COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved

What'sNEW Archives, April - May 1999

Stardust May 29: Stardust is experiencing electrical problems. Among them, the Solid State Power Amplifier (SSPA) started to show signs of trapped charges again where it exhibits variations in gain and temperature. Concern exists that over the 7 year mission lifetime this behavior could reduce the reliability of the SSPA. The project is therefore considering powering off the SSPA during non-contact time periods, allowing the trapped charges to dissipate as was successfully done previously. The Dust Flux Monitor Instrument (DFMI) and the Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyzer (CIDA) continue to be pointed into the interstellar dust stream as problems affecting them are analyzed. Stardust is .4 AU from Earth.

Stardust Status Report, by Ron Baalke, 28 May 1999.
Comets: The Delivery System is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
Can the Theory Be Tested? has a section about Comet Rendezvous.

D'Arcy Thompson
May 28:
Dr. Baruch Blumberg challenges the scientific community "to look for life without any specifications," possibly "strange and unusual life forms that we can't even imagine right now." At a press conference on May 18th the new head of NASA's Astrobiology Institute cited the 1917 book, On Growth and Form, by D'Arcy Thompson, who altered mathematical functions in order to visualize how species changed shape over time. Blumberg's new approach using advanced computers would extend Thompson's work on larger forms down to the level of microbes. "By using a D'Arcy machine to begin a morphometric study of microbial life on Earth, someday remote and automated instruments may be able to identify life elsewhere in the universe - whatever form that life may take."

Who Wrote The Book of Life?, by Leslie Mullen, Space Science News from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, 28 May 1999. (A well illustrated story with many links.)
What Is Life? is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Map of Mars
May 28:
The first global three-dimensional map of Mars, made with data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, shows a huge smooth basin in the northern hemisphere that slopes down to about six miles below the average elevation of Mars. Dr. Maria T. Zuber, a professor of planetary sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and researcher on the project, said this feature "is consistent with the formation of a past ocean." The map also indicates that there was more water ice than previously believed at the south pole. The deposits of water at the two poles could equal about 1.5 times the water frozen in the glaciers of Greenland, Zuber estimates.

First Global 3-d View of Mars Reveals Deep Basin, Pathways for Water Flow, NASA newsrelease 99-042 from JPL, May 27, 1999.
Pictures by Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, 27 May 1999.
Ocean May Have Lapped Mars, by Kenneth Chang,, 28 May 1999.
Smith, David E. et al. (18 others), "The Global Topography of Mars and Implications for Surface Evolution" [Abstract], p 1495-1503 v 284 Science, 28 May 1999.
Leary, Warren E., "Spacecraft's Data Yield First Detailed Map of Mars" [Text], The New York Times, 28 May 1999.
Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

May 27:
Search for life on Mars will start in Siberia. "The object is to investigate microorganisms in permafrost - permanently frozen soil - and to establish morphological characteristics and chemical biomarkers by which these microbes can be recognized." The project is a joint effort by led by Moscow State University's Professor Elena Vorobyova and NASA's Dr. Richard Hoover.

Search for life on Mars will start in Siberia, by Dave Dooling, Space Science News from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, May 27, 1999.
Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Cholera bacteria May 27: Cholera-causing bacteria acquire their toxicity from viruses. The toxin in Vibrio cholerae bacteria is encoded by the genome of a virus contained within its own genome — this much was already known. Now we learn that the bacterial pilus by which that virus enters the bacterium is encoded by the genes of yet another virus. And a subunit of the pilus is also a coat protein of the latter virus. Finally, the newfound virus is readily transferred between strains of the bacteria. Also,
Lateral gene transfer may have occurred between thermophilic Eubacteria and Archaea. This is the conclusion of a team studying the genome of another bacterial species, Thermotoga maritima MSB8. Conservation of gene order between it and Archaea suggests that the genes were transferred in clusters. The two stories reinforce the importance of viruses and lateral gene transfer in evolution.

Karaolis, David K. R.; Sita Somara; David R. Maneval Jr; Judith A. Johnson and James B. Kaper, "A bacteriophage encoding a pathogenicity island, a type-IV pilus and a phage receptor in cholera bacteria" [Abstract] p 375-379, v 399 Nature.
Taylor Ronald K., "Virus on virus infects bacterium" [Text] p 312-313, v 399 Nature, 27 May 1999.
Nelson, Karen E. et al. (28 others), "Evidence for lateral gene transfer between Archaea and Bacteria from genome sequence of Thermotoga maritima" [Abstract] p 323-329, v 399 Nature, 27 May 1999.
Maryland Scientists Find Bacteria Victims Of "Virus Conspiracy", the University of Maryland, Baltimore, 2:00 PM EDT, 26 May 1999.
Viruses... and the two pages following it are related Cosmic Ancestry webpages. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

Storm on Mars May 19: A giant cyclone on Mars confirms water there. "The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope captured images of the huge but fleeting Martian storm on April 27....The fact that it was composed of water ice, rather than the dust that typically makes up storms on Mars, was further evidence of a Martian water supply." An earlier Viking photo had shown waterfrost or snow on the ground after it condensed or fell, but here we see a Mars ice storm in action.

Hubble Views Collossal Polar Cyclone on Mars, PRC99-22, Space Telescope Science Institute, 19 May 1999.
Stormy Weather on Mars, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, 19 May 1999.
Big Winds Blow on Mars, ABCNews, 19 May 1999.
Astronomers Find Big but Short-Lived Martian Storm, spaceViews, 21 May 1999.
Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

Blumberg May 18: Nobel prize winner to lead NASA Astrobiology Institute. NASA selected Dr. Baruch Blumberg, distinguished professor, researcher, biochemist and winner of the 1976 Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine, as Director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute (NAI), effective today.
Nobel prize winner to lead NASA Astrobiology Institute, Release: 99-33AR by David Morse, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, 18 May 1999.
Hunting For Space Life: Nobel Prize Winner Is Up to the Challenge, ABCNews, 19 May 1999.
Leary, Warren E. "Search for Life Beyond Earth Gets a Leader" [Text] The New York Times, 19 May 1999.
Sawyer, Kathy, "Out of the Lab, And This World: Hands-On Nobel Laureate to Lead NASA Agency Studying Life's Origins" [Text] p A17 Washington Post, 18 Aug 1999.

May 17: NASA administrator Daniel S. Goldin will deliver major policy address on Astrobiology, the study of life in the Universe, during a news conference on Tuesday, May 18, 1999. The conference will begin at 11:00 a.m. PDT, and will be televised live on NASA TV.
Text of NASA administrator Goldin's address, 18 May 1999.
NASA administrator to deliver major address on Astrobiology, Release: 99-31AR by Michael Mewhinney, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, 17 May 1999.
NASA Ames to welcome new Astrobiology Institute Director, Release: 99-29AR, by Michael Mewhinney, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, 13 May 1999.

Planetary Dreams May 18: Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth — Biochemist and author Robert Shapiro looks at the history of and the future prospects for finding extraterrestrial life. While he is sceptical about all existing theories of life's origin from nonliving chemicals, he does not doubt that life did so originate. He favors "Cosmic Evolution," and a "Life Principle" whose details remain to be discovered, whereby life may have originated from nonlife independently on any of two dozen nearby moons and planets. Therefore, Shapiro argues, we should continue to search for primitive life in this solar system, without preconceptions as to its form. We may not accept all of his views, but we were always edified and entertained by his historical accounts of episodes like the Viking missions to Mars. He knows the story and he tells it well.

Shapiro, Robert. Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1999.
NYU Chemist Supports New Theory For Origin Of Life, ScienceDaily, 13 May 1999.
The RNA World is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
An exchange with Robert Shapiro is a related "Reply" to Cosmic Ancestry.

Lamarck's Signature May 12: Lamarck's Signature: How Retrogenes Are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm — This book explains in detail how reordered antibody genes that are created by retrotranscription might be delivered to germ cells via B lymphocytes. It is well known that immunity to viral diseases can be inherited, and Steele et al. tell how it could happen. If we consider a disease an environmental factor, then inherited immunity is a proven example of Lamarckian evolution. The authors point out that the same mechanism could also deliver other genes from somatic to germ cells. From there they wonder if the whole theory of Lamarckian evolution needs to be reconsidered. That question aside, we welcome this elaboration on a way for new genes to enter the germ line. In correspondence, Steele writes, "Our explanation also provides a way for new polymorphic alleles to be generated in a population (each one has undergone Darwinian testing in a somatic cell prior to its integration in the germline - if the somatic mutant is 'inappropriate' the somatic cell dies)." This intriguing mechanism would be a credible way for alleles to become gradually optimised for each species.

Steele, Edward J.; Robyn A. Lindley and Robert V. Blanden. Lamarck's Signature: How Retrogenes Are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm, Perseus Books, 1998.
Correspondence with Ted Steele is in "Replies to Cosmic Ancestry", 16 Apr 1999.
Viruses... is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

Mars by NASA April 29: Pictures of magnetic field reversals on Mars show that tectonic plates there have moved. On Earth, the movement of tectonic plates is facilitated by our oceans. So the new pictures, from Mars Global Surveyor, imply that Mars once had oceans, indirectly strengthening the case for past life on Mars. Steve Maran, assistant director of space sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said the news was "mind-blowing." Moreover, James Lovelock believes plate tectonics depend on life. If so, the pictures would be direct evidence for past life on Mars. Incidentally, the discovery was possible only because the spacecraft, experiencing a problem with its main antenna, was in a lower orbit than originally intended.

Acuña, M. H.; J. E. P. Connerney; N. F. Ness; R. P. Lin; D. Mitchell; C. W. Carlson; J. McFadden; K. A. Anderson; H. Rme; C. Mazelle; D. Vignes; P. Wasilewski; and P. Cloutier, "Global Distribution of Crustal Magnetization Discovered by the Mars Global Surveyor MAG/ER Experiment" [Abstract], p 790-793 ...and
Connerney, J. E. P.; M. H. Acuña; P. J. Wasilewski; N. F. Ness; H. Rme; C. Mazelle; D. Vignes; R. P. Lin; D. L. Mitchell; and P. A. Cloutier, "Magnetic Lineations in the Ancient Crust of Mars" [Abstract], p 794-798 ...and
Kerr, Richard A. "Signs of Plate Tectonics on an Infant Mars" [Summary], p 719-722 v 284 n 5415 Science, 30 April 1999.
Wiliford, John Noble, "Evidence Indicates Geology of Ancient Mars Resembled That of Earth" [Text], The New York Times, 30 April 1999.
Plate Tectonics on Mars?, Space Science News, Marshall Space Flight Center, 29 April, 1999.
NASA Newsrelease 99-56: Magnetic Stripes Preserve Record of Ancient Mars, 29 April, 1999.
Mars' Magnetic 'Zebra Stripes' May Suggest Life, by Deborah Zabarenko, Yahoo!, April 29 2:09 PM ET.
Magnetic lines mean Mars may have once been more like Earth, by Robert Roy Britt, 04/29/99.
Mars once had geology similar to Earth, study suggests, By Paul Recer, Nando Media, 29 April, 1999 3:39 PM.
Plate Tectonics May Have Once Operated On Mars..., eurekalert, 29 April, 1999 14:00 ET US.
...Barren planet once hummed with magnetism, leaving "tattoos,"..., The University of Deleware, 29 April 1999.
Evidence for Plate Tectonics on Early Mars, spaceViews, 1 May 1999.
Gaia is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
Life on Mars! is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

April 28: Cosmic Ancestry satisfies Popper's criterion for science, because it is based on principles that could be overturned by simple experiments.
Postscript: Pasteur and Popper on the webpage "Can the Theory Be Tested?" contains the story.

April 27: SOLIS, The Interstellar Panspermia Society, is online. Its objective is "To propagate our family of organic Life throughout the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond. We propose to seed young planetary systems in star-forming interstellar clouds. We shall design and launch directed panspermia missions carrying the microbial representatives of Life by the year 2050." (SOLIS stands for the Society for Life in Space.) The Society's officers are Michael N. Mautner of Lincoln University in Lincoln, New Zealand — Coordinator; Gregory L. Matloff of New York University — Interstellar Propulsion Chairperson; and Julian Hiscox of the Compton Laboratory in Berkshire, UK — Microbiology Chairperson. Membership in the Society is free.

SOLIS, The Interstellar Panspermia Society — Parts of the site are under construction.
How Is It Possible? is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.
A reply from Michael Mautner, 4 May 1999.

April 24: Cytosine is unlikely to have been available for the origin of life. Biochemist Robert Shapiro of New York University observes that it is not produced by Miller-Urey type processes and it is not found in meteorites. "No reactions have been described thus far that would produce cytosine, even in a specialized local setting, at a rate sufficient to compensate for its decomposition." Cytosine is the base, or distinguishing part, of one of the four RNA nucleotides, and of one of the four DNA nucleotides essential for life. This lack adds to the list of problems for the RNA World and its variants.

Shapiro, Robert, "Prebiotic cytosine synthesis: A critical analysis and implications for the origin of life," p 4396-4401 v 96 n 8 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 13 April 1999. Abstract.
The RNA World is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

SPIE April 17: A conference, "Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology II" will be held in Denver, Tuesday-Thursday 20-22 July 1999. Topics include "Microfossils in Ancient Rocks and Meteorites, Organic and Inorganic Biomorphs as Biomarkers, Nanobacteria and Nanofossils, Permafrost and Astrobiology, Deep Ice and Astrobiology, Extremophiles as Models for Estraterrestrial Life, and Viability and Transport of Micro-Organisms in the Space Environment." The conference, part of the 1999 SPIE Annual Meeting, will be chaired by Richard Hoover of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology II — the conference announcement.
1999 SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering — links to meeing registration, etc.
Fossilized Lifeforms in the Murchison Meteorite is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage about results announced at the 1997 conference.

e-cell April 12: A computer model of a cell requires a minimum of 127 genes. A group led by biologist and computer scientist Masaru Tomita at Keio University in Fujisawa, Japan, has built a computer model of a cell. The "bare-bones" model, called "E-CELL," requires 127 genes, the minimum needed to model a cell, they find. The model is scheduled to become available for public "beta" testing in June. is the website of Tomita's team.
Normile, Dennis, "Building Working Cells 'in Silico'," p 80-81 v 284 Science, 2 April 1999. Summary.
What Is Life? is a related Cosmic Ancestry webpage.

April 1: A virus can "act as a shuttle vector moving gene sequences between bacteria and their animal hosts," says an article in Nature. The phenomenon is demonstrated by an RNA phage originally named "bellophage," that colonizes a bacterium, Salmonella enteriditis, that infects chicken. The phage also infects the chickens directly, "and vacillates between extreme virulence and aggressive symbiosis," so it must actually be called "bellovirus." It can transduct genes from the bacteria to the mitochondrial genomes of the chickens. "This is the first example of viral genome insertion into mtDNA as a kind of retrotransposon and it may explain why bellovirus can cross host kingdoms. An "analysis of mitochondrial 'Eve'... indicates that bellovirus-like transposition has occured among apes as well as chickens."

Meanwhile, another study, at UCLA, finds that "operational genes have been transferred continuously since the divergence of prokaryotes." And a third study, of bacterial evolution over 10,000 generations, observes that "the genome is highly dynamic," and yet, "beneficial mutations... are rare and difficult to find." The case for horizontal gene transfer as the driver of evolutionary progress continues to grow.

Siew, R. S. "Microbiology: Millennium bug," doi:10.1038/18781, p 376 v 398 Nature, 1 April 1999. Text.
Jain, Ravi; Maria C. Rivera and James A. Lake, "Horizontal gene transfer among genomes: The complexity hypothesis" p 3801-3806 v 96, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 30 March 1999. Abstract.
Papadopoulos, Dimitri; Dominique Schneider; Jessica Meier-Eiss; Werner Arber; Richard E. Lenski and Michel Blot, "Genomic evolution during a 10,000-generation experiment with bacteria," p 3807-3812 v 96, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 30 March 1999. Abstract.
Viruses... and the next two pages are related Cosmic Ancestry webpages. [Next-What'sNEW about HGT-Prev]

COSMIC ANCESTRY | Quick Guide | What'sNEW - Later - Earlier - Index | by Brig Klyce | All Rights Reserved