Posts Tagged ‘astrobiology’

New research has shown that nucleobases, the chemical components of DNA, have been confirmed to exist in meteorites that have fallen to Earth. These chemicals existed in the early solar system and may have hitched a ride to the newly formed Earth on meteorites in sufficient quantity and diversity to begin the chemical chain reactions that sparked self-replicating life on this planet (that’s you). Let that sink in for a moment, and hit the link to learn more…


Hold the phone there, Zippy.

Recently, NASA announced the discovery of a type of bacterium (called GFAJ-1) that appears to use arsenic in its DNA in place of phosphorus.  I wrote about that announcement here and here shortly after the official NASA press conference.  Since that announcement was made, other scientists have called into serious question the findings of the initial NASA funded research.  Some have even gone so far as to say it should not have been published, and point to weaknesses in the experimental design that could have tainted the results and lead the researchers to false conclusions (that’s a kind re-phrasing of some of their criticisms).

So what are we, the armchair science enthusiasts to make of this? (more…)

This is awesome.

A couple days ago, I wrote about NASA’s press conference scheduled for today where they would have a major announcement about the future search for life off-Earth.  Their announcement today was about the discovery of a previously unknown type of life here on Earth that is chemically different than all other known life:

All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every form of life on earth shares the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same. Or so we thought.

NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon announced that they have found a bacteria whose DNA is very different to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake in California uses arsenic in its DNA’s molecular structure.  While she and other scientists previously theorized that this might be possible, this is the first actual discovery.

For those interested in the details of the findings, a comprehensive recap is found here.

The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding life on other planets that don’t have to be Earth-like.  If there is more than one possible chemical profile for the molecules of life, the potential for life starting around one of the other 400 Billion suns in our galaxy alone just increased exponentially.

This is an amazing time to be alive.

I would also like to point out that I totally called this one on Tuesday.   I’m so rarely right about anything that I wanted to gloat for a moment.

NASA recently scheduled a press conference for December 2 to discuss “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” 

That’s a pretty heavy sentence, and speculation has started to run wild around the interweb.  Personally, I think an announcement of “we are not alone” would take a much different form than a NASA press conference (Like, say, Obama breaking into every television signal in North America, live from the oval office). 

My guess is that it’s something to do with a new discovery about the chemistry of life here on Earth that could provide us with new tools to help search for the presence of (or potential for) life off-Earth.

I’ll keep an ear on this and report back later this week.  Until then, consider this:

What would the discovery of life, even simple bacterial life, somewhere other than the Earth mean to you?  How do you think that knowledge would affect our society?

The comments box awaits your deep thoughts.