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Minimal Cell Modeled in Computer

“The basic design rules relating the regulation of cellular function to genomic structure is of broad interest,” begin three Cornell microbiologists writing in PNAS,1 and so they have turned their attention to the smallest theoretical living cell: A �minimal cell� is a hypothetical cell possessing the minimum functions required for sustained growth and reproduction in […]

Swamp Gas Found on Mars

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter has confirmed earlier detections of methane in the Martian atmosphere, according to the BBC News.  Because methane could only exist in the atmosphere for a few hundred years, there must be a source that replenishes it.  Two sources have been proposed: active volcanos, or living organisms.  The BBC […]

Much Ado About Nothing

How much can you say about nothing?  Some people can say quite a lot.  One astrobiologist just wrote a large book about it: Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon (Harper Collins, 2003).     Larry R. Nittler reviewed this new book in the March 12 issue of Science.1  Nittler describes […]

How to Get a Genetic Code by Chance

The Feb. 17 issue of Current Biology1 has a Q&A magazine feature on the genetic code.  After dismissing some myths about it being universal, consisting of only 20 amino acids and obligated to only three codons (there are some minor exceptions to these mostly-true principles: see 04/30/2003), the authors tackle the big question: where did […]

Scientists Probe Differences Between Living and Nonliving Chemicals

“All life forms are composed of molecules that are not themselves alive.  But in what ways do living and nonliving matter differ?  How could a primitive life form arise from a collection of nonliving molecules?”  Any article beginning with questions like that is bound to be interesting.  That’s how Rasmussen et al. tantalized readers of […]

Comets as Cosmic Storks

Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at Cardiff University have raised the bar on tale-telling ability.  They believe that comets splatting on earth can carry away germs of life that gradually spread farther and farther out, eventually escaping the sun’s pull.  Over time, they might spread life to other worlds.  They estimate that since the origin of […]

Proof of Life in Martian Meteorite Alleged – Again

Some Aussies are trying to scoop the Mars prize, it seems from a headline in the down-under Daily Telegraph.  While two American rovers are busily sniffing about for evidence of water (as a prerequisite for life) on opposite sides of the surface of Mars, the Australians are saying, “No worries, mate,” they already found Martian […]

Early Oxygen Causes Evolutionary Gasps

The rise of oxygen in the primitive Earth’s atmosphere has been pushed back 100 million more years, according to Sid Perkins writing for the Jan. 24 issue of Science News.  This is based on studies of sediments in South Africa.  Though estimated at just a millionth of today’s concentrations, the finding comes as a surprise.  […]

Did Borax Evolve Into 20-Mule Teams?

You’re dating yourself if you remember the old TV western Death Valley Days, and its commercials about 20-Mule Team Borax.  (Mule teams actually did pull loads of borax from Death Valley to Mojave, quite a feat in those days, but that’s another story.)  In modern times, though, borax has made science news as a possible […]

Must Life Drink Water?

Star Trek used to portray aliens made up of different stuff than the carbon and water chemistry which comprises Earth-based life.  For years, most scientists who considered the possibility of life in space, including Carl Sagan and Stanley Miller, admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that the periodic table of the elements admits no practical alternatives to water […]

Photosynthesis Began a Billion Years Earlier Than Thought

According to the BBC News, some scientists have pushed back the evolution of photosynthesis a billion years earlier than previously believed, to 3.9 billion years ago.  This is based on uranium-thorium ratios of rocks in Greenland that led Danish researchers to conclude that they were deposited under oxidizing conditions.  Others are not sure the data […]

Wet-Marsers Win, But Life Unlikely

The discovery of evidence for past water on Mars made Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year.1  Most recently, the Spirit rover found goethite, an iron oxide that forms most readily in water, announced a JPL press release Dec. 13.  Although Richard A. Kerr at Science feels this second discovery on the opposite side of Mars […]

Miller-Frankenstein Ghost Rises from the Dead

51; Stanley Miller died last year, but his friendly ghost lives on.  Famous for his Halloweenish spark-discharge apparatus that brought naturalism to life, Miller subsequently began to doubt the simplistic “primordial soup” vision that took on a life of its own, making apparitions in many a textbook.  He realized that improbably atmospheric conditions—a reducing atmosphere […]

Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  Let Darwin Take Over

Jack Szostak (Harvard Medical Center) wins this week’s prize for a comment in an Associated Press article (see PhysOrg) claiming that scientists will create life in a test tube within 10 years.  Szostak was explaining the process of creating a cell membrane to the reporter: His idea is that once the container is made, if […]

Darwin Propagandist Reveals Too Much

You can’t always tell a chocolate by its coating.  Similarly, a positivistic, pro-evolution article might have surprises inside.     “Billions of years of evolution have produced organisms of stunning diversity,” begins E�rs Szathm�ry in the Feb. 17 issue of Current Biology,1 with vintage Darwinian confidence.  A theoretician at heart, Szathm�ry explores the evolutionary transitions […]
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