On using modified extremophiles to seed new worlds

Synthetic biology has the potential to make organisms more resistant to radiation or temperature extremes,” she said. “You can mix and match genes and do all sorts of things that if you were breeding [organisms] would take forever.”
These modified extremophiles can shed light on a variety of astrobiological questions, including whether or not a planet is potentially habitable. “Say we find a planet, and it has a certain pH, temperature, and radiation regime,” Rothschild told me.
“That’s where we take up the challenge and go into the lab,” she continued. “We’ll say, ‘All right, let’s start with this one that can live at low pH and high temperature. Can we add the radiation resistance?’ Then, we can go back to the astronomers and say [habitability] is not impossible, because we just made something in the lab like that last week.

From We Might Create Alien Life in a Lab Before We Find It in Space

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DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office head Geoffrey Ling on Exoskeleton Tech and their new Exo Planetary Studies research

Excerpt from June 11, 2015 Nature podcast where Sara Readron interviews DARPA’s current Biological Technologies Office about Exoskeleton Tech and their new Exo Planetary Studies research Full podcast link: http://www.nature.com/nature/podcast/in…x-2015-06-11.html Further Nature story on DARPA BiT The Pentagon’s gamble on brain implants, bionic limbs and combat exoskeletons [www.nature.com/news/the-pentagon…skeletons-1.17726] DARPA Biological Technologies Office [www.darpa.mil/about-us/offices/bto] yes DARPA […]

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Nasa scientist Daniel Glavin described the results from the first “wet chemistry” experiment carried out by Curiosity.

A long-chain carboxylic acid, or fatty acid, was a good fit for one of the data peaks detected in a mudstone called Cumberland, he told an audience at the meeting. A form of alcohol molecule may also be among the compounds analysed.

The preliminary result will excite scientists because fatty acids are key components of the cell membranes found in all life forms, including microbial organisms.

Dr Glavin told an audience that the result was “provocative”, and said the link to biology was the “million-dollar question”. But he explained that a non-biological origin was equally plausible at this stage of the research.

One scientist commenting on the presentation suggested that contamination could not be ruled out as a cause of the signal.

The SAM team have been working to address the leak of a pre-existing chemical called MTBSTFA within the instrument.

The fact this is also an organic molecule has complicated the search for indigenous carbon-containing compounds in Martian rocks.

However, team members say they have turned the leak into an advantage, using their understanding of how MTBSTFA reacts with other compounds to identify Martian organics.

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fuckyeahdarkextropian:

Revealing the origin of Ceres’s water could determine whether there is the potential for life beneath its surface, as is thought to be the case on icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

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Aside from a small amount of water acquired by the youthful Earth in the form of hydrated silicate rocks, the great bulk of Earth’s water must have been delivered from beyond. The pummelling Earth received in its youth from asteroids and comets will have delivered the water that is so vital to life as we know it.

The problem is actually exacerbated by the collision that formed the moon. That giant impact occurred after the proto-Earth had differentiated – with the heaviest elements (such as iron and nickel) settling to our planet’s core. This means that the mantle and crust of the Earth, stripped off by the collision, would also have contained most of Earth’s water at the time.

Without the asteroid and comet collisions that have occurred since the moon’s formation, the Earth would most likely be dry and lifeless. But impacts are a stochastic, chance thing – some planetary systems will have architectures that are poorly set up from the point of view of the delivery of volatiles to any terrestrial worlds therein.

On the other hand, studies of the formation and evolution of the “hot Jupiters” – planets like Jupiter orbiting far closer to their hosts than Mercury orbits the sun – suggest that the inward migration of such planets could drag with them vast amounts of volatiles.

In those models, so much water is delivered to the inner reaches of those systems that any Earth-like planets that form are water worlds – drenched in oceans hundreds of kilometres deep.

While such worlds might well be teeming with life, it is unlikely that it would be easy to detect. Indeed, without continents, the oceans could be almost completely lifeless, with the only source of nutrients being volcanoes on the ocean floor.

If life on such water worlds did exist, it might be so deeply buried in the ocean that any sign of it would be extremely challenging to detect, particularly from a distance measured in tens or hundreds of light-years. As such, ocean worlds would most likely be poor targets for the initial stages of the search for life elsewhere.

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There are a lot of assumptions here: For one, that alien biology will have comparable physical requirements to our own. If biotic life isn’t limited to Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone—a restriction that precludes the icy moons Europa and Titan—the number of life-harboring worlds could actually be much higher.

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So far, Steele has found no hint of martian biology—just trace amounts of organic molecules associated with volcanic processes. But he has found plenty of Earth bugs in the cracks—something that he takes as a good sign. “It’s a very habitable rock,” he says. “All it needs is a little warmth.”

A castaway from ancient Mars
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It has been repeatedly proposed to expand the scope for SETI, and one of the suggested alternatives to radio is the biological media. Genomic DNA is already used on Earth to store non-biological information. Though smaller in capacity, but stronger in noise immunity is the genetic code. The code is a flexible mapping between codons and amino acids, and this flexibility allows modifying the code artificially. But once fixed, the code might stay unchanged over cosmological timescales; in fact, it is the most durable construct known. Therefore it represents an exceptionally reliable storage for an intelligent signature, if that conforms to biological and thermodynamic requirements. As the actual scenario for the origin of terrestrial life is far from being settled, the proposal that it might have been seeded intentionally cannot be ruled out. A statistically strong intelligent-like “signal” in the genetic code is then a testable consequence of such scenario. Here we show that the terrestrial code displays a thorough precision-type orderliness matching the criteria to be considered an informational signal. Simple arrangements of the code reveal an ensemble of arithmetical and ideographical patterns of the same symbolic language. Accurate and systematic, these underlying patterns appear as a product of precision logic and nontrivial computing rather than of stochastic processes (the null hypothesis that they are due to chance coupled with presumable evolutionary pathways is rejected with P-value < 10–13). The patterns are profound to the extent that the code mapping itself is uniquely deduced from their algebraic representation. The signal displays readily recognizable hallmarks of artificiality, among which are the symbol of zero, the privileged decimal syntax and semantical symmetries. Besides, extraction of the signal involves logically straightforward but abstract operations, making the patterns essentially irreducible to any natural origin. Plausible ways of embedding the signal into the code and possible interpretation of its content are discussed. Overall, while the code is nearly optimized biologically, its limited capacity is used extremely efficiently to pass non-biological information.

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Plate tectonics found on Europa   

Such active geology suggests that Europa’s icy surface is connected to its buried ocean — creating a possible pathway for salts, minerals and maybe even microbes to get from the ocean to the surface and back again.

Places have already been spotted on Europa where fresh ice crust is being born, but the latest research is the first to pinpoint where it might be going to die.

But without high-resolution images from more areas, researchers cannot tell whether subduction might also be happening in other locations. If it turns out to be common, it might mean that the moon could be cycling life-friendly compounds between the surface and the deep, and that substantially increases the chance that its ocean is habitable, says Michael Bland, a planetary scientist at the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The discovery adds to excitement set off in December, when scientists reported plumes of water vapour spurting out at Europa’s south pole (L. Roth et al. Science 343, 171–174; 2014). The plumes have not been seen since, and they may or may not be related to Europa’s newly appreciated system of plate tectonics. NASA now needs to figure out what kind of mission might best to explore these discoveries.

Plate tectonics found on Europa   

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Among the things the astronauts left to lighten the load for the return trips were their “defecation collection devices,” also known as emesis bags (top). So decades-old containers filled with decades-old astronaut turds are still hanging out on the Moon.

In addition to the cool-gross factor, this astro-poop has some scientific and, with the other artifacts up there, cultural value. Some astrobiologists are interested in how bacteria in the abandoned feces have fared, and some anthropologists and historians would like to see the moon landing sites and all the artifacts there protected as part of a World Heritage Site. 

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