Tag Archive: Life


The charged solar winds may have given stardust one of the ingredients of life <i>(Image: Fesus Robert/Shutterstock)</i>

A sprinkling of stardust is as magical as it sounds. The dust grains that float through our solar system contain tiny pockets of water, which form when they are zapped by a blast of charged wind from the sun.

The chemical reaction causing this to happen had previously been mimicked in laboratories, but this is the first time water has been found trapped inside real stardust.

Combined with previous findings of organic compounds in interplanetary dust, the results suggest that these grains contain the basic ingredients needed for life. As similar dust grains are thought to be found in solar systems all over the universe, this bodes well for the existence of life across the cosmos.

“The implications are potentially huge,” says Hope Ishii of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, one of the researchers behind the study. “It is a particularly thrilling possibility that this influx of dust on the surfaces of solar system bodies has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life.”

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Why send jellyfish to space? Well, because it’s awesome which is true of anything involving space. But mostly because of little crystals that they keep in their bodies, and what these crystals can tell us about long-term human space travel.

When a jellyfish grows, it forms calcium sulfate crystals at the margin of its body (termed a bell). These crystals are surrounded by a little cell pocket, coated in specialised hairs, which are equally spaced around the bell. When jellyfish turn, the crystals roll down with gravity to the bottom of the pocket, moving the cell hairs, which in turn send signals to nerve cells. In this way, jellyfish are able to sense their way up and down. All they need for this to happen is gravity.

Humans have gravity sensing structures too, and therein lies the crux: in space with no gravity, will these structures grow normally? If humans ever want to colonise places in deep space, then we may need to have kids in zero gravity. Will these kids develop normal gravity sensing, even after growing up without it?

For jellyfish, at least, things aren’t so good. After developing in space, these astronaut jellyfish have a hard life back on Earth. While development of the sensory pockets appears normal, many more jellies had trouble getting around once on the planet, including pulsing and movement abnormalities, compared to their Earth-bound counterparts.

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Scientists have a working theory on how life may have come to Earth via an asteroid. But how did life get onto an asteroid in the first place? Several theories exist, but they’re all a little bit different. Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, however, have come up with a new theory that could properly explain how organic material forms on an asteroid.

The theories most often taught in astrobiology revolve around the idea that the asteroids were once warm enough that they could sustain liquid water, which is necessary for organic molecules to form. The space where they originated in is cold, so how did they get heated up to the right temperature? One theory states that the asteroids were heated radioactively, similar to Earth’s interior. The other popular theory involves how plasma interacts with a magnetic field. However, both of these theories are based on the assumption that the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars was once warm enough to do do this. Unfortunately, these theories don’t work because the sun was much dimmer back then than originally thought, meaning that the area was even colder than it is now.

The Rensselaer scientists started by looking at the theory involving magnetic fields. That theory states that an asteroid creates an electric field when it moves through a magnetic field. This heats up the asteroid. This theory makes the assumption that a strong solar wind was present, but that has been disproved.

However, starting with this theory gave them something to work with. They used a new understanding of how the process works, and re-calculated the electric field. With that, they determined that something called multi-fluid magneto-hydrodynamics was also at work on the asteroids. This regards how plasma interacts when introduced to a magnetic field. Generally speaking, the plasma’s neutral particles rub up against other particles and create friction. This friction creates heat. This heat creates the correct temperature for organic molecules to form.

Although the scientists feel that this theory is a good one, they still believe there are more questions to be asked and answered regarding the origin of life on asteroids.

Greenland ice core

New data from Greenland ice cores suggest North America may have suffered a large cosmic impact about 12,900 years ago.

A layer of platinum is seen in ice of the same age as a known abrupt climate transition, US scientists report.

The climate flip has previously been linked to the demise of the North American “Clovis” people.

The data seem to back the idea that an impact tipped the climate into a colder phase, a point of current debate.

Rapid climate change occurred 12,900 years ago, and it is proposed that this is associated with the extinction of large mammals – such as the mammoth, widespread wildfires and rapid changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation.

All of these have previously been linked to a cosmic impact but the theory has been hotly disputed because there was a lack of clear evidence.

New platinum measurements were made on ice cores that allow conditions 13,000 years ago to be determined at a time resolution of better than five years, report Michail Petaev and colleagues from Harvard University. Their results are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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The organism was initially called NLF, for “new life form”. Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, evolutionary biologists at Aix-Marseille University in France, found it in a water sample collected off the coast of Chile, where it seemed to be infecting and killing amoebae. Under a microscope, it appeared as a large, dark spot, about the size of a small bacterial cell.

Later, after the researchers discovered a similar organism in a pond in Australia, they realized that both are viruses — the largest yet found. Each is around 1 micrometre long and 0.5 micrometres across, and their respective genomes top out at 1.9 million and 2.5 million bases — making the viruses larger than many bacteria and even some eukaryotic cells.

But these viruses, described today in Science, are more than mere record-breakers — they also hint at unknown parts of the tree of life. Just 7% of their genes match those in existing databases. “What the hell is going on with the other genes?” asks Claverie. “This opens a Pandora’s box. What kinds of discoveries are going to come from studying the contents?” The researchers call these giants Pandoraviruses.

“This is a major discovery that substantially expands the complexity of the giant viruses and confirms that viral diversity is still largely underexplored,” says Christelle Desnues, a virologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Marseilles, who was not involved in the study.

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Scientists find neighbour star with 6 planets, 3 of them capable of supporting life

A neighbour star has at least six planets in orbit, including three circling at the right distance for water to exist, a condition believed to be necessary for life, scientists said on Tuesday.

Previously, the star known as Gliese 667C was found to be hosting three planets, one of which was located in its so-called “habitable zone” where temperatures could support liquid surface water. That planet and two newly found sibling worlds are bigger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune.

“This is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system,” astronomer Paul Butler, with the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

Scientists say the discovery of three planets in a star’s habitable zone raises the odds of finding Earth-like worlds where conditions might have been suitable for life to evolve.

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City living could have a major impact on the biological clocks of humans and animals, a new study has found.

Researchers measured the circadian rhythms – the 24-hour cycle of biological activity – of urban and rural blackbirds in southern Germany.

German and Scottish researchers found the city birds woke up earlier and rested less than forest dwelling birds.

The team has raised the possibility the differences could be the result of micro-evolutionary changes.

The study, which has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was carried out by Glasgow University and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany.

A number of adult male European blackbirds were captured from Munich and a nearby rural forest.

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This map, from the United States Geological Survey, shows the age of bedrock in different regions of North America.  Scientists found ancient water in bedrock north of Lake Superior.  This region, colored red, was formed more than 2.5 billion years ago.

Scientists have discovered water that has been trapped in rock for more than a billion years. The water might contain microbes that evolved independently from the surface world, and it’s a finding that gives new hope to the search for life on other planets.

The water samples came from holes drilled by gold miners near the small town of Timmins, Ontario, about 350 miles north of Toronto. Deep in the Canadian bedrock, miners drill holes and collect samples. Sometimes they hit pay dirt; sometimes they hit water, which seeps out from tiny crevices in the rock.

Recently, a team of scientists (who had been investigating water samples from other mines) approached the miners and asked them for fluid from newly drilled boreholes.

Greg Holland, a geochemist at Lancaster University in England, and his colleagues wanted to know just how long that fluid had been trapped in the rock. So they looked at the decay of radioactive atoms found in the water and calculated that it had been bottled up for a long time — at least 1.5 billion years.

“That is the lower limit for the age,” Holland says. It could be a billion years older. That means the water was sealed in the rock before humans evolved, before pterosaurs flew and before multicellular life.

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Life may have first emerged on land about 100 million years earlier previously thought, suggests a study that has scientists up in arms, many of whom are arguing that the research paper should never been published in the first place.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggests that ancient fossilized creatures found in Southern Australian sediments actually came from land, not from the ocean. If the findings are true, the fossils would have been lichenlike plants that first colonized land, not ocean-dwelling ancestors of jellyfish.

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Origin of Life Needs a Rethink, Scientists Argue

Scientists trying to unravel the mystery of life’s origins have been looking at it the wrong way, a new study argues.

Instead of trying to recreate the chemical building blocks that gave rise to life 3.7 billion years ago, scientists should use key differences in the way that living creatures store and process information, suggests new research detailed in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“In trying to explain how life came to exist, people have been fixated on a problem of chemistry, that bringing life into being is like baking a cake, that we have a set of ingredients and instructions to follow,” said study co-author Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and astrobiologist at Arizona State University. “That approach is failing to capture the essence of what life is about.”

Living systems are uniquely characterized by two-way flows of information, both from the bottom up and the top down in terms of complexity, the scientists write in the article. For instance, bottom up would move from molecules to cells to whole creatures, while top down would flow the opposite way. The new perspective on life may reframe the way that scientists try to uncover the origin of life and hunt for strange new life forms on other planets.

“Right now, we’re focusing on searching for life that’s identical to us, with the same molecules,” said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at the NASA Ames Research Center who was not involved in the study. “Their approach potentially lays down a framework that allows us to consider other classes of organic molecules that could be the basis of life.”

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A number of life-support machines are connected to each other, circulating liquids and air in attempt to mimic a biological structure. The Immortal investigates human dependence on electronics, the desire to make machines replicate organisms and our perception of anatomy as reflected by biomedical engineering.

Researchers moved a step closer to creating new life forms in the laboratory after they demonstrated an artificial genetic material called XNA can be replicated in the test tube much like real DNA. X, which in this case stands for “xeno” indicates the replacement of the helical backbone of the new molecule.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the U.K. demonstrated for the first time a way to extract information from the artificial genetic molecules and mass produce copies of them.

The research, published today in the journal Science, shows that DNA and its sister molecule RNA may not be the only chemical structures upon which a living unit can be based.

“Life is based on this amazing ability of DNA and RNA to store and propagate information,” saidPhilipp Holliger, a Medical Research Council molecular biologist and senior author on the study. “We have shown that the basic functions of DNA and RNA can be recapitulated” with new artificial molecules.

Vitor Pinheiro and colleagues from Philipp’s group used sophisticated protein engineering techniques to adapt enzymes, that in nature synthesise and replicate DNA, to establish six new genetic systems based on synthetic nucleic acids. These have the same bases as DNA but the ribose linkage between them is replaced by quite different structures.

In doing this they showed that there is no functional imperative limiting genetic information storage to RNA and DNA. Therefore, the discovery has implications for the understanding of life on Earth.  As other informational molecules can be robustly synthesised and replicated, the emergence of life on Earth is likely to reflect the abundance of RNA (and DNA) precursors in early Earth.

The scientists invented a lab method for making copies of synthetic DNA. They also developed a way to make XNA fragments that evolve with desired properties.

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“Can two people see the same rainbow? Is rainbow new or familiar? Every moment is totally unique in its angles, projections, refractions of light, and angles which form our finite perspective. To take a perspective necessarily implies finite, bound system; like choosing to speak, painting a picture, or improvising a solo on a guitar. While the frets on the guitar may appear finite in number, the exact length of the vibrating string has never occurred before, though perhaps frequencies have sounded within microhertz from it, no two snowflakes are the same. Language gives the impression of repetition where nowhere in experience does repetition manifest.”

Matter and You…

Happy :)

Case Western Reserve University biochemist Erik Andrulis has just published a paper about a discovery that goes way beyond the RNA he usually researches. He claims he’s discovered the secret to life itself – and it all has to do with energy-spirit things he calls gyres.

His 105-page paper is called “Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life,” and you can download the whole thing for free from the peer-reviewed journal Life.

The problem is that even sympathetic readers found the paper incomprehensible and (worse for scientists) untestable.

The Big Picture

Technology & Us…

“Technology is stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves, entire continents of machines conversing with one another, the whole aggregation watching itself through a million cameras posted daily. How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?”

Kevin Kelly

Learning…

All we are learning is what mind can do

Nothingness and Everything

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