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Will “Top-Down” and “Bottom-Up” Meet in the Middle?

Some difficult problems can be approached from opposite ends.  Engineers needing to build a shaft through a mountain, for instance, might start digging from the bottom and the top, trying to find each other in the middle.  But what if the mountain has an unanticipated impregnable layer?  Or what if there is no mountain, but […]

Astrobiology: 0 Steps Forward, 3 Steps Back

Astrobiology, the science in search of a subject, has major hurdles to overcome in its quest to explain everything from hydrogen to high technology.  Despite being one of the most active interdisciplinary research projects around the world (see 01/07/2005 entry), a leading researcher this week conceded that several promising leads of the past are now […]

Astrobiology: Follow the Money

To date, astrobiology remains, as George Gaylord Simpson once quipped, “an area of study without a known subject.”  Yet it is one of the hottest research areas within NASA.  A renowned origin-of-life researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Jeffrey Bada, found out why when he read the new book The Living Universe: NASA and […]

Media and Journals Conflict Over Mars Life

Timed for the one-year anniversary of the Mars Exploration Rovers, PBS aired a NOVA program last night about Spirit and Opportunity, and the teams that landed them and operated them on Mars.  As is common for popular programs about Mars exploration, NOVA suggested that evidence for past water found (especially by Opportunity at Meridiani Planum) […]

Did Martians Win the War of the Worlds?

In the H.G. Wells version, the Martian invaders with their tripod machines and death rays, wreaking havoc on Earth, were defeated by Earth bacteria.  The new scientific plot envisioned by scientists, reported on Space.com, is that the Martians had the bacteria, and invaded Earth with it to either conquer Earth life or spread it onto […]

Intelligent Design Evidence Convinces Atheist of Designer

According to an AP report on ABC News, a famous British atheist now believes in God based on scientific evidence.  “At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe.  A super-intelligence is the only good explanation […]

Did Life Begin as “Failed Mineralogy” on the Seafloor?

Exclusive  Another origin-of-life expert made a presentation to a filled auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Dec. 2 (cf. 11/05/2004 headline).  His scenario differed radically from last month’s.  Instead of trying to get ribose (for RNA) to form in a desert, he put his speculative natural laboratory 4 to 10 km underwater at the […]

Volcanic Gas Helps Link Up the Building Blocks of Life

A gas emitted by volcanoes, carbonyl sulfide (COS), enables amino acid molecules to form peptide bonds.  That’s what long-time origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel and colleagues at Scripps Institute have found.  The reaction is especially productive in the presence of metal ions that act as catalysts, and even better in the presence of oxidizing agents.  Moreover, […]

PBS Airs Another Evolution Series: Origins

PBS NOVA aired its latest installment on evolution, a 4-hour miniseries entitled Origins, on September 28 and 29.  The website hype describes it as follows: Has the universe always existed?  How did it become a place that could harbor life?  What was the birth of our planet like?  Are we alone, or are there alien […]

Pop Goes the Fatbubble Theory for the Origin of Life

Jack Szostak and colleagues at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have a new entry for stories about how the first life got rolling: the bubble theory.  Bubbles of fat molecules enclosing genetic material might have given rise to a primitive form of natural selection, they say; the more effective at replication the RNA inside a lucky […]

A Martian Crust: Was It Alive?

David McKay, the father of the Martian meteorite that started feverish debates about life on Mars in 1996, is at it again.  Now he thinks a mat of crusty soil was made by microbes, according to Space.Com.     In spite of the salty, acidic soil (see 08/06/04 headline), Gilbert Levin, also interviewed by Space.Com, […]

Cell Nucleus Complexity Baffles Evolutionists

In her inimitable way, Science reporter Elizabeth Pennisi has once again portrayed a scientific controversy undergoing active ferment.  This time it’s about the evolutionary origin of cell nuclei, which she terms “specialized, DNA-filled command centers.”1  At the conclusion, she gives prominence to a “provocative, but circumstantial and controversial” suggestion that viruses taught cells how to […]

Tau Ceti a Star for Life to Avoid

Tau Ceti, a star with a dust disk astronomers had hoped might be an example of a planetary system under construction, is more like a war zone.  A press release from the Royal Observatory calls it “Asteroid Alley – an Inhospitable Neighbor.”  Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers detected 10 times […]

Mystery of the Left-Handed Proteins: Solved?

Some molecules come in left- and right-handed forms that are mirror images of each other.  All biological proteins are composed of only left-handed amino acids.  How this could have come about in a primordial soup has long been a puzzle to origin-of-life researchers, since both L (levo, left-handed) and D (dextro, right-handed) forms react indiscriminately.  […]

Young Planet Around Young Star Claimed

A star estimated to be one million years old already has a planet in orbit around it, the Spitzer Space Telescope (Hubble’s counterpart for infrared astronomy) has found.  Astrobiology Magazine says this challenges old theories.  Alan Boss (Carnegie Institute) thinks this supports his disk-instability model for planetary formation, in which gas giants can form quickly, […]
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