since evolution is going to continue to be central to biological literacy and – scientific literacy – in the 21st century." Which definition do the surveyors have in mind? Recognizing the difference could begin to relieve the gridlock that continues to bind the subject in the 21st century.

"...the evolving attitudes of Gen X toward evolution,"
University of Michigan +PhysOrg, 12 Apr 2024; re:
"The acceptance of evolution: A developmental view of Generation X in the United States," doi:10.1177/09636625241234815, by Jon D. Miller et al., Public Understanding of Science, 19 Mar 2024.
...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. Why Pigs Don't Have Wings by Jerry Fodor, London Review of Books, 18 Oct 2007.
Evolution vs Creationism discusses gridlock.

12 Apr 2024
The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery Octopuses are as amazing as any creature from science fiction. They can instantly change color and texture to match any environment, or shapeshift to pass through a tiny opening. Naturalist Sy Montgomery wanted to begin to know them better by meeting one at the Boston Aquarium. The Soul of an Octopus is her personal story of discovery, starting when Athena, a giant Pacific octopus, tastes her skin with her suckers, and then almost pulls her into the tank. We learn that octopuses are strong, curious, mischievous and moody. Although solitary in the wild, they can enjoy human attention and affection. Each of Montgomery's eventual octopus friends is unique, and she becomes certain that an octopus has a soul much like her own. I get it. Recommended.

When we wonder about life on other worlds, octopuses should come to mind. Most of the liquid water in the solar system is in ice-covered oceans, which sounds favorable for octopuses. A female can produce up to 100,000 eggs the size of rice grains. Protected in icy comets, these eggs could likely endure interplanetary transport. Colleague Ted Steele has reasons to think so.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery, Washington Square Press, ISBN13:
9781451697728, 05 Apr 2016.
"Cause of Cambrian Explosion - Terrestrial or Cosmic?" by Ted Steele et al. (see section 11), Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, [PDF | local pdf], 2018 (search for "octopus").
"Octopuses and squid are masters of RNA editing...," by Tina Hesman Saey, Science News, 19 May 2023. Just very interesting.

03 Apr 2024
03 Apr 2024: I suggest that science reporters aren't sufficiently skeptical. Stephen Burayi replies.
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