Survival of Life: Something Resembling It–a brief return.

Panspermia is a topic that falls into and out of favor often. It is not that there is no substance to the paradigm, revolutionary and normal science will find other ‘grails’ worthy for investigation. However, the present research problems surrounding panspermia deal in areas of survivability–can life survive long periods of radiation and an extreme cold–or can life survive the multi-megaton impact upon reaching Earth?

Perhaps one measure of how life’s molecularity can survive cometary impacts is the near-extinction event of early Earth history. Dinosaurs became extinct when a large NEO impacted the Yucatan peninsula. Generations afterward, the first mammals took over the Earth–life didn’t quite resemble the previous generations. Genetic analysis seemingly points towards an abrupt but distinct lineage. Thus–it may be posited that life’s molecular nature, once established, is not readily displaced from its ‘beachhead.’

With this prefatory comment in place, I briefly comment on the issues of comets, meteorites, and near-Earth-objects and their bio-molecular components.

Amino acids and carbon-bearing molecules are found in most near-Earth-objects; however, the immediate question of how well does organic material (within the a comet or meteorite) survive the impact is the topic of the present post.

In works performed within the last 30 years, different research groups showed that the molecular components of life, amino acids, carotenoids, and steroid-type molecules survived the impacts that covered the early Earth. The early Earth was a uninhabitable and toxic place–hot, and volcano-like. The late-heavy bombardment that could have brought the molecular components of life, instead, gave us evidence that life’s components are everywhere.

REFERENCE FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION IS PROVIDED—(my sincerest apology if the reference is subject to  paywall restrictions.)

M. J. Burchell and others. Astrobiology, Volume 14, Number 6, 2014

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A Wave of the Future

Presently I am being published at decodedscience.com  & I am inviting anyone who would be interested in subscribing to the site to stop by and first take a look. Things being as they are with the publishing world—paper subscriptions are certainly not dead–but many of us spend time and our personal resources to find, write and self-publish. In the not-so-distant-past, much of the content that is presented would fetch a decent living for science writers and writers in general. The present model of piling ‘ads to pay for content’  cannot go ad nauseam.

Peruse the content at decodedscience and perhaps you will agree that content that is worthy of pay —is justified.

Here are their links: (just copy and paste to your browser if needed)

http://www.decodedscience.com/

http://decodedeverything.com/

 

PLEASE NOTE: I will continue to post my regular content approximately once to twice per month on this site and silentastronomer.com

I do apologize if anyone feels that this is spam—> it isn’t and I will see you in a week with new content here as well!!  for free!

 

 

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Ruminations on LUCA

The acronym LUCA stands for—Last Universal Common Ancestor. The term is used by astrobiologists and those interested in the evolutionary biology. The geological period of time in which LUCA existed was a point of demarcation from primitive life forms to more-advanced earth-living entities. The importance of LUCA lies in understanding how the three kingdoms of life came from a universal ancestor.

Original Source: NASA Astrobiology Institute Original Attribution: By MPF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APhylogeneticTree.png

Original Source: NASA Astrobiology Institute
Original Attribution: By MPF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From the Source:  A phylogenetic tree of living things, based on RNA data and proposed by Carl Woese, showing the separation of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. Trees constructed with other genes are generally similar, although they may place some early-branching groups very differently, thanks to long branch attraction. The exact relationships of the three domains are still being debated, as is the position of the root of the tree. It has also been suggested that due to lateral gene transfer, a tree may not be the best representation of the genetic relationships of all organisms. For instance some genetic evidence suggests that eukaryotes evolved from the union of some bacteria and archaea (one becoming an organelle and the other the main cell).

You might ask, why is LUCA so important? (brief  interpretation)

Glancing at the phylogenetic tree one gains a sense that there may be a commonality or root to everything. ( It is not an oversimplification as much as it is a functional, mnemonic device.) So for sake of argument, the center point of the tree may be the point of LUCA—the point where red, black and purple branches form a ‘Y.’ It is at the point where RNA-life may have taken the first steps to ‘current’ DNA/RNA commonality.  (It would be obvious—to evolutionary biologists, at least—that gaining an understanding of LUCA is tantamount to taking the next step backward to the origins of life.) The complex machinery in present DNA/RNA is like a ‘black box’ problem—one knows what goes in and what comes out–but the manner (or mechanism) is unclear. LUCA is a point of ‘transcendence,’ it is in essence a step in the evolutionary ladder. (Once the mechanism is discerned, the understanding may be harnessed for the betterment of the human condition.) Current evolutionary paradigms utilize a random mutations as a means by which ‘the paradigm advances.’ However, random mutations may literally take eons of time until the fit survive the next step of evolution.

It may be the case where an understanding of the transcendence of RNA life to DNA/RNA informs the human condition of how to better utilize life for itself and its progeny.

Source for thoughts and further introspection:

Frontiers of Astrobiology, edited by Impey, Lunine and Funes

Cambridge University Press, 2012

URL for phylogenetic tree: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APhylogeneticTree.png

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Searching exo-solar skies

 

There are some in the astronomical community who wish to hasten the pace of SETI—and that is good news. Given we cannot reach other exo-solar habitable zones, readily communicate with, nor discern all spectra of biosignatures, an achievable SETI project is currently in the works. The project named Colossus is a promising candidate for the following reasons: (1) when completed it will be the largest land-base optical/ir telescope (2) the design of the new 74-meter scope searches for ‘earth-like’ biosignatures (thermal signatures) (3) the search is non-invasive (or passive by design) and (4) Colossus is privately funded by entrepreneurs and scientists.

Whereas past SETI projects received a lot of government funding and input, the current project does not answer to the government and is better focused. I learned of the project from a SETI Institute Google+ hangout video—and I was wholly impressed by the speaker’s range and depth of knowledge.

The process of detecting another Earth-like civilization is learning to understand the ‘laws of thermodynamics.’ As a species we consume a lot of energy and thereby produce heat because of our energy consumption. (I don’t speak of global warming.) The signature of energy consumption differentiates us from a planet that is solely inhabited by bacteria or animals—if you will. It is, in a word, commonsense. Thus—the so-called biosignature is a heat signature, as well. The human, heat signature impacts the atmospheric chemistry which influences the spectral biosignatures.

 

INTERNET REFERENCES:

SETI Talk – The Colossus Project: Designing an optical/IR instrument to detect life outside the solar system

Project Website

 

 

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Instances of innovation

The retired-Space Shuttle program (like its predecessor Apollo) ushered innovation to an eager public. And, if one were to ‘google’ the terms, nasa spinoff database –one may get lucky enough to see a lot of which many take for granted. The database is chock full with the ‘fruits of our labor;’ we truly hit the proverbial jackpot by going into space. For instance, I draw attention to the utilization of ‘photochemistry;’ to those of us who are not familiar with the terminology I give a quick definition:

 

Photochemistry is utilizing light (e.g. the Sun) to generate a desired (or needed) outcome. Sounds simple enough. . . .

 

When we do trek beyond our solar system, it may be necessary to grow foodstuffs. Sunlight has guided our days and helped to fill our nights with dreams. So, in the quest to grow foodstuffs, we are learning to utilize artificial light sources aboard the shuttle and the ISS. The ‘spinoff’ of utilizing light stands to benefit us in many novel ways—

From the NASA technologies website:

Red light-emitting diodes are growing plants in space and healing humans on Earth. The LED technology used in NASA space shuttle plant growth experiments has contributed to the development of medical devices such as award-winning WARP 10, a hand-held, high-intensity, LED unit developed by Quantum Devices Inc. The WARP 10 is intended for the temporary relief of minor muscle and joint pain, arthritis, stiffness, and muscle spasms, and also promotes muscle relaxation and increases local blood circulation. The WARP 10 is being used by the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Navy as a noninvasive “soldier self-care” device that aids front-line forces with first aid for minor injuries and pain, thereby improving endurance in combat. The next-generation WARP 75 has been used to relieve pain in bone marrow transplant patients, and will be used to combat the symptoms of bone atrophy, multiple sclerosis, diabetic complications, Parkinson’s disease, and in a variety of ocular applications. (Spinoff 2005, 2008)

A major innovation (IMO), however, is the ‘direct’ utilization of light in cancer chemotherapy. A few years back, scientists recognized that certain drugs are active only when shined upon by light—so in other words, if one were to give a cancer patient a drug—it would act against the cancer cells when ‘shined upon.’ Thus, the targeting of cancer cells (in certain cases) became more efficient. (see the cited Nature article at the end of the post)

 

Most of us utilize space age technology and conjure our own versions of the technology, as well. For instance when one looks at instances of invention, one notices a cluttered path (at times). It is at those times we gain a sense of personal innovation and possibly inspiration. What could be more inspiring than to gain a mastery over the natural world? Science and engineering journals display articles of genius, innovation and refined curiosity.

Often it is not that one has a good idea—we may stumble while implementing the idea. So, given a fertile environment, I contend that we become innovators and tinkerers within our realm. I further contend we can become innovators in wider circle of influence (beyond ourselves) if we desire to do so. The path, then, cannot be so liberally littered by our personal insights as much as getting to the gist of all concerned. Moreover, we need a clarity of purpose.

Ideas become reality in instances where one stands upon the shoulders of giants.

 

–REFERENCES and READINGS

Specific cancer citation– : Cancer cell-selective in vivo near infrared photoimmunotherapy targeting specific membrane molecules Nature Medicine 17, 1685–1691 (2011) doi:10.1038/nm.2554 (the lead author(s) for the work–Hisataka Kobayashi)

READINGS LIST (in no particular order)

Costa, Liliana, Maria Amparo F Faustino, Maria Graça P M S Neves, Angela Cunha, and Adelaide Almeida. “Photodynamic Inactivation of Mammalian Viruses and Bacteriophages.” Viruses 4, no. 7 (July 2012): 1034–74. doi:10.3390/v4071034.

Goodrich, R P, N R Yerram, B H Tay-Goodrich, P Forster, M S Platz, C Kasturi, S C Park, N J Aebischer, S Rai, and L Kulaga. “Selective Inactivation of Viruses in the Presence of Human Platelets: UV Sensitization with Psoralen Derivatives.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 91, no. 12 (June 07, 1994): 5552–6. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=44034&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract.

Kiesslich, Tobias, Anita Gollmer, Tim Maisch, Mark Berneburg, and Kristjan Plaetzer. “A Comprehensive Tutorial on in Vitro Characterization of New Photosensitizers for Photodynamic Antitumor Therapy and Photodynamic Inactivation of Microorganisms.” BioMed Research International 2013 (January 2013): 840417. doi:10.1155/2013/840417.

O’Brien, J M, D K Gaffney, T P Wang, and F Sieber. “Merocyanine 540-Sensitized Photoinactivation of Enveloped Viruses in Blood Products: Site and Mechanism of Phototoxicity.” Blood 80, no. 1 (July 01, 1992): 277–85. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1319237.

Novo, E, and J Esparza. “Tetracycline-Mediated Photodynamic Inactivation of Animal Viruses.” The Journal of General Virology 45, no. 2 (November 1979): 323–9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/120411.

Simonet, Julien, and Christophe Gantzer. “Inactivation of Poliovirus 1 and F-Specific RNA Phages and Degradation of Their Genomes by UV Irradiation at 254 Nanometers.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 72, no. 12 (December 2006): 7671–7. doi:10.1128/AEM.01106-06.

Vigant, Frederic, Jihye Lee, Axel Hollmann, Lukas B Tanner, Zeynep Akyol Ataman, Tatyana Yun, Guanghou Shui, et al. “A Mechanistic Paradigm for Broad-Spectrum Antivirals That Target Virus-Cell Fusion.” PLoS Pathogens 9, no. 4 (April 2013): e1003297. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003297.

 

 

 

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Life on Earth and its Tenuous Nature—One Instance . . . To be further explored

Without doubt researching astrobiological and science-based literature (while coming to a definition for life) and attempting a readable work might have turned into a tall tale.

 

What makes defining life so hard is the diverse, contrary, and seeming ease with which biological experimentation is performed. As some may atest, life exists in places that would seem inhospitable to the hardiest of souls. One place in particular is in the shallower waters off California at the Farallon islands (a former nuclear waste site). Although some current estimates put the amount of radioactive isotopes as negligible, we have placed ourselves in harm’s way so often to warrant introspection.

Fig. 1 Barrel and Crab from Farallon islands (figure is a composite—photo is available from the website listed in the following paragraph)—

From the website—(USGS) –I quote: More than 47,800 drums and other containers of low-level radioactive waste were dumped onto the ocean floor west of San Francisco between 1946 and 1970; many of these are in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. . . . The interagency cooperation among the USN, USGS, and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary has provided the technological, scientific, and practical expertise to develop a cost-effective and time-efficient method to locate the barrels of radioactive waste. This method can be used to locate containers of hazardous waste over a regional scale in other ocean areas such as Boston Harbor and the Kara Sea in the Arctic.

 

A technical report from the California Fish & Game Department (from 1986) tells of different species fish that have been seen to dwell at or near the dump site ( CA fish & game ). The report details that while some species exclusively dwell within a 100 mile radius of the site, there are other species of fish that make all the North American coast their “home.” By the lack of public outcry, it would seem that the three cited sources paint a benign picture of the site. And, a report authored by the USGS, NOAA, EPA and the British Geological Survey (2001) USGS 2001again paints the same ambiguously benign picture of the site—with the exceptions being a higher-than-normal amount of certain isotopes and the majority of dump was not or could not be accessed. All of this bears mention due to the recent news of “radioactive” tuna off the California coast (Huffington post)because the blame is pointed at the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011) and the following news release ( Yahoo news ) points to a 2014-2016 peak of radioactive water reaching United States.

In spite of the furor spawned from the Fukushima disaster, we seem to ignore that there may have been prior precedent? It is as if one had overlooked past failure—only to repeat it in the near future. Further investigation reveals an article from the 1990 L.A. Times ( LA Times) confirming the presence of radioactive waste off the coast of Northern California.

Analytically speaking, it is hard to place a specific causal factor for the tuna catch, but it should be noted that we really didn’t learn our lesson the first time around.

The reasons for the above approach is to demarcate the public perception of (1) how science fails to protect the public (2) how the public (in general) has lulled itself into a complacent state around science and education. The issue of the Farallon island nuclear dump
site was common knowledge to many in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-to-late 1970s; I can personally recall reading of the issue in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. My personal take (as a callow teenager) was that the incident was sensational and it had a certain coolness factor to it. Little did I know (as a 13 year old) of the implications to the food chain nor of the larger perspective to how science can serve the public interest. But, where and how didn’t the public as a whole or the “govt” protect us more fully from ourselves? It may take a village to raise a child—but who teaches the village to think—other than the previous villagers? The inane nuances of the problem points to an “almost catastrophic breakdown in the normal functioning of society.”

I am not faulting the generation that believed in “Atoms for Peace,” but this news item came about during the height of 1970s environmental movement—a full twenty years after President Eisenhower’s ground breaking proposal.

The above work was what I had been laboring on—before realizing that I personally did not have the answer. . . .

 

One may ask in what way do the above paragraphs pertain to the astrobiological nature of life—it is just one view of possibly “billions and billions” of which I need to fully understand. It reminds me of the riddle of the raven—how do you know that all ravens are black? You assume that all will be black—and to prove otherwise may(?) take multiple lifetimes.

 

 

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What Does it all Mean? an attempt to understand our Origins

 

raisons d’être?

Humanity, for the most part, thrives day-in-and –out; they respond, act, adapt, grow, and perhaps learn anew after reflection. Why? How?

What I mean is that most lives are neither meaningless nor without tedium and pain. Those contrasting words signify a larger context in which a person resides—the reasons for life, perhaps? A reason to explore, a reason to learn, a reason to make mistakes, a reason to make war, and a reason to love, as well . . . and in my humble opinion, they are the reasons for life. Perhaps when one attempts to look at their own life, he-or-she may recognize the interconnectedness between moments and individuals. And, when finding the connections on an occasion or two, one may see the grander scheme—raison d’être. (To the science purists—please bear with me.) Whether life originated (for the aforementioned reasons) to affect a grand purpose, the tenets of science currently cannot answer; the approaches to science do not address the notions of “why.” Pure science asks how a phenomenon occurs, what are the interconnections between related phenomena, and eventually—can we harness the phenomenon. The question of “why” lies within the realms of philosophy, ethics, theology, and on occasion, organized religion. When a scientist conducts experiments in an attempt to elucidate certain biological processes associated with Life’s origins, many of us will associate the results and conclusion of the experiment with the concept of “why.” Careful reading of an experimental “write-up” in a journal reveals that “good” science practice never asks “why.” (Perhaps, “why” is a part of our genetic make-up?)

 

Thus, perhaps no one can readily awake each-and –every-morning and “truly” ask themselves “why” without coming to a realization that to ask why—one must ask: for whom?

 

Getting past the notions of “why” and “for whom” leads many to eventually ask “how.”

 

How?

Studying life’s origins is a harsh mistress—the reasons being the depth and scope of subject matter with which one needs to have mastery. Astrobiology is a “new” field and its golden age may not be fully realized until ET life (or fossilized ET life) is discovered with no uncertainty. A specific case study is ALH 84001 (the Alan Hills meteorite), when NASA scientists announced that specific discovery—few armchair astronomers and much of the general public wanted to believe in the veracity of the report. At first, I had many mixed feelings and finally settled upon believing upon its veracity. However, many skeptics denounced the manner in which the finding had been publicized—and it has served them well. Towards that end, there were certain NASA scientists who went out on a limb (so to speak) and performed experiments that seemed to dovetail with the findings—and therein lies the problem. The callow reader cannot reasonably discern whether the “control experiment” was published in the journal article along with the purported result. That, in some ways, is the reason why many of us may have been fooled into “blindly” falling into the “appeal to authority fallacy.” Many of us, perhaps, felt that we were following an “Occam’s razor” form argumentation—however if one re-reads some of the more prominent journal articles of that period—the control experiment was not readily discerned. The “microscopic” images purported to be bacterial had no true control—and the best (and possibly the truest) control would be to venture to Mars and sample similar “rocks.” Case closed and proof or dis-proof —and science marches-on.

Everyday astrobiology is practiced in multiple and interdisciplinary settings by individuals who have a deep-seated drive to understand the foundations of life on Earth and elsewhere. Successful astrobiologists take their cues from the interdisciplinary nature of the discipline—thriving on the diverse characterizations of the science from other astrobiologists.

 

Life . . . how did it all begin?

The question of life is “thorny.” Why? The answer is simple enough to seem too trivial. No one was present to understand the processes—but current geology is far different from the origins geochemistry. However, what may be surmised is that “first life” chemistry may have resembled early Earth geochemistry, and because of weathering and plate tectonics many potential fossil remains are lost.

What can currently be said?

Since attempts to emulate life’s origins have failed—what have systematic efforts revealed: (1) Darwinian evolution is the rule of order, (2) RNA World is one primary paradigm of Life’s Origins, (3) given current knowledge—life (and evolution itself) may be based upon information theory—and I will attempt expound upon the aforementioned points—

 

The above-points are a “synthesis” of 60-plus years of “Origins research”—from the Miller-Urey experiments of 1950s to “Neural Darwinism” and “Information Theory paradigms for Life” of the present generation—so

 

Meaning of Origins—A Biased View . . .

The gap between “chemistry” and “origins biology/chemistry” is far greater than most are able to imagine—chemical reactivity and its processes do not adequately approximate how inanimate matter (carbon-based molecules of life—CHNOPS) could have organized and re-produced in life’s fashion. And, as with most problems that appear intractable, solutions lie outside of the box. A recent solution by Walker, Davies, and others posit that life may be no more than an algorithmic process—in essence, life may be characterized in a “pseudo-top-down-bottom-up-algorithm.” Molecules and the processes of life take shape as bits of information, and “life” and “environment” with its “evolutionary complexity” interact in the following way—

The chemical and physical processes of life form an initial “scaffold” or “architecture” from which evolutionary processes take form. Information and its instructions (molecules and processes) communicate with each from-the-top-down, as well as, from-the-bottom-up possibly due to environmental forces. The origin of life may (?) be formulated when the scaffolding responds to outside forces “conservatively.” Thus, a utilization of standard thermodynamic laws, in effect, precludes the un-raveling of the scaffolding, and original scaffolding responds to outside forces through the “internal algorithm.” Evolutionary changes occur to accommodate the given architecture of life from outside forces (e.g. physical processes: temperature, climate, or over-population).

Thus, the original molecules of life—as important and fascinating they may appear—would have (for the time being) reacted in the same manner that molecules react today, but as most synthetic chemists may attest—the products of any reaction depend the initial and final physical conditions.

 

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REFERENCES

Fernando, Chrisantha, Eörs Szathmáry, and Phil Husbands. 2012. “Selectionist and Evolutionary Approaches to Brain Function: a Critical Appraisal.” Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience 6 (April) (January): 24. doi:10.3389/fncom.2012.00024.

Joyce, Gerald F. 2012. “Bit by Bit: The Darwinian Basis of Life.” PLoS Biology 10 (5) (January): e1001323. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001323.

Joyce, Gerald F. 2002. “The Antiquity of RNA-based Evolution.” Nature 418 (6894) (July 11): 214–21. doi:10.1038/418214a.

Walker, Sara Imari, Luis Cisneros, and Paul C W Davies. . “Evolutionary Transitions and Top-Down Causation.” arXiv 1207.4808v1 [nlin.AO] 19 Jul 2012

Sara Imari Walker and Paul C. W. Davies. 2012. “The algorithmic origins of life” J. R. Soc. Interface ( 6 February) vol. 10 no. 79 20120869: doi: 10.1098/​rsif.2012.0869

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