What'sNEW Oct - Dec 2019

23 Dec 2019
Can a chemical computer emerge spontaneously on a sterile yet habitable planet such as the early Earth? a computer analogy
Yes, according to origin-of-life researchers Bruce Damer and David Deamer. Using a thought experiment with a computer analogy (illustrated) they suggest a way. We welcome their attention to the seldom-considered software problem for the origin of life. For the usual hardware problems, they advocate a process driven in a cycling environment, an idea that is gaining favor.
The Hot Spring Hypothesis for an Origin of Life by Bruce Damer and David Deamer, doi:10.1089/ast.2019.2045, Astrobiology, 16 Dec 2019.
The RNA World and Other Origin-of-Life Theories has history and updated links.
The Evolution Prize: we propose real experiments for the software problem.

Like virtually everyone, Damer and Deamer assume that life originated. But all the direct evidence makes the difficulties look insurmountable. Only the standard big bang requires life to originate. That's not enough.
The End... and The Beginning discuss implications of life with no origin.

16 Dec 2019
Living messengers between the stars was Fred Hoyle's characterization of comets in The Intelligent Universe, 1983. Gravity can occasionally sling them from one star to another, and the matter a comet sheds when warmed by a star persists there in stellar orbit. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe provide deeper analysis in Living Comets, 1985.
Living Comets, by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, University College Cardiff Press, 1985 [
7MB local pdf].

Now a comet from beyond our solar system is visiting — and releasing tons of its contents.
Hubble Snaps the Best Close-ups Yet of Speedy Visitor from the Stars, Hubblesite (+Newswise), 12 Dec 2019.
2-second video, Hubblesite. Comets: The Delivery System has more.

the material it is shedding

12 Dec 2019
Cosmic ancestry predicts that the genes for higher life forms, including ourselves, are readily available. If so, technological civilizations on other planets should be numerous, but we don't see them. A multitude of factors could explain this discrepancy. A likely one is climate disaster. We think it deserves attention.
An aeroplane over an Alaskan glacier

The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril.
Climate tipping points – too risky to bet against by Timothy M. Lenton et al., doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03595-0, Nature, 28 Nov 2019.
Gaia has discussion and links about life's planetary engineering.

04 Dec 2019What'sNEW about HGT |
New genetic programs arrive by horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Subsequently they may be optimized within narrow ranges by adaptive mutations. For these assertions, we think the logic is compelling and the evidence is overwhelming. Now a comprehensive study of beetle genes supplies more evidence. An international multi-disciplinary team concludes that bacteria and fungi supplied new genes that enabled the beetles to diversify.
...plant cell wall-degrading enzymes (PCWDEs) obtained from bacteria and fungi via horizontal gene transfers may have been key to the Mesozoic diversification of herbivorous beetles—remarkably, both major independent origins of specialized herbivory in beetles coincide with the first appearances of an arsenal of PCWDEs encoded in their genomes. Furthermore, corresponding (Jurassic) diversification rate increases suggest that these novel genes triggered adaptive radiations that resulted in nearly half of all living beetle species.
Adaptive radiation of specialized herbivorous beetles after the acquisition of PCWDEs from microbes
The evolution and genomic basis of beetle diversity by Duane D. McKenna et al., doi:10.1073/pnas.1909655116, PNAS, 03 Dec 2019.
News release, University of Memphis, 21 Nov 2019.
McKenna interviewed, BBC Newsday.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin.
...Without Gene Transfer? discussion with examples.
11 May 2019: a related example. Viruses... has links to hundreds of examples of HGT affecting all domains.

21 Nov 2019
Extraterrestrial ribose and other sugars in primitive meteorites, doi:10.1073/pnas.1907169116, by Yoshihiro Furukawa et al., PNAS, 18 Nov 2019.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin. Comets... has background info.
We think the sugars could be postbiotic.

15 Nov 2019
James Peebles, 2019 Nobel laureate for work in cosmology It's very unfortunate that one thinks of the beginning... ...we have no good theory of such a thing....
...the evidence of [inflation] is very sparse.... ...there is in fact no concrete evidence for a giant explosion. ...Theories of course ...could have nothing to do with reality.

James Peebles (pictured) made these comments soon after the announcement that he would receive the 2019 Nobel prize in physics for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology. We welcome this affirmation from the world's most highly honored cosmologist, because a big bang that sterilizes everything at once would interrupt cosmic ancestry.
Top Cosmologist's Lonely Battle Against 'Big Bang' Theory, Agence France-Presse via CourthouseNews (+PhysOrg), 14 Nov 2019.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin.
The End and the Big Bang has discussion and links to 20 years of related news.
The Beginning is also related.
James Peebles' Nobel Lecture, Stockholm University (+YouTube), 08 Dec 2019.
13 Jul 2021: ...we need alternative theories about what the universe was doing before it was expanding.
08 Nov 2022: The Whole Truth... by P.J.E Peebles, Princeton University Press, Aug 2022.

14 Nov 2019What'sNEW about HGT |
Genomes of Subaerial Zygnematophyceae Provide Insights into Land Plant Evolution by Shifeng Cheng et al., doi:10.1016/j.cell.2019.10.019, Cell, 14 Nov 2019. ...evidence that genes that increase resistance to desiccation were gained by horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from soil bacteria.
Alien genes from bacteria helped plants conquer the land by Elizabeth Pennisi, Science, 14 Nov 2019.
Viruses... has more about HGT.

14 Nov 2019
We have surface material as well as underground samples to look forward to....
Hayabusa2: Commencing the Return by Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams, 14 Nov 2019.
Japanese mission gathers material from an asteroid by Davide Castelvecchi, Nature News, 14 Nov 2019.
Hayabusa 2 Leaves Asteroid Ryugu and Heads Home by David Dickinson, Sky & Telescope, 15 Nov 2019.
Comets: The Delivery System and Comet Rendezvous are related postings.

14 Nov 2019
We have seen that comets can travel between stars. Can a star be launched to exit from its galaxy?
Discovery of a nearby 1700 km/s star ejected from the Milky Way by Sgr A* by Sergey E Koposov et al., doi:10.1093/mnras/stz3081, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 04 Nov 2019.
A runaway star ejected from the galactic heart of darkness, Carnegie Mellon University (+Newswise), 12 Nov 2019.
How is it Possible? is worth a look. (By cosmic ancestry, life would be related even among galaxies.)

14 Nov 2019
Oxygen has been observed to show significant seasonal and year-to-year variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work. On Mars, the newly-observed cyclical oxygen fluctuation and the confirmed summertime spikes of methane are intriguing. We think extant, sparse, near-surface microbial life could explain both.
Seasonal variations in atmospheric composition as measured in Gale Crater, Mars by Melissa G. Trainer et al., doi:10.1002/jgre.21250, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, submitted 18 Oct 2019.
...these are the first precise in situ measurements of O2, revealing a surprising seasonal and interannual variation that cannot be accounted for in current chemical models.
The Curiosity rover detects oxygen behaving strangely on Mars by Ashley Strickland, CNN, updated 12 Nov 2019.
Oxygen on Mars Adds to Atmospheric Mysteries by Kenneth Chang, The New York Times, 20 Nov 2019.
Thanks Thanks, George Nickas, Martin Langford, Rob Cooper and Stan Franklin.
Life on Mars! mentions Viking's detection of near-surface microbial life and much more.

02 Nov 2019
Alien comets may be common... by W. Wayt Gibbs, Science, 01 Nov 2016.
...interstellar comet contains alien water by Alexandra Witze, Nature, 30 Oct 2016.
Comets: The Delivery System has background and updated links.
19 Oct & 13 Sep: more about 2I/Borisov.

26 Oct 2019
...singlecelled organisms (protozoa and even bacteria) have homologs of neuronal developmental genes. The functions of these molecules in organisms without neurons is unknown.... William Kristan, Neurobiology, UC Davis.
Early evolution of neurons by William B. Kristan Jr., Current Biology, 24 Oct 2016.
Thanks Thanks, Kenneth Augustyn.
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? has related links since 1996.
Genes Older Than Earth? deserves a look.

20 Oct 2019
Exporting Terrestrial Life Out of the Solar System with Gravitational Slingshots of Earthgrazing Bodies by Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb, ArXiv, 14 Oct 2019; and commentary:
Comets and Interstellar Objects Could be Exporting Earth Life Out into the Milky Way by Matt Williams, Universe Today, 19 Oct 2019.
Thanks Thanks, Google Alerts and EarthSky.
Introduction... has history. ...New Questions describes types of panspermia.
19 Oct: an interstellar comet.
      ...more comments. At last Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are acknowledged:
Earth bacteria may have colonised other solar systems by Barry Keily, Cosmos, 15 Jan 2020.

19 Oct 2019
Genes-in-waiting is one way to describe de novo genes, the ones that come from silent, so-called "junk" DNA. Now, they are observed everywhere. In the past five years, researchers have found numerous signs of these newly minted 'de novo' genes in every lineage they have surveyed. These include model organisms such as fruit flies and mice, important crop plants and humans.... Apparently already programmed, they need only to be turned on, bypassing the lengthy trial-and-error process that standard darwinism requires. Until recently, this was thought impossible, because the chance that lengthy strands of random DNA might luckily have programmatic meaning is effectively zero. The discovery that they are common supports our prediction that genes precede their deployment.
...genes do not always evolve from existing ones, as biologists long supposed. Instead, some are fashioned from desolate stretches of the genome that do not code for any functional molecules.
Genes from the Junkyard (print edition title) by Adam Levy, p 314 v 574 Nature, 17 Oct 2019.
Three New Human Genes: De Novo Genes, first posted 2009, has discussion and updated links.

19 Oct 2019
The Hubble Telescope observed interstellar comet 2I/Borisov for seven hours. In a time-lapse movie compressed into two seconds, the comet seems motionless as background stars streak by. Its high velocity indicates that it comes from beyond the solar system and will leave again for interstellar space. Cometary panspermia between stars is entirely possible! (A substantial fraction of the Oort cloud likely consists of comets from nearby stars.)
Hubble Observes First Confirmed Interstellar Comet | video, Space Telescope Science Institute, 16 Oct 2019.
Comets: The Delivery System has history and updates.
Thanks Thanks, Newswise and Rob Cooper.

Mars seen from Viking
15 Oct 2019
I'm Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s by Gilbert V. Levin, Scientific American, 10 Oct 2019.
Life on Mars! has more about the Viking LR experiments.
Thanks Thanks, Ted Steele and William Smith.

14 Oct 2019What'sNEW about HGT |
...a group of yeasts ...have lost part of the vitamin B1 biosynthetic pathway in the past but have managed to rebuild it by capturing multiple genes from bacteria through horizontal gene transfer (HGT).
Multilayered horizontal operon transfers from bacteria reconstruct a thiamine salvage pathway in yeasts by Carla Gonçalves and Paula Gonçalves, doi:10.1073/pnas.1909844116, PNAS, online 14 Oct 2019.
The adaptation of the newly acquired operons to the eukaryotic setting involved a repertoire of mechanisms until now only sparsely documented, namely longer intergenic regions, post-horizontal gene transfer (HGT) gene fusions fostering coordinated expression, gene relocation, and possibly recombination generating mosaic genes. The results provide additional evidence that HGT occurred recurrently in this yeast lineage and was crucial for the reestablishment of lost functions and that similar mechanisms are used across a broad range of eukaryotic microbes....
Viruses... has more about HGT
Robust Software Management... (incomplete) considers a repertoire of mechanisms.

09 Oct 2019What'sNEW about HGT |
The cholera bacterium can steal up to 150 genes in one go, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 26 Sep 2019.
...the transfer of large genomic regions in Vibrio cholerae by Noémie Matthey et al., elife, 03 Sep 2019.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has related examples.

06 Oct 2019
Planet Pioneers: Chandra Wickramasinghe on the incomplete Copernican Revolution, The Times, 11 Oct 2019.
Mankind must keep searching for life on Mars by Chandra Wickramasinghe, The Sunday Telegraph, 06 Oct 2019.
Chandra Wickramasinghe has more.
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