What'sNEW May-June 2011

23 June 2011
SPIE ...Astrobiology XIV will be held 23-25 August in San Diego. The conference continues the annual series on astrobiology established by NASA's Richard B. Hoover. This year he cochairs with Paul C. W. Davies and Gilbert V. Levin of Arizona State University, and Alexei Yu. Rozanov of the Russian Paleontological Institute. Chandra Wickramasinghe will also present papers and participate in a "Star Panel" open to the public. The conference is hosted by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.
Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology XIV, Conference 8152, San Diego, 23-25 August, 2011.

23 June 2011

Enceladus's plumes, Saturn in background Enceladus's plumes come from a salty ocean beneath its surface. Particles collected by the Cosmic Dust Analyser when the Cassini spacecraft flew through the plumes in 2008 and 2009 are now identified as salt-rich particles with an 'ocean-like' composition, indicating, "most, if not all, of the expelled ice comes from liquid saltwater. ...This finding is therefore a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favourable to the emergence of life may be sustainable on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets."
Cassini samples the icy spray of Enceladus' water plumes, European Space Agency, 22 Jun 2011.
...Life on Enceladus? by Richard A. Kerr, ScienceNow, 22 Jun 2011.
Richard A. Kerr, "Enceladus Now Looks Wet, So It May Be ALIVE!" [summary], doi:10.1126/science.332.6035.1259, p1259 v332, Science, 10 Jun 2011.
F. Postberg et al., "A salt-water reservoir as the source of a compositionally stratified plume on Enceladus" [html], doi:10.1038/nature10175, p620-622 v 474, Nature, 30 Jun 2011.
Evidence mounts for liquid water on Enceladus by Richard A. Lovett, doi:10.1038/news.2011.316, Nature News, 24 May 2011.
Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets? has links to related local and external articles.

19 June 2011

...Two powerful competitors frequently end up locked in a stable, mutually beneficial dance of tit-for-tat — they collude, in short, to carve up a captive market. This is Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch's paraphrase of an observation by economist John Forbes Nash about "duopolies" such as Kodak and Fuji. The writers think that duopolies always eventually collapse, if free-market forces are allowed to operate. But, they add, in politics the rule is less certain. Revenue flows unabated to Republicans and Democrats. This duopoly has lasted 150 years. Collapse will take longer.

We think "duopoly" could well describe Darwinism and Creationism/ID. Advocates of both sides are very comfortable with the gridlock that controls public opinion about evolution. Like political parties, mainstream science and established religions are largely exempt from free-market forces. And this duopoly has lasted about 150 years. Meanwhile:

The Wall Street Journal Natural selection alone could not have given rise to the evolution of life. These words from physician Frank Ryan are quoted in Carl Zimmer's review of Ryan's recent book — in the same issue of WSJ. Pure coincidence, but ironic.

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, "The Death of the Duopoly," p C1-C2, The Wall Street Journal, 18-19 Jun 2011.
Carl Zimmer, "The Visitor That Came to Stay," p C7, The Wall Street Journal, 18-19 Jun 2011.
Evolution versus Creationism is a related local webpage.
Endogenous retroviruses... introduces our review of Frank Ryan's Virolution, What'sNEW, 12 Apr 2011.

19 June 2011
Illustration from NASA/Caltech: Jets of water from a protostar A young star is seen spewing jets of water into space, according to astronomers at the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory. With an infrared detector to see through the dust around a protostar in Perseus, they observed the signatures of hot hydrogen and oxygen, swirling and expelled in jets. Tracing the paths of the gasses, they conclude that they eventually decelerate and cool in a shock front roughly 5,000 AU from the new star. There the H and O would reform as H2O. This analysis, if correct, would help to explain how comets are formed, and why water is not rare in space. Very interesting.
L. E. Kristensen et al., "Water in low-mass star-forming regions with Herschel (WISH-LM). High-velocity H2O bullets in L1448-MM observed with HIFI" [
link], doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201116975, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Jul 2011.
Star Found Shooting Water 'Bullets' by Andrew Fazekas, National Geographic News, 13 Jun 2011.
Comets: The Delivery System is a related local webpage.
Thanks Thanks, Jeff Krolick.

18 June 2011

Arabidopsis thaliana ...This moss also has 80% of the several hundred genes responsible for development in Arabidopsis [pictured], indicating that the tool kit for more complex plant architectures was already in place long before angiosperms evolved. So writes Elizabeth Pennisi in a review of recent work in plant genomics. Genetic programs that exist long before the features they encode are unexplained in darwinian theory, because there was no opportunity for trial-and-error to compose them. But genetic programs that precede the features they encode are a standard prediction of cosmic ancestry.

Elizabeth Pennisi, "Green Genomes" [summary], doi:10.1126/science.332.6036.1372, Science, 17 Jun 2011.
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? is our local webpage about genes older than the features they encode.
Genes Older Than Earth? is a possibly related local webpage.

15 June 2011
Genes acquired and lost The evolutionary transition from single-celled green algae to multicellular land plants required the acquisition of 3006 genes. 516 more genes accompanied the evolution of vascular from nonvascular plants, and 1350 more genes led eventually to angiosperms. (Other genes were lost along the way: see figure.) These conclusions come from a team of more than 100 scientists analyzing the Saleginella genome, in order to "identify gene origins and expansions coinciding with evolutionary innovations and losses in land plants." They suggest that the transitions "included the stepwise addition of components of some developmental pathways...."

Gene homologs were seen, but no plausible gene origins were even suggested in the report. Instead, nearly five thousand genes were acquired without any known provenance. Yes, they were likely acquired stepwise — one or a few genes at a time. But nothing indicates that the genes were composed, one or a few nucleotides at a time. The lack of plausible origins for the acquired genes in this account is not unusual. But genes without plausible origins leave big gaps in the mainstream paradigm. Why don't more people notice?

Jo Ann Banks et al., "The Selaginella Genome Identifies Genetic Changes Associated with the Evolution of Vascular Plants" [abstract], doi:10.1126/science.1203810, p960-963 v332, Science, 20 May 2011.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms is local webpage with lots about acquired genes — What'sNEW about HGT |

13 June 2011
Fragments of the Tagish Lake meteorite contain amino acids that are predominantly left-handed, as in life. In other meteorites, excesses of L-amino acids are correlated with "aqueous alteration" — having been wet. (And, to our knowledge, excesses of D-amino acids have not been observed in any meteorite.) Of course, life requires water. But for some reason, this US-Canadian research team does not consider the obvious suggestion, that life originally produced the observed enantiomeric excess, and subsequently it was mostly racemized, as happens on Earth. The analysis is otherwise broad, deep and worth review. Notably, Tagish Lake is likely the least-contaminated meteorite ever recovered.
Tagish Lake meteorite fragment
Christopher D. K. Herd et al., "Origin and Evolution of Prebiotic Organic Matter As Inferred from the Tagish Lake Meteorite" [
abstract], doi:10.1126/science.1203290, p1304-1307 v332, Science, 10 Jun 2011.
Asteroid Served Up 'Custom Orders' of Life's Ingredients by Bill Steigerwald, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, 9 Jun 2011.
Meteorite hints at life's origins by Tia Ghose, The Scientist, 9 Jun 2011.
Comets: The Delivery System has many links to more about this meteorite. Search for "Tagish".
Amino Acid Asymmetry in the Murchison Meteorite! is a related local webpage.
Thanks Thanks, Stan Franklin.

12 June 2011

Chris McKay ...If we find life with DNA that matches ours it will indicate that we have a shared origin. This could [mean] that life started there (say Mars) or here (Earth) and was then exchanged or it could mean that life came in to both places from somewhere else - maybe even outside our solar system. — NASA Astrobiologist Chris McKay
Live Chat: The Search for Alien Life Within Our Solar System hosted by Richard A. Kerr, ScienceNow, 7 Jun 2011.
Life on Mars! is a related local webpage.
Life on Europa, Other Moons, Other Planets? is a local webpage with related links.

6 June 2011

Nematode Tiny worms have been found as deep as 3.6 km below Earth's surface in South African mines. These nematodes are claimed to be the first multicellular organisms found in the deep subsurface. A report from the international, multidisciplinary research team studying them adds, "Our results expand the known metazoan biosphere and demonstrate that deep ecosystems are more complex than previously accepted. The discovery of multicellular life in the deep subsurface of the Earth also has important implications for the search for subsurface life on other planets in our Solar System." Where else might they survive?
G. Borgonie et al., "Nematoda from the terrestrial deep subsurface of South Africa" [
abstract], doi:10.1038/nature09974, p79-82 v474, Nature, 2 Jun 2011.
"Gold mine" [html], doi:10.1038/474006b, p6 v474, Nature, 2 Jun 2011.
Hungry Worms From Hell by Sara Reardon, ScienceNOW, 1 Jun 2011.
Onstott's discovery of worms in Earth's depths raises questions about life in space by Nick DiUlio, Princeton University, 11 Jul 2011.
Thanks Thanks for an additional link, Stan Franklin.

6 June 2011
David Warmflash
In a sense, we might be Martians, or at least descendents of Martian immigrants, according to David Warmflash (pictured), science leader of the upcoming Phobos Living Interplanetary Space Flight Experiment. It will fly with the Russian Federal Space Agency's "Grunt" probe after a launch window opens in December, 2011.
Living Interplanetary Spaceflight Experiment--or Why Were All the Strange Creatures on the Shuttle Endeavour? by David Warmflash, Scientific American, online 1 Jun 2011.
Thanks Thanks, Larry Klaes.

27 May 2011
C4 (grass) and CAM (cactus) photosynthesis
Although C4 and CAM photosynthesis are considered major evolutionary innovations, few, if any, of their essential components are completely new, say botanists from Central America and the UK (West-Eberhard et al.) They elaborate, Shared biochemical properties suggest that C4 and CAM photosynthesis may have arisen through the reorganization of metabolic processes already present in C3 plants. Another team from the University of Cambridge (Brown et al.) finds corroboration. More evidence that genetic programs are pre-existing.

Mary Jane West-Eberhard et al., "Photosynthesis, Reorganized" [summary], doi:10.1126/science.1205336, p311-312 v332, Science, 15 Apr 2011.
Naomi J. Brown et al., "Independent and Parallel Recruitment of Preexisting Mechanisms Underlying C4 Photosynthesis" [abstract], doi:10.1126/science.1201248, p1436-1439 v331, Science, 18 Mar 2011.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms is related local webpage with links to articles about pre-existing photosynthesis genes acquired by gene transfer. Search for "photosynthesis." — What'sNEW about HGT |
Simon Conway Morris says that C4 photosynthesis arose many times by convergent evolution. We'll alert him to these new articles and request comments. We reviewed his book, Life's Solution, 16 Mar 2005.

26 May 2011

The common ancestor of life on Earth had more functional protein domains than the first cells! This conclusion comes from a biologist at The University of Illinois, Urbana, and one at The Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology. Analyzing protein folds that are conserved among 420 sequenced species, the two scientists want to characterize the precellular "urancestor" of Earthly life that arose from the RNA World. They conclude that the loss of protein domains in that world gave rise to the very first, Archaeal cells. But a precellular urancestor with functional complexity similar to that of extant life is entirely out of order in the darwinian scheme.

In cosmic ancestry, precellular life is unnecessary, and the genetic programs behind the functional complexity of extant life are older than Earth. The early complexity noticed by these researchers leads to no difficulties in our theory. It's a confirmation. Distribution of molecular functions in the FSF352 set...

Kyung Mo Kim and Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, "The proteomic complexity and rise of the primordial ancestor of diversified life" [abstract], doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-140, v11 n140, BMC Evolutionary Biology, online 25 May 2011.
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? has more about genetic programs that exist before their deployment.
Genes Older Than Earth? is a related local webpage.
The RNA World is a related local webpage.

24 May 2011
"...Genetically, we're one-hundredth human," says biologist Jocelyne DiRuggiero of Johns Hopkins University, speaking at a seminar for Harvard's Origins of Life Initiative. She is emphasizing the fact that, in and on a human body, symbiotic bacterial cells outnumber somatic cells by about ten to one (and their genomes are various.) Furthermore, for most of life's history on Earth, bacteria and single-celled eukaryotes were the only forms of life here. Life elsewhere might well follow a similar history.

Recently DiRuggiero led a team studying microbial communities that thrive in a very dry part of the Atacama Desert. Now she recommends searching for similar communities in similar extreme environments elsewhere in the solar system.

Earthly extremes hint to life elsewhere by Alvin Powell, Harvard Gazette, 20 May 2011.
Bacteria: The Space Colonists is a related local webpage
Thanks Thanks for alerting us, Stan Franklin.

18 May 2011
"Our phylogenies show that the Nav ion channel family originated not only before the advent of the nervous system, but probably even before the advent of multicellularity." Nav (voltage dependent sodium) ion channels are essential components of the nervous systems that distinguish metazoans from simpler forms of life. Evidence that the genes for them predate nervous systems altogether is hard to explain with standard theory.

The biologists at The University of Texas and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole who make this observation suppose that the placozoa with these genes may "have lost their nervous system or, much less likely, that the nervous system evolved twice...." They also suggest, "complex systems... can evolve by coopting existing genes for new functions."

We acknowledge the diligent work by this research team. But we note that, logically, nothing in the study indicates that the sodium channel genes originated, but only that they were probably dervied from homologous calcium channel genes that already existed, before multicellularity evolved on Earth. And of course the placozoans may have lost their nervous systems, but why would they, in the darwinian scheme? Finally, it seems overly facile to suggest that the programs for nervous systems might be found, fortunately, in programs that have a different function.

Genetic programs that exist before their deployment are being found with increasing frequency. They are the rule in cosmic ancestry. We wish this straightforward possibility were not ignored.

"This study adds to the growing evidence that much of the genetic repertoire for animal development, cell signaling, and even the nervous system was already present in the common ancestor of choanoflagellates and animals."
Benjamin J. Liebeskind, David M. Hillis and Harold H. Zakon, "Evolution of sodium channels predates the origin of nervous systems in animals" [
abstract], doi:10.1073/pnas.110636310, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, online 16 May 2011
Sodium channels evolved before animals' nervous systems..., EurekAlert, 17 May 2011.
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? is a related local webpage with more about genetic programs that exist before their deployment. (Search for "nervous system".)
18 May 2011: A Reply from coauthor Harold Zakan prompts us to amend our wording to that above.

18 May 2011

Tardigrade Project BIOKIS will study the effects of short-duration spaceflight on various microscopic organisms. One experiment will expose tardigrades to different levels of ionising radiation. Only 200 to 800 micrometers long, tardigrades are already known to survive complete dessication for years, at any life stage. When desssicated they are unharmed by extremes of temperature and pressure. Combined with radiation-resistance, these capabilities might enable tardigrades to survive lengthy space travel, we note. (And this one looks like she's wearing a spacesuit!) The BIOKIS experiments, sponsored by the Italian Space Agency, are flying aboard NASA's Endeavor space shuttle, launched 16 May.

Tardigrades: Water bears in space, BBC, 17 May 2011.
BIOKon In Space (BIOKIS), fact sheet from NASA.
Did Life On Mars Seed Life On Earth? Endeavour Mission To Help Analyze Possibility by Dean Praetorius, The Huffington Post, 19 May 2011.
Thanks Thanks for alerting us, Stan Franklin.
25 May 2021: impacts. 11 Mar 2002: in space?

13 May 2011
A Planet of Viruses
Many scientists now argue that viruses contain a genetic archive that's been circulating the planet for billions of years. When they try to trace the common ancestry of virus genes, they often work their way back to a time before the common ancestor of all cell-based life, says science writer Carl Zimmer in a new book. Darwinism has no ready explanation for these observations. They are standard predictions of cosmic ancestry.

Carl Zimmer, (p 93) A Planet of Viruses, ISBN:9780226983356, University of Chicago Press, May 2011.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms is the main related local webpage — What'sNEW about HGT |
Metazoan Genes Older Than Metazoa? has many more examples of genes older than darwinism can explain.
Genes Older Than Earth? reviews a study of many genes possibly older than life on Earth.

6 May 2011

Surface fractures on Mars
The large crater, bottom right, is about 12 km in diameter.
Methane on Mars may come from life in surface fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. The system of fractures, some as much as 500 meters deep, named Nili Fossae, "interests planetary scientists because observations taken with telescopes on the Earth and published in 2009 have shown that there is a significant enhancement in Mars' atmospheric methane over this area, suggesting that methane may be being produced there. Its origin remains mysterious, however, and could be geological or perhaps even biological."
Mars Express sees deep fractures on Mars, European Space Agency, 6 May 2011.
...Life on Mars! is a related local webpage, with links to more about methane there.

The Tyranny of Science 3 May 2011

The progress of science... depends on the openness of world views which conflicts with the totalitarian pronouncements of many [scientists] — Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994)

Paul Feyerabend, (p 43) The Tyranny of Science, ISBN:9780745651903, Polity, Apr 2011.

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