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  1. Before Animals, Evolution Waited Eons to Inhale


    Earliest animals evolved in the mid to late Proterozoic Eon and lie deep in the fossil record. Depicted in the photo is an example of the Pteridinium genus. Credit: Douglas Erwin / National Museum of Natural History Image credit: None
    Earliest animals evolved in the mid to late Proterozoic Eon and lie deep in the fossil record. Depicted in the photo is an example of the Pteridinium genus. Credit: Douglas Erwin / National Museum of Natural History

    Evolution may have been waiting for a decent breath of oxygen, said researcher Chris Reinhard. And that was hard to come by. His research team is tracking down O2 concentrations in oceans, where earliest animals evolved.

    By doing so, they have jumped into the middle of a heated scientific debate on what rising oxygen did, if anything, to charge up evolutionary eras. Reinhard, a geochemist from the Georgia Institute of Technology, is shaking up conventional thinking with the help of computer modeling.

    That thinking goes like this: “Atmospheric oxygen had a value of ‘x’ back then, and so we just ...

    Source: [Georgia Tech]

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  1. Implications of the Discovery of Proxima b


    Artist's impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser Image credit:
    Artist's impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

    The discovery of the new Earth-sized planet candidate in the habitable zone of the star Proxima Centauri, a little more than four light-years away, was announced by ESO on August 24, 2016. The press release followed weeks of speculation and was itself followed by a great deal of excitement. The research paper on the finding has now been published in Nature.

    To date, Proxima b is the closest exoplanet to us within a Goldilocks zone, putting it in a prime location for future observations, though whether the planet is actually habitable or possesses any other Earth-like qualities is still uncertain ...

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  1. New Icy Worlds Website


    Image credit: None

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory have launched their new website! The Icy Worlds site (https://icyworlds.jpl.nasa.gov/) presents news, multimedia, videos detailing their research investigations, and more. Discover what’s happening in astrobiology at the water-rock interface.

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  1. Astrobiology Primer v2.0 Released


    The long awaited second edition of the Astrobiology Primer has been published in the journal Astrobiology, and it is now available to download!

    This version is an update of the Primer originally published in 2006 by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who wanted to provide a comprehensive introduction to the field. The 2016 version contains revised content that addresses the definition of life in scientific research, the origins of planets and planetary systems, the evolution and interactions of life on Earth, habitability on worlds beyond Earth, the search for life, and the overall implications of the astrobiology research. The Primer ...

    Source: [Astrobiology]

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  1. 2016 Selections for the NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program Fellowship


    Congratulations to the recipients of the March 2016 NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellowships in astrobiology!

    Alan Heays
    Advisor: James Lyons, (Arizona State University, Exobiology)
    Topic: “Explaining isotope fractionation of sulphur in the Archean atmosphere”

    Baptiste Journaux
    Advisor: J. Michael Brown/Steve Vance (University of Washington, NAI NASA JPL Icy Worlds team)
    Topic: “Comprehensive thermodynamics of aqueous solutions and ice for understanding the habitability of extraterrestrial oceans”

    Edward Wade Schwieterman
    Advisor: Timothy Lyons (NAI University of California, Riverside team)
    Topic: “Visualizing alternative Earths through time and space”

    Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert
    Advisor: Jan Amend (NAI University of Southern California team)
    Topic: “Stable Isotope ...

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  1. Dissolved Organic Carbon in the High Arctic


    A team of researchers studying samples from streams in the High Arctic has uncovered the lowest values measured thus far for stable carbon isotopic composition of dissolved organic matter (δ13C-DOC) in surface waters. When studying dissolved organic matter in environmental samples, scientists look at its stable carbon isotopic composition in order to learn about where the organic matter came from, and the extent to which it was processed by living organisms.

    The new study outlines how biological activity has a significant impact on water chemistry in the streams, and indicates that environments with low amounts of dissolved organic carbon ...

    Source: [Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences]

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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


    Colonies of fungi grown on the International Space Station, one of many extreme environments researchers are studying to see how microbes behave.
 Image credit: None
    Colonies of fungi grown on the International Space Station, one of many extreme environments researchers are studying to see how microbes behave. 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


    Scientists survey the peridotite landscape and obtaining access to deep wells drilled into peridotite. Image credit: None
    Scientists survey the peridotite landscape and obtaining access to deep wells drilled into peridotite. 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. Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2017 Announced


    Image credit: None

    The next Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) is planned for the spring of 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, with conference dates and location soon to be announced.

    The theme is “Diverse Life and its Detection on Different Worlds.” Mars and icy worlds in our solar system are increasingly recognized as habitable, even as increasing numbers of exoplanets in their stars’ habitable zones have been discovered. The focus is shifting from identification of habitable worlds, to detection of life on these worlds.

    Those interested in presenting a session at AbSciCon 2017 can submit their proposal for a session topic at: http://www.hou ...

    Source: [USRA]

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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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