Microbes | Mind Discoveries


Microbes | Mind Discoveries

December 2015
To study the origin of life, synthetic biologists construct simple ‘protocells’, but previous models were not able to reproduce both genome and membrane sustainably. A recent advance feeds the protocells by vesicle fusion, suggesting a practical pathway for indefinite self-reproduction.

Meteorites and the Origin of Life. In Earth’s beginning, meteorites striking the planet to provide light may have carried an extraterrestrial mineral that, as it corroded in water, could have provided the essential chemical spark for the birth of biological life.

The Search for Microbes on Mars could change our view of the origin of life.

November 2015

Protocell models in the origin of life and synthetic biology

February 4, 2013
Research by A team led by biophysicist Jérémie Palacci and physicist Paul Chaikin of New York University suggests that living crystals may reveal the origin of life. They study how complicated collective behaviors arise from simple individual properties, perhaps informing molecular self-assembly projects. Chaikin notes that life is difficult to define, but can be said to possess metabolism, mobility, and the ability to self-replicate. His crystals have the first two, but not the last. See “Living Crystals of Light-Activated Colloidal Surfers.” By Jeremie Palacci, Stefano Sacanna, Asher Preska Steinberg, David J. Pine, Paul M. Chaikin. Science, Vol. 339 No. 6119, 1 February 2013.

January 15, 2013 (see also Dec 20 entry)
Nick Lane’s origin of life paper is notable for the primacy that it puts upon membrane bioenergetics as the base upon which life coalesced. The primitive membrane forms were initially devoid of the protein machinery found in modern organisms. His study linksthe origin of life and the future of computers. One thing that makes life the envy of all things hardware is the ability to replicate itself. Imagine the power of a supercomputer that could replicate processors in-situ as demand arises, and then could absorb them just as fast (or faster) when they began to accumulate errors or became superfluous. Along these lines, a recent theoretical paper seeks to define how efficiently an E. coli bacterium can produce a copy of itself.

January 13, 2013
Mike Russell, leader on the experiment and a senior geologist with the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Icy Worlds team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is mimicking the conditions observed at hydrothermal vents in the deepest parts of the ocean. Glass tubes, thin barrels, and valves are sending carbon dioxide-rich ocean water and alkaline fluid through a sample of rock that simulates ancient volcanic ocean crust. The experiment runs at 100 times the pressure on the Earth’s surface and at around 90 degrees Celsius (200 degrees Fahrenheit) A detector system detects the compounds coming out of the set-up, keeping watch for organic compounds such as ethane and methane.

January 1, 2013
Mathematician Mike Steel studies requirements of a chemical reaction network for the origin of life.

December 30, 2012
Matthew Powner, at University College London, and his colleagues’ recent work suggests that DNA might have preceded RNA, and he has conducted experiments to create DNA nucleotides through methods similar to those he used to make RNA nucleotides in 2009. In 2009 Powner synthesised two of the four nucleotides that make up RNA using chemicals that they believe existed on the early Earth. Their achievement suggested that RNA may have formed spontaneously – powerful support for the idea that life began in an “RNA world.”
Matthew W. Powner, Shao-Liang Zheng, and Jack W. Szostak.Multicomponent Assembly of Proposed DNA Precursors in Water. J. Am. Chem. Soc.,2012,134 (33), pp 13889-13895 Publication Date (Web): July 27, 2012 (Article) DOI:10.1021/ja306176n See also their 2010 video and June 2012 publication:
Ting F. Zhu, Katarzyna Adamala, Na Zhang, and Jack W. Szostak Photochemically driven redox chemistry induces protocell membrane pearling and division. PNAS 2012 109 (25) 9828-9832; published ahead of print June 4, 2012,doi:10.1073/pnas.1203212109

December 20, 2012
Study of the chemistry of deep-sea alkaline hydrothermal vents by Nick Lane (University College London, Genetics, Evolution and Environment) and Bill Martin (University of Dusseldorf) addresses the question of where the energy for the origin of life came from – and why all life as we know it conserves energy in the peculiar form of ion gradients across membranes. They calculate that natural proton gradients, acting across thin semi-conducting iron-sulphur mineral walls, could have driven the assimilation of organic carbon, giving rise to protocells within the microporous labyrinth of these vents.

Lane and Martin Lane and Martin argue that hydrogen-saturated alkaline water meeting acidic oceanic water at underwater vents would produce a natural proton gradient across thin mineral ‘walls’ in rocks that are rich in catalytic iron–sulphur minerals could create the right conditions for converting carbon dioxide and hydrogen into organic carbon-containing molecules, which can then react with each other to form the building blocks of life such as nucleotides and amino acids. In Lane, N. & Martin, W. F. Cell 151, 1406–1416 (2012). Nick Lane publications. Nature paper.

December 12, 2012
Microbes Mind Forum advisers Paul Davies and Chris McKay argue that the origin of life needs a reconception as a problem. 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 a paper by Sara Walker, a NASA post-doctoral fellow at the Beyond Center and Davies in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

July 19, 2012
Technology Review on Crystals and the Origin of Life.

July 4, 2012
The Higgs-like boson particle announcement drew broad attention, though final confirmation may take several years.

June 18, 2012
The top Harry Lonsdale Award for his Origin of Life Challenge went to a team of British academics, John Sutherland and Matthew Powner. Sutherland’s RNA work was showcased in a series by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times, featured in a PBS-Nova program. Sutherland has also received an award for origin of life research from the Royal Society, headed by Paul Nurse, formerly president of Rockefeller University and host of the May 2008 symposium:  “From RNA to Humans” featuring two of Lonsdale’s peer reviewers. NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine discusses the 76 proposals. NASA Astrophysicist Chris McKay, one of the jurors for the award, noted that “the scientific study of the origin of life is still early enough that there’s not even a consensus on how to approach the problem.” Private funding could promote research experiments that “don’t fit the mold so readily” and consider research “off the beaten track” so that “private funding could bring innovation that may be harder to find in public funding.” The NASA Astrobiology Institute reports on the outcome. See also a summary of other awards.

June 1, 2012
The Pentagon, through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) wants to fast track genetic engineering and awarded $17.8 million to seven research institutions in May to develop basic genetic building blocks and other easy-to-deploy biological tools to make it easier for scientists to create new medicines and materials in the so-called Living Foundries Program.

May 7, 2012
MIT Technology Review: The Single Theory That Could Explain Emergence, Organisation and the Origin of Life. Biochemists have long imagined that autocatalytic sets can explain the origin of life. Now a new mathematical approach to these sets has even broader implications. Biophysicist Stuart Kauffman analyzes the mathematical properties of autocatalytic sets and concludes that they could have remarkable consequences for our understanding of complexity, evolution and the phenomenon of emergence.

April 22, 2012
The Sutter’s Mill Meteorite landed at 7:51 a.m. PDT on Sunday, April 22, 2012, in a horse pasture located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside of Lotus, California, the same region where the first  gold nugget was found that sparked the Gold Rush in 1848. Scientists hope these meteorites may hold answers to unsolved mysteries about our solar system and the origins of molecules necessary for life. NASA Ames scientists, led by Peter Jenniskens, went to the mountains to assist in the search on Thursday, May 3 and Friday, May 4, 2012. Meteorites were discovered along the fireball’s path. NASA and SETI used a zeppelin airship to search the area.

April 2012
XNA: The Next Evolution in the DNA Science Revolution

March 13, 2012
A coalition of 111 environmental and civil society groups, including Friends of the Earth, the International Center for Technology Assessment and the ETC Group issued the statement The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology, calling for a worldwide moratorium on the release and commercial use of synthetic organisms until more robust regulations and rigorous biosafety measures are established. The groups specifically call for an outright ban on the use of synthetic biology on the human genome. The full statement is online.

February 13, 2012

Brian Switek in Nature: Debate bubbles over the origin of life. Could life have originated in geothermal ponds? Colin Baris in New Scientist summarizes recent discoveries: “Russian hot springs point to rocky origins for life.” Questions raised about Darwin’s origin of life concept that life originated in some warm little pond suggests that Darwin may have been right Protocells called thermal springs home. Armen Mulkidjanian from the University of Osnabrück, Germany, and colleagues, argue that modern cells are biological records of their primordial predecessors, which raises questions about the hydrothermal vents theory of the origin life.

A Y Mulkidjanian et al. 2012 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1117774109

January 10, 2012
Albert Eschenmoser and colleagues at ETH Zurich, Switzerland originally proposed that a TNA world preceded the RNA world. New findings may confirm this hypothesis. John Chaput and colleagues at Arizona State University in Tempe, explain that TNA is, in some senses, chemically simpler than RNA and, although it is considered a potentially natural derivative of that molecule, there are hints that it may have been the primordial precursor.
A Eschenmoser, Science. 1999.  284, 2118 ( DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5423.2118)
H Yu, S Zhang and J C Chaput, 2012. Darwinian evolution of an alternative genetic system provides support for TNA as an RNA progenitor. Nat. Chem., Published online: 10 January 2012, DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1241

January 6, 2012
Genetic analyses of a micro-organism that lives in the sludge of a lake in Ås, 30 km south of Oslo in Norway, are providing researchers with insights into what the first life on Earth looked like. Researchers at the University of Oslo, Norway, have discovered in a lake near Oslo a new type of protozoan organism. The researchers published their genome analysis in the Journal of Molecular Biology Evolution. The protozoans, called Collodictyon, were grown in the lab. Analysis of the genome determined that it doesn’t genetically fit into previously discovered kingdoms of life. This single-celled eukaryote has membrane-bound internal structures, but genetically isn’t an animal, plant, fungi, algae or protist (the five previously known main groups of eukayotes). If it is the closest to organism to the root of the tree of life, this discovery will have large implications.

Sen Zhao, Fabien Burki, Jon Bråte, Patrick J. Keeling, Dag Klaveness, and Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi. Collodictyon—An Ancient Lineage in the Tree of Eukaryotes. Mol Biol Evol (2012) 29(6): 1557-1568 first published online January 6, 2012 doi:10.1093/molbev/mss001

With the 2012 publication, an earlier 2008 article has been highly cited:
Fabien Burki, Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, and Jan Pawlowski.Phylogenomics reveals a new ‘megagroup’ including most photosynthetic eukaryotes. Biol. Lett. August 23, 2008 4 4 366-369; doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0224 1744-957X

Abstract from the 2008 article: Advances in molecular phylogeny of eukaryotes have suggested a tree composed of a small number of supergroups. Phylogenomics recently established the relationships between some of these large assemblages, yet the deepest nodes are still unresolved. Here, we investigate early evolution among the major eukaryotic supergroups using the broadest multigene dataset to date (65 species, 135 genes). Our analyses provide strong support for the clustering of plants, chromalveolates, rhizarians, haptophytes and cryptomonads, thus linking nearly all photosynthetic lineages and raising the question of a possible unique origin of plastids. At its deepest level, the tree of eukaryotes now receives strong support for two monophyletic megagroups comprising most of the eukaryotic diversity.

December 5, 2011
NASA Kepler Mission scientists Confirm Finding the First Planet in Habitable Zone Outside Our Solar System. The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22bhas a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets. Further report on discovery of the First Habitable-Zone Super-Earth Discovered in Orbit Around a Sun-Like Star.

November 3, 2011
A model for the single chirality of life proposes that boiling solutions in prebiotic hot springs could shed light on the emergence of a single chiral form of biomolecules in nature. Why amino acids and sugars exist in living organisms exclusively in one of their two molecular chiral forms, which are mirror images of one another, has long been a puzzle for scientists. This new model proves the role of a temperature gradient in chirality and rules out alternative effects (e.g. crystal grinding). He intends to extend his studies to chiral organic molecules and expects that application to pharmaceutical processing is not far off.

C Viedma and P Cintas 2011. Chem. Commun. DOI: 10.1039/c1cc14857e

October 19, 2011
Dr. Carey Lisse, Senior Research Scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, believes we have direct evidence for an ongoing Late Heavy Bombardment in the nearby star system Eta Corvi, occurring about the same time as in our solar system. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted a band of dust around a nearby bright star in the northern sky called Eta Corvi that strongly matches the contents of an obliterated giant comet. This dust is located close enough to Eta Corvi that Earth-like worlds could exist, suggesting a collision took place between a planet and one or more comets. The Eta Corvi system is approximately one billion years old, which researchers think is about the right age for such a hailstorm. The Earth-like planet is about 430 light years away or 2.5 trillion miles from Earth. It’s inside a huge dust belt, bigger than our asteroid belt, with enough dusty material to build a planet.

October 4, 2011
The article “Pumice as a Remarkable Substrate for the Origin of Life” in Astrobiology, the official journal of The Astrobiology Societyproposes a new hypothesis for the origin of life (available free onlinefor one week following publication). Martin Brasier, Richard Matthewman, and Sean McMahon, University of Oxford (U.K.), and David Wacey, University of Western Australia (Crawley), contend that pumice has “four remarkable properties” that would enable it to have had “a significant role in the origin of life and provided an important habitat for the earliest communities of microorganisms.” The authors call for laboratory research to test the ability of pumice rock to adsorb organic compounds from water and create catalysts and new compounds by simulating the thermal cycles, UV light, and other conditions that existed when the first organic polymers and microbes co-existed.

September 23, 2011
The German National Academy of Sciences opens with the theme, ‘What is life?’ Leopoldina’s Annual Assembly will discuss the question of life and bridge the gap between natural sciences, the humanities and life sciences, focusing on the Origin of Life, Elementary Life Processes, and Synthetic Life. The meeting includes lectures by Israeli Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2009), Professor Ada E. Yonath on ribosomes as factories of life, German Nobel Laureate in Medicine (1995) Professor Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, “On the Evolution of Beauty” (“Zur Evolution der Schønheit”) and will explain how a zebra fish develops from stem cells.

September 22, 2011
Stanford University announcement: Geophysics professor Norm Sleep, and geological and environmental sciences professor Dennis Bird, and former graduate student Emily Pope, have co-authored a paper, which argues that first life may have arisen above serpentine rock. The paper appears in this week’s Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

September 22, 2011
The 2012 Gordon Research Conference on Origin of Life program has been announced. The conference will take place at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, TX from January 8-13, 2012. This unique interdisciplinary meeting includes chemists, biologists, geologists, astronomers, physicists as well as scientists in related disciplines interested in the origin, and early evolution of Life on Earth and its possible distribution throughout the universe. The 2012 conference will feature recent and cutting-edge results, and sessions will address attempts to fabricate life or life-like systems in the laboratory, the search for extra-solar Earth like planets, recent developments in our understanding of the early history of Earth, Mars, and Titan, prebiotic and organic chemistry on the early Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, and reconstruction of early life forms and genomes.

August 21, 2011
The Schopf-Brasier debate has revived with the announcement by a team led by David Wacey of the University of Western Australia and Martin D. Brasier of the University of Oxford that they have found 3.4 billion year old fossils in sandstone at the base of the Strelley Pool rock formation in Western Australia, announced in the August 21 issue of Nature Geoscience.

July 3-8, 2011
Origins 2011. The International Conference on the Origins of Life (ISSOL) and the International Astrobiology Society and Bioastronomy (Commission 51 of the International Astronomical Union) joined their triennial meetings to hold their first combined international conference (Origins 2011) in Montpellier (France).Scientific Program here.

June 9, 2011
A meteorite hints at life’s origins according to a June 9 artlcle inScience. The research, led by Christopher Herd of the University of Alberta, analyzes a frozen rock that fell from space and landed on Lake Tabish in Canada in 2000. Techniques, such as mass spectrometry, were used to describe chemical composition. With that data, the group was able to reconstruct the rock’s history. Ice combined with stellar dust as the asteroid formed in space, and radioactivity heated some of that ice, causing water to seep through the asteroid. The organic compounds were created in the process. The analysis also suggested that the amino acids formed directly on the asteroid.

C.D.K Herd, et al., “Origin and evolution of prebiotic organic matter as inferred from the Tagish Lake meteorite,” Science, 332:1304-07, 2011.

June 6, 2011
David Deamer
‘s book First Life was released. He spoke at theMicrobes-Mind Forum June 17.

May 20, 2011
A team of researchers at CERN to explore the origin of life under the leadership of Stuart Kauffman. He and his colleagues believe that the crucial step towards life was the formation of autocatalytic sets, a group of molecules that undergo chemical reactions in which some molecules catalyze (i.e. increase the rate at which the reaction takes place) other reactions in the set. All molecules mutually catalyze to generate new molecules, so autocatalytic sets are ‘self-sustaining’.  It’s thought that molecular reproduction and protocells could emerge from such a system. One agenda of the CERN meeting was to hear from CERN experts about how to organize a scientific community from disparate research groups and how to access powerful computational resources.

April 5, 2011
Dr. Baruch “Barry” Blumberg died April 5, 2011 while visiting Ames as a featured speaker at the International Lunar Research Park Exploratory Workshop. Blumberg served as the first director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 1999 to 2002, is known as winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying the Hepatitis B virus and making “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases.” A member of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia from 1964 and University Professor of Medicine and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1977, he was also Master of Balliol College, Oxford, from 1989 to 1994. From 2005, Barry Blumberg served as President of the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learning society in the United States dating to 1743, to which he was elected a member in 1986.

March 26, 2011
An MIT team led by Christopher Carr and Maria Zuber (head of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences) and Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University proposes to apply forensic science testing on the Martian surface. Specifically, the task would be to do DNA and RNA sequencing on Martian microbes (if they exist) to see if they share a common genetic origin with us.

March 22, 2011
Origin of Life: An Old Experiment Yields New Clues – Time provides an update on the collaboration between Jeffrey Bada and Antonio Lazcano. Bada now believes that life might have arisen, not in the “warm little pool” that Darwin himself once guessed, but in the violent environs of volcanic eruptions. The Goddard News Releaseand Scientific Computing provide more detail on the hydrogen sulfide experiment. Michigan State University is mounting an exhibit.

March 18, 2011
Biology’s ‘dark matter’ hints at fourth domain of life, according toJonathan Eisen of the University of California at Davis.

March 11, 2011
Richard B Hoover of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who has endorsed panspermia, now claims to have found fossils of what look like primitive bacteria in samples from nine known CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites. He asserts in his paper Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites in the Journal of Cosmology: “Environmental (ESEM) and Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) investigations of the internal surfaces of the CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites have yielded images of large complex filaments.” Given the controversial nature of his discovery, the Journal has invited 100 experts and issued a general invitation to over 5,000 scientists to review the paper and offer their critical analysis.

February 2011
The Sins of Syn-Bio: How Synthetic Biology will bring us cheaper plastics by ruining the poorest nations on Earth. This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. A Future Tense conference on whether governments can keep pace with scientific advances was held at Google D.C.’s headquarters on Feb. 3-4, 2011. A counterargument was presented by Autodesk Research Scientist Andrew Hessel: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dragon: Fears of synthetic biology are overblown.

January 17, 2011
NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology has shed new light on the left vs right-handed chirality question. A team of GCA scientists, Drs. D. Glavin, M. Callahan, J. Dworkin, and J. Elsila analyzed samples from nine carbon-rich meteorites (CI, CM, and CR carbonaceous chondrites). They found that most of these meteorites have an excess of left-handed amino acids. The amount of the excess seems to correlate with the degree of water alteration on the parent asteroid body. Life on Earth uses only left-handed amino acids. The new result extends their 2009 discovery to a wider variety of carbon-rich meteorites. It suggests that perhaps left-handed life got its start in space, where conditions in asteroids favored the creation of left-handed amino acid.  Larry Moran is a skeptical blogger.

November 11, 2010
University of California Santa Cruz and NASA Ames Research Center inaugurated their commitment jointly to forge an Astrobiology Center to augment existing research and educational opportunities in the Bay Area. Earlier that week NASA Astrobiology Institute held avirtual workshop.

November 11, 2010
Did life start in the atmosphere or in the ocean? The debate continues. Some now argue that life began in the highlands.

November 8, 2010
A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that heat was the key to the origin of life. InNature News Philip Ball highlights the argument.

October 2010
Building blocks of proteins discovered in the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon Titan, by a team at the University of Arizona led by Sandra Horst.

October 2010
Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science proposes a new scenario for life’s beginning on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago.

October 2010
Astrobiology Journal vol 10. Number 8. October 8, 2010.

September 12, 2010
Comet impact shockwave may have planted seeds of life on Earth
Stanley Miller’s classic 1953 experiment revisited by at Lawrence Livermore Labs researchers
Nir Goldman and his colleagues
, who have found molecules in comets such as water, ammonia, methylene and carbon dioxide that might have started life on Earth. They published their discovery September 12 in Nature Chemistry.

September 2010
NASA Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) releases new studies of the moon

August 25, 2010
Santa Fe Institute Study of 100 Million Years of Evolutionary Divergence leads to hypothesis of metabolic constraints.

August 21, 2010
Are we 10 years away from artificial life? by Jacob Silverman inScience.

August 18, 2010
Meet the microbes eating the Gulf oil spill
. Scientific American

August 12, 2010
Do stars “choose” the life around them? Astrobiology Magazine

August 10, 2010
Debating conditions of primordial life. International Astronomical Union.

August 2010
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 will launch in 2014 and is expected to return in 2020, bringing clues to the origin of life on Earth.

August 2010
Extremophile organism discovered that can withstand the violent extremes of space travel. Ivan Gláucio Paulino-Lima, Sérgio Pilling, Eduardo Janot-Pacheco, Arnaldo Naves de Brito, João Alexandre Ribeiro Gonçalves Barbosa, Alvaro Costa Leitão, Claudia de Alencar Santos Lage. 2010. Laboratory simulation of interplanetary ultraviolet radiation (broad spectrum) and its effects on Deinococcus radiodurans. Planetary and Space Science. Volume 58, Issue 10, August 2010. 1180-1187.

August 2010
David Biello and Katherine Harmon. Tools for Life: What’s Next for Cells Powered by Synthetic Genomes? The ability to make cells with artificial genomes bodes well for basic biology. Scientific American.

July 29, 2010
Tsubasa Fukue and Motohide Tamura of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan discover that the Orion Nebula provides clues to origin of life on Earth.
Nigel Calder comments on chirality and the significance of the Orion discovery.

July 29, 2010
Organic Building Blocks of Life Discovered in Titan’s Atmosphere, sparking the question Is Titan alive?
Ralph Lorenz, Planetary Exploration Group, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. Saturn’s Moon Titan; discussion in The Universe TodayThe presence of an atmosphere was suspected on Saturn’s giant moon Titan at a century ago. The NASA-ESA-ASI Cassini-Huygens mission, at Saturn for the last 4 years, has transformed this curious dot in the sky into a remarkably diverse, complex and interesting world, which is in many ways more Earth-like than anywhere in the solar system. NASA Cassini’s recent findings on the interactions between Titan’s surface, atmosphere, and interior include dune-covered sand seas, river channels that attest to violent but perhaps rare downpours and climate change, hydrocarbon lakes and possible cryovolcanic features. The rich inventory of organics on Titan makes it a particularly appealing target for astrobiological studies.Titan’s thick atmosphere and low gravity permit a wide range of exploration vehicle types, notably aircraft and balloons.

University of Arizona experiments with atmospheric nitrogen, abundant on Titan
and Simulation of Titan’s atmosphere provides clues to origins of life Earth.

July 22, 2010, in Science online
Announcement: ‘Largest molecules ever known in space found‘ referencing the 60 carbon atom studied several decades earlier by Harry Kroto and dubbed the buckminster ‘fullerene‘; recent research suggests they pose health risks. Based on Jan Cami et al., “Detection of C60 and C70 in a Young Planetary Nebula” doi:10.1126/science.1192035.

July 14, 2010
Rosetta, the ESA space probe, flew past the Lutetia planetoid. The Max Plancke Society, Munich, released images from the Osiris camera.

July 3, 2010
Charles Petit in Science News. Life from Scratch: Relaunching from the beginning.
Comments on the Jack Szostak vs Craig Venter differences in approach to the synthesis of life.

July 1, 2010
El Albani and his team had unexpectedly discovered perfectly preserved fossil remains the paleo-environment of a fossil-bearing site situated near Franceville in Gabon in 2008 and continued their search, discovering many more before publishing on their findings inNature, Vol. 466, No. 7302, July 1, 2010.

June 30, 2010
Discovery of a complex, multicellular life from over two billion years ago

Hordijk, Wim, Jotun Hein and Mike Steel. 2010. Autocatalytic Sets and the Origin of Life. Entropy 2010. Special Issue Emergence in Chemical Systems. 12(7), 1733-1742. 30 June.

Prof. Dr. Pierre-Alain Monnard, Editor of this Special Issue, introduces the importance of chemical emergence: “The concept of emergence in chemical systems is challenging to define. In general, the term refers to phenomena in which the structures and behavior of multicomponent systems exceed those predicted from knowledge of the individual components. Entropy is at the core of emergent properties, driving essential processes such as self-assembly of lipid bilayers and folding of macromolecules, as well as molecular recognition. The first appearance of living systems on the early Earth can be understood as an emergent phenomenon, because the simpler progenitors of living cells referred to as protocells were composed of a self-assembled collection of molecules that by themselves were non-living, yet together exhibited properties of self-maintenance, self-reproduction and evolution. Because such system-level processes also occur in simpler chemical assemblies, emergence can be studied in model systems that display functions similar to those of living systems. Examples of such systems include dissipative structures like those generated by the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, and molecular networks that consume energy and resources to achieve cooperative growth and self-replication, as well as to react to external constraints. Studies of such systems conducted both in laboratory settings and in silico are leading to a deeper understanding of the complexity underlying emergent properties. This special issue of Entropy provides a repository for information, research and insight regarding emergent phenomena in chemical systems.”

June 29, 2010 book release
Deamer, David, Jack W. Szostak, and Alex. A. Rich. 2010. The Origins of Life. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology. How the first self-replicating systems emerged from prebiotic chemistry and evolved into primitive cell-like entities is an area of intense research, spanning molecular and cellular biology, organic chemistry, cosmology, geology, and atmospheric science. Also covered in the book are new synthetic approaches for fabricating cellular systems, the potentially extraterrestrial origin of life’s building blocks, and the possibility that life once existed on Mars.

June 29, 2010
Scientific American Blogs: How did life begin on Earth? And technologists are also increasingly interested in the origin of life.

June 28, 2010
John Timmer on the origin of life: putting chemistry inside a cell
Webcast of Jack Szostak on this topic

June 24, 2010
The European Space Agency asks, ‘Was Venus Once a Habitable Planet?

Dr. David Des Marais on Mars Missions Search for Liquid Water and Potential Traces of Life.

April 12, 2010
New New evidence of water on Mars and Nature Blog on Mars

March 9, 2010
Evidence of past water on Mars and Six foot ice deposits on the moon.

Dr. David Des Marais, Chair of the Mars Exploration Program Advisory Group (MEPAG), reported on recent discoveries that are helping to identify the most promising places to search for evidence of life. Recent Mars missions have discovered fascinating landscapes as well as chemicals and minerals formed by the action of liquid water. Mars could have been habitable sometime in the past, and liquid water might persist in some subsurface environments on Mars today.

June 16, 2010
Christophe Malaterre. Can Synthetic Biology Shed Light on the Origin of Life?
Biological Theory. MIT Press Journals. (Fall 2009), 4(4): 357-367

June 15, 2010
ScienceDaily – The Enigma of Guanine in the Origin of Life

June 11, 2010
Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa probe to return in Australia, asteroid samples and the origin of life.

June 7, 2010
The Flint Center at the University of Southern Denmark announced their research on living technologies.

June 3, 2010
Relevance of Greenhouse Gases to the Origin of Life and its Future
J. Lee Grenfell, an atmospheric chemist at the Technische Universität Berlin in Germany and lead author of the study featured in the journal Astrobiology. “We need to explain how, despite a fainter Sun, the surface could be warm enough to host liquid water.” Gaseous molecules like methane may have worked to heat the planet, keeping the oceans fluid and not frozen. Since liquid water is a prerequisite for Earth’s life, the greenhouse gases may have therefore played an important role in making the planet habitable.

June 3, 2010
Fractal Haze Could Solve Weak-Sun Mystery and “the faint young sun paradox” problem for the origin of life. Wired Science.

May 20, 2010 Science Express and July 2, 2010 full release
J. Craig Venter Institute announces the Synthesis of a Self-replicating Cell.
Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome. Science. 2010: Vol. 329. no. 5987, 2 July. 52 – 56
Daniel G. Gibson, John I. Glass, Carole Lartigue, Vladimir N. Noskov, Ray-Yuan Chuang, Mikkel A. Algire, Gwynedd A. Benders, Michael G. Montague, Li Ma, Monzia M. Moodie, Chuck Merryman, Sanjay Vashee, Radha Krishnakumar, Nacyra Assad-Garcia, Cynthia Andrews-Pfannkoch, Evgeniya A. Denisova, Lei Young, Zhi-Qing Qi, Thomas H. Segall-Shapiro, Christopher H. Calvey, Prashanth P. Parmar, Clyde A. Hutchison, III, Hamilton O. Smith, J. Craig Venter
John Horgan on Science Blogs about the Venter announcement
Will synthetic life be a way to understand natural life?
The JCVI announcement

Discovery Magazine blogs
The Edge Debate

May 4, 2010
Large colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1 Gyr ago proof for the first time of multicellular life 2.1 Billion years ago.

April 22, 2010
Wired Science announces: ‘Origin of Life Chicken-and-Egg Problem Solved‘ on research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society April 1.

September 2009
Scientific American
issue devoted to Origins includes an article by Alonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak, “Origins of Life on Earth.”

Aug. 20, 2009 online edition of Nature
Endosymbiosis Discovery — James A. Lake from the University of California at the Los Angeles Center for Astrobiology has shown that two relatively simple classes of microbes fused together more than 2 billion years ago. This endosymbiosis, or merging of two cells, enabled the evolution of a highly stable and successful organism with the capacity to use energy from sunlight via photosynthesis.

June 2009
Nick Lane, biochemist, Provost’s Venture Research Fellow in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London, on the origin of life in his new book,  Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution.

May 2009
Ribonucleotides synthesized in the laboratory.
Matthew W. Powner, Beatrice Gerland, & John D. Sutherland. 14 May 2009. Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions. Nature. 459, 239-242.

February 19, 2009, Nature
Konstantin Bokov and Sergey Steinberg on the evolution of the ribosome nearly 4 Billion years ago, key to the origin of life.Discussion — ‘Deconstructing the Ribosome’.
Carl Zimmer. Evolutionary Roots: On the Origin of Life on Earth.

January 2009
Lincoln, Tracey A. and Gerald F. Joyce. 2009. Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme.
Science (originally published in Science Express on 8 January 2009). 27 February 2009. Vol. 323. no. 5918, pp. 1229 – 1232.