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The origin of the first nucleated eukaryote and the nature of the last common ancestor of the three domains of life are major questions in the evolutionary biology of cellular life on Earth, the solutions to which may be linked. Planctomycetes are unusual compartmentalized bacteria that include a membrane-bounded nucleoid. The possibility that they constitute a very deep branch of the domain Bacteria suggests a model for the evolution of the three domains of life from a last common ancestor that was a mesophile or moderate thermophile with a compartmentalized eukaryote-like cell plan. Planctomycetes and some members of the domain Archaea may have retained cell compartmentalization present in an original eukaryote-like last common ancestor of the three domains of life. The implications of this model for possible habitats of the early evolution of domains of cellular life and for interpretation of geological evidence relating to those habitats and the early emergence of life are examined here.
We present results from the first geological field tests of the ‘Cyborg Astrobiologist’, which is a wearable computer and video camcorder system that we are using to test and train a computer-vision system towards having some of the autonomous decision-making capabilities of a field-geologist and field-astrobiologist. The Cyborg Astrobiologist platform has thus far been used for testing and development of the following algorithms and systems: robotic acquisition of quasi-mosaics of images; real-time image segmentation; and real-time determination of interesting points in the image mosaics. The hardware and software systems function reliably, and the computer-vision algorithms are adequate for the first field tests. In addition to the proof-of-concept aspect of these field tests, the main result of these field tests is the enumeration of those issues that we can improve in the future, including: detection and accounting for shadows caused by three-dimensional jagged edges in the outcrop; reincorporation of more sophisticated texture-analysis algorithms into the system; creation of hardware and software capabilities to control the camera's zoom lens in an intelligent manner; and, finally, development of algorithms for interpretation of complex geological scenery. Nonetheless, despite these technical inadequacies, this Cyborg Astrobiologist system, consisting of a camera-equipped wearable-computer and its computer-vision algorithms, has demonstrated its ability in finding genuinely interesting points in real-time in the geological scenery, and then gathering more information about these interest points in an automated manner.
Reaction-diffusion equations based on a polymerization model are solved to simulate the spreading of hypothetic left and right-handed life forms on the Earth's surface. The equations exhibit front-like behavior as is familiar from the theory of the spreading of epidemics. It is shown that the relevant time scale for achieving global homochirality is not, however, the time scale of front propagation, but the much longer global diffusion time. The process can be sped up by turbulence and large scale flows. It is speculated that, if the deep layers of the early ocean were sufficiently quiescent, there may have been the possibility of competing early life forms with opposite handedness.
Macromolecular organic materials in chondrites display significant variations in carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes. In recent years, these variations have been interpreted as a record of aqueous and thermal processing on asteroids shortly after the birth of the Solar System. In this paper we review and summarize the key data and main interpretative approaches related to this study area. Armed with these methods we attempt to reinterpret the whole rock chondrite data set in the literature.
Goal 7 of the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap states: ‘Determine how to recognize signatures of life on other worlds and on early Earth. Identify biosignatures that can reveal and characterize past or present life in ancient samples from Earth, extraterrestrial samples measured in situ, samples returned to Earth, remotely measured planetary atmospheres and surfaces, and other cosmic phenomena.’ The cryptic reference to ‘other cosmic phenomena’ would appear to be broad enough to include the possible identification of biosignatures embedded in the dimensionless constants of physics. The existence of such a set of biosignatures – a life-friendly suite of physical constants – is a retrodiction of the Selfish Biocosm (SB) hypothesis. This hypothesis offers an alternative to the weak anthropic explanation of our indisputably life-friendly cosmos favoured by (1) an emerging alliance of M-theory-inspired cosmologists and advocates of eternal inflation like Linde and Weinberg, and (2) supporters of the quantum theory-inspired sum-over-histories cosmological model offered by Hartle and Hawking. According to the SB hypothesis, the laws and constants of physics function as the cosmic equivalent of DNA, guiding a cosmologically extended evolutionary process and providing a blueprint for the replication of new life-friendly progeny universes.
Monocyanopolyynes and dicyanopolyynes can be synthesized quite easily by the submerged electric arc. Monocyanopolyynes having the general formula H[bond](C[triple bond]C)n[bond]C[triple bond]N can be synthesized together with ordinary polyynes series H[bond](C[triple bond]C)n[bond]H by arcing graphite electrodes in acetonitrile. Dicyanopolyynes N[triple bond]C[bond](C[triple bond]C)n[bond]C[triple bond]N are produced almost pure by arcing graphite electrodes directly into liquid nitrogen. These molecules are present in the envelope of post-AGB (asymptotic giant branch), carbon-rich giant stars and also in dark molecular clouds. They are incorporated into comets and also into other primitive materials and may play a role in the prebiotic synthesis of more complex organic molecules having a biological significance. Furthermore, the cyanopolyynes are involved in the atmospheric chemistry of some bodies of the solar system. The discovery of the easy formation of these molecules under laboratory conditions may explain why these molecules are so ubiquitous in space and may also stimulate new ideas about the mechanism of their formation.
Hydrothermal gypsum deposits in the Haughton impact structure, Devon Island, Canada, contain microbial communities in an endolithic habitat within individual gypsum crystals. Cyanobacterial colonies occur as masses along cleavage planes, up to 5 cm from crystal margins. The crystals are transparent, so allow transmission of light for photosynthesis, while affording protection from dehydration and wind. The colonies appear to have modified their mineral host to provide additional space as they expanded. The colonies are black due to UV-screening pigments. The relative ease with which microbial colonization may be detected and identified in impact-generated sulphate deposits at Haughton suggests that analogous settings on other planets might merit future searches for biosignatures. The proven occurrence of sulphates on the Martian surface suggests that sulphate minerals should be a priority target in the search for life on Mars.
The accomplishment of detailed geomorphological studies is a prerequisite for the location of regions in which the prevailing conditions in the past, or at present, may allow the development of possible life forms. The Atlantis basin, located in Sirenum Terrae, Southern hemisphere of Mars, is one of these astrobiologically interesting regions, where the existence of geological features such as ancient volcanic edifices, sedimentary deposits of an ancient lake and recent gullies seem to indicate the long-term presence of a thermal source and a water reservoir deep and stable enough to sustain biological processes. Here we describe the most relevant topographic and geomorphologic features in the region, highlighting the possibility for liquid water to have been present in the basin and outskirts in different moments of Mars' history. We also apply this analysis to an initial discussion of the influence of the hydrogeological evolution of the region in the putative development and/or survival of life forms in Atlantis basin.
Chemical and microbiological studies of the impact of terrestrial contamination of the lunar surface during the Apollo missions could provide valuable data to help refine future Mars surface exploration plans and planetary protection requirements for a human mission to Mars. NASA and ESA have outlined new visions for solar system exploration that will include a series of lunar robotic missions to prepare for and support a human return to the Moon, and future human exploration of Mars and other destinations. Under the Committee on Space Research's (COSPAR's) current planetary protection policy for the Moon, no decontamination procedures are required for outbound lunar spacecraft. Nonetheless, future in situ investigations of a variety of locations on the Moon by highly sensitive instruments designed to search for biologically derived organic compounds would help assess the contamination of the Moon by lunar spacecraft and Apollo astronauts. These studies could also provide valuable ‘ground truth’ data for Mars sample return missions and help define planetary protection requirements for future Mars bound spacecraft carrying life detection experiments.