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  1. Astrobiology Chair Nathaniel Comfort Discusses the RNA World with Pioneering Scientists


    Nathaniel Comfort, Walter Gilbert, W. Ford Doolittle, Ray Gesteland, and George E. Fox discuss the origins of the RNA World hypothesis at the Kluge Center. The webcast was recorded March 17, 2016. Source: <a href="http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=7353">Library of Congress</a> Image credit: None
    Nathaniel Comfort, Walter Gilbert, W. Ford Doolittle, Ray Gesteland, and George E. Fox discuss the origins of the RNA World hypothesis at the Kluge Center. The webcast was recorded March 17, 2016. Source: Library of Congress

    Back in March 2016, science historian and current Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology, Dr. Nathaniel Comfort, led a program at the Kluge Center entitled “The Origins of the RNA World,” bringing into the conversation four scientists involved in the pivotal shift in origins of life research: Dr. Walter Gilbert, Dr. W. Ford Doolittle, Dr. Ray Gesteland, and Dr. George E. Fox. The webcast is available for streaming.

    Comfort later spoke with Dan Turello at the Library of Congress, touching on the history of the RNA World hypothesis, its influence on current research on the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), and how ...

    Source: [Library of Congress]

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  1. SETI Reconceived and Broadened


    SETI’s partially-built Allen Telescope Array in Northern California, the focus of the organization’s effort to collect signals from distant planets, and especially signals that just might have been created by intelligent beings.  (SETI) Image credit: None
    SETI’s partially-built Allen Telescope Array in Northern California, the focus of the organization’s effort to collect signals from distant planets, and especially signals that just might have been created by intelligent beings. (SETI)

    For decades, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and its SETI Institute home base have been synonymous with the search for intelligent, technologically advanced life beyond Earth. The pathway to some day finding that potentially sophisticated life has been radio astronomy and the parsing of any seemingly unnatural signals arriving from faraway star system — signals that just might be the product of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

    It has been a lonely five decade search by now, with some tantalizing anomalies to decipher but no “eurekas.” After Congress defunded SETI in the early 1990s — a Nevada senator led the charge against spending ...

    Source: [Many Worlds]

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  1. Newly Discovered Fossils Strengthen Proposition that World’s First Mass Extinction Engineered by Early Animals


    Fossils from Zaris site in Namibia: left, the discs are fossil remains of the holdfast structures that were holdfast structures for an Ediacaran species called aspidella; middle, bumps on the rock surface are the remains of burrows, called conichnus burrows, that were originally inhabited by anemone-like animals that may have fed on Ediacaran larvae; right, odd annulated and ribbon-like fossils that represent mysterious early animals (likely ecosystem engineers) called shaanxilithes. Image credit: Simon Darroch/Vanderbilt Image credit: None
    Fossils from Zaris site in Namibia: left, the discs are fossil remains of the holdfast structures that were holdfast structures for an Ediacaran species called aspidella; middle, bumps on the rock surface are the remains of burrows, called conichnus burrows, that were originally inhabited by anemone-like animals that may have fed on Ediacaran larvae; right, odd annulated and ribbon-like fossils that represent mysterious early animals (likely ecosystem engineers) called shaanxilithes. Image credit: Simon Darroch/Vanderbilt

    Newly discovered fossil evidence from Namibia strengthens the proposition that the world’s first mass extinction was caused by “ecosystem engineers” – newly evolved biological organisms that altered the environment so radically it drove older species to extinction.

    The event, known as the end-Ediacaran extinction, took place 540 million years ago. The earliest life on Earth consisted of microbes – various types of single-celled organisms. These held sway for more than 3 billion years, when the first multicellular organisms evolved. The most successful of these were the Ediacarans, which spread around the globe about 600 million years ago. They were a largely ...

    Source: [Vanderbilt University]

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  1. Lichen Redefined as a Symbiosis of Three


    Basidiomycete yeast was discovered in the cortex of the wolf lichen, as well as among several other species. Image credit: University of Montana Image credit: None
    Basidiomycete yeast was discovered in the cortex of the wolf lichen, as well as among several other species. Image credit: University of Montana

    Recent research from the University of Montana has challenged the longstanding textbook definition of lichen.

    Before the study was published in Science, lichen was thought to be a symbiosis of a single fungus, usually an ascomycete, and a photosynthesizing bacteria or algae. Lead author Toby Spribille analyzed different species across six continents and discovered the existence of a third essential constituent: basidiomycete yeast. The yeast cells were embedded in the lichen cortex and may provide an explanation for the variety of characteristics seen among the species.

    “Basidiomycete yeasts in the cortex of ascomycete macrolichens” has since received wide media coverage ...

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  1. Mayo Clinic Studies How Life Survives Extreme Environments


    To test techniques for searching for life on Mars, samples have been collected from the Atacama desert in Chile as part of the European Research Consortium's Habitability of Martian Environments (HOMES) grant. Image credit: None
    To test techniques for searching for life on Mars, samples have been collected from the Atacama desert in Chile as part of the European Research Consortium's Habitability of Martian Environments (HOMES) grant. A theoretical instrument that would search for individual microbes on the surface of Mars. Image credit: None
    A theoretical instrument that would search for individual microbes on the surface of Mars.

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  1. Omani Wells May Shed Light on Martian Methane


    Graduate student Hannah Miller pumping water out of a deep well drilled into peridotite, measuring the pH of the water. Image credit: None
    Graduate student Hannah Miller pumping water out of a deep well drilled into peridotite, measuring the pH of the water. Graduate student Hannah Miller (green shift) preparing to collect water samples pulled from a 300-meter deep well in peridotite by Nicolas Bompard (shown with headscarf). Image credit: None
    Graduate student Hannah Miller (green shift) preparing to collect water samples pulled from a 300-meter deep well in peridotite by Nicolas Bompard (shown with headscarf).

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. Call for Applications for Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology


    Image credit: None

    The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress is now accepting applications for the 5th Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. The application deadline is December 1, 2016.

    The Astrobiology Chair is a distinguished senior research position in residence at the Library of Congress for a period of up to twelve months. Using research facilities and services at the Library of Congress, the scholar engages in research at the intersection of the science of astrobiology and its humanistic and social implications. The appointment ensures the subject of astrobiology’s role in culture and society ...

    Source: [Library of Congress]

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  1. Coming to Terms with Biosignatures


    Image credit: None

    The search for life beyond our solar system has focused largely on the detection of an ever-increasing number of exoplanets, determinations of whether the planets are in a habitable zone, and what the atmospheres of those planets might look like. It is a sign of how far the field has progressed that scientists are now turning with renewed energy to the question of what might, and what might not, constitute a sign that a planet actually harbors life.

    The field of “remote biosignatures” is still in its early stages, but a NASA-sponsored workshop held this summer in Seattle has ...

    Source: [Many Worlds]

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  1. Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls


    NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS)  and Astrobiology Program host the Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls Image credit: None
    NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) and Astrobiology Program host the Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls

    The workshop takes place July 27-29 in Seattle, WA. Watch the live broadcast beginning July 27 at 8:30AM PDT.

    Hosted by the NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) and Astrobiology Program, the Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop brings together the astrobiology, exoplanet, and mission concept communities to review, discuss, debate, and advance the science of biosignatures.

    This highly interactive workshop will include plenary talks to set the stage for small group discussions that focus on addressing key science questions identified by the Science Organizing Committee. More information and the event schedule are available at: http://nai.nasa.gov/calendar/workshop-without-walls-exoplanet-biosignatures ...

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  1. 2016 Astrobiology Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program Fellows


    The NASA Astrobiology Program is pleased to announce the selection of three faculty members from Minority Serving Institutions who will participate in the 2016 Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program.

    Dr. Guillermo Nery, University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo
    Hosts – Laurie Barge and Michael Russell, JPL
    “A Proposal for Developing and Applying a Habitability Index for Europa’s Ice-Covered Ocean“

    Dr. Hemayat Ullah, Howard University
    Host – Dr. Shiladitya DasSarma, University of Maryland School of Medicine
    “Co-evolution of Retinal pigments with Chlorophyll: Does the spectroscopic complementarity signal one of the oldest metabolic capabilities on Earth?“

    Dr. Rakesh Mogul, California State Polytechnic University ...

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  1. Recipients of NASA Early Career Collaboration Awards


    We are pleased to announce the selections for the April 2016 Early Career Collaboration Award.

    Steffen Bueseccher, Arizona State University
    Daniel will collaborate with Hiroshi Imanaka (NASA Ames Research Center), “Deciphering the Role of Abiotic N2O formation on atmospheric N2O in the Archaean and implications on the faint young Sun paradox.”

    Ben Galeota-Sprung, University of Pennsylvania
    Ben will travel to University of Pittsburgh to collaborate with Vaughn Cooper to examine how mutation rates evolve over time.

    Daniel Gregory, University of California, Riverside
    Daniel will visit Steve Romaniello and Aleisha Johnson at Arizona State University to examine ...

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  1. Joint NASA-NSF Ideas Lab on the Origins of Life Update


    Image credit: None

    As announced previously, the Astrobiology Program of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is joining with the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) and the Directorate of Geosciences (GEO) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to sponsor an “Ideas Lab” activity on the Origin of Life.

    The dates of the Ideas Lab Workshop are September 18-23, 2016. The workshop will take place at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, MD. Additional information about the venue and meeting logistics will be provided to the selected participants.

    Scientific Background
    Most theories of the origin and early evolution of life focus on one ...

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  1. 41st COSPAR Scientific Assembly Cancelled


    COSPAR 2016, originally scheduled for July 30 to August 7, has been cancelled. Lennard Fisk issued the following message:

    Dear COSPAR Associates,

    The most recent events in Istanbul, involving a coup from a faction of the national army against the Turkish government on 15 July, require us to cancel the 41st COSPAR Assembly. This is a difficult and sad decision, taken in consultation with the Executive Director of the COSPAR Secretariat and in consideration of the advice spontaneously expressed by several Bureau and Council members as well as COSPAR officers and Main Scientific event Organizers. It also reflects the sense ...

    Source: [Committee on Space Research]

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  1. 2016 Selections for the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology


    Map of locations explored by past and present Lewis and Clark Fund recipients. Blue Xs mark 2016 field research destinations. Image credit: None
    Map of locations explored by past and present Lewis and Clark Fund recipients. Blue Xs mark 2016 field research destinations.

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute and the American Philosophical Society are pleased to announce the selections for the 2016 Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology. These graduate students, postdocs, and early-career scientists listed below will embark on field studies in astrobiology at destinations from Chile to Iceland and New Mexico to Japan.

    Joany Babilonia
    University of Florida
    Project: Unraveling the Global Microbiome Core of Stromatolites
    Location: Ruidera Pool, Spain

    Megan Bedell
    University of Chicago
    Project: Exploring the Formation of Rocky Worlds with the Solar Twin Planet Search
    Location: HARPS Spectrograph, Chile

    Sarah Black
    University of Colorado ...

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  1. Ancient Supernovae Were Close Enough to Buffet Biology on Earth with Radiation Dose, Researcher Says


    Image source: NASA Image credit: None
    Image source: NASA

    Research published in April provided “slam dunk” evidence of two prehistoric supernovae exploding about 300 light years from Earth. Now, a follow-up investigation based on computer modeling shows those supernovae likely exposed biology on our planet to a long-lasting gust of cosmic radiation, which also affected the atmosphere.

    “I was surprised to see as much effect as there was,” said Adrian Melott, professor of physics at the University of Kansas, who co-authored the new paper appearing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a peer-reviewed express scientific journal that allows astrophysicists to rapidly publish short notices of significant original research.

    “I was ...

    Source: [University of Kansas]

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