Physics & Biology Helped Us Evolve #science #cancer #NASA #Earth #Mars @MarsOneProject

Sixteen cells working together as a species of algae

Sixteen cells working together as a species of algae

For three billion years, life on Earth consisted of single celled organisms. That was so soon after the planet cooled, it leads some scientists to believe life may be common in the universe. Then 800 million years ago, multicellular life burst on the scene and rapidly evolved. Since it took so long to make the multicellular leap, some scientists believe this sort of advanced life may be rare.

Individual cells started grouping up. They collaborated, differentiated, grew in size and ability. Some sacrificed themselves for the good of the many. Compared to the long, dull years of single-celled living, the resulting diversification barely took any time at all. Before long the world was full of trilobites and anenomes, then fish, ferns, pterodactyls, tyrannosaurs, bees, whales, cacti, kangaroos, not to mention us.

Biology: why did life change? How?

A single gene, called RB, studied in a sixteen-cell species of green algae may explain cells banding together into more complex creatures – and may also explain why some cancers grow in us today. Thanks to mutations in the gene, RB can cause cells to clump together into altruistic colonies, or cells in us to selfishly run wild.

Ironically, cancer may be the price we pay for existing at all.

But complex life needed more than variations of RB to evolve.

Physics: life needed Earth to change
RB may have launched complex creatures more than once before our ancestors lasted long enough to evolve.

Scientists think that until 500 million years ago, life on Earth fell victim to high-energy blasts from the sun, [the early sun produced a lot more cell-killing gamma, ultraviolet and x-rays than it does today.] The atmosphere then was too thin to fully protect our single-celled ancestors, whose DNA would have been damaged by such powerful rays. That kept them from becoming more complex.

As the early Earth cooled, heavy metals sunk to the center. Still very hot but now under extreme pressure, the inner core solidified and spun inside the still-molten outer core.

Bingo! A strong magnetic field was generated, deflecting radiation and protecting the atmosphere from being stripped away. Combined with an aging, more-sedate sun, cells were no longer regularly smashed back to their simplest forms.

The details are hard to pin down and studies will continue. “The origin of life remains one of most challenging themes in science.” And, I might add, one of the most fascinating.

Poor dead Mars
The failure to form a proper dynamo of solid inner core and molten outer core may help explain why Mars lost its early atmosphere and has essentially no magnetic field. Perhaps the planet was just too small to manage the trick – Mars is only half the diameter of Earth. The combination makes Mars a hostile planet for life. Whether life ever started there is unknown, and the chance life persists if it did once gain a toehold is unlikely, but NASA and others are working to find out.

Colonize Mars with scifi
The combination also makes Mars a difficult place for us to consider GLORY Ebook 300 dpi (200x300)colonizing, but from NASA to Mars One, people are ready to go. For now, you can only travel to Mars in your imagination – or in mine! Check out my scifi On Mars series at Amazon or your favorite on-line retailer. Tragedy and despair follow the first colonists to Mars, but exploration, optimism, and love await them too. With a clue to survival from a cat! Read today. Or, as we say on Mars, tosol.

Thanks to Washington Post here and here for stories and quotations.

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Our Destiny Tied to the Wonderful Desert Watermelon #poem #poetry #evolution #nature #middleeast #watermelon

watermelon-on-the-white-table-725x544

licensed at creativecommons.org 2.0

Wild in the deserts
Of Egypt and Sudan,
Grows hard and bitter fruit
Called gurma in that land.

Harvested and hoarded
Somewhere in the shade,
It holds a fount of water
In green flesh that it made.

Water for dry seasons,
Water kept in storage,
Water for a Pharaoh’s Ba
On his celestial voyage.

The fibrous fruit was pounded,
So juices bound would flow.
A gift to desert dwellers
Five millennia ago.

From one gene only, dominant,
Its bitter taste was made,
So when recessive flowers met
The bitterness did fade.

Melons bearing yellow flesh,
By Common Era’s time,
Rabbis grouped with grapes and figs
As sweet within the rind.

The gene for sugar links with red,
Though DNA was not yet spelled,
Medieval farmers bred
A fruit fit for angels.

Citrullus_lanatus_var._citroides

A related wild species in the Kalahari desert

Ruby slabs of watermelon
Decorate my table,
While in the wild deserts
Its ancestral stock is stable.

Civilization could collapse,
There could be Armageddon.
But in five thousand years,
Our Kin could once again
Have watermelon.

Thanks to nationalgeographic.com. And thanks to Mark Twain for writing that watermelon is what the angels eat.

EBOOK COVER R&R3 (199x300)All my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.

 

One Step Closer to a Wooly Mammoth #science #biology #DNA #woollymammoth

mammoth cartoonResearchers at Harvard extracted DNA from a wooly mammoth preserved in Arctic permafrost, copied fourteen genes related to its adaptation to cold, and inserted them into Asian elephant skin cells. Hurray – the cells continued to function normally – in a petri dish.

I’ve thought that bringing back the mammoth would be a stunt – immensely cool, but a stunt nonetheless. Elephants, the mammoth’s surviving relative, are intelligent animals with a complex social life. They care for one another and teach their offspring. Perhaps a mammoth infant could be adopted by a herd of elephants, and I’d definitely take a trip to see such a baby, but would it really be a mammoth in the full sense of body and behavior?

It turns out there’s a practical intermediate step possible with this research. Mammoths have a number of adaptations to cold, including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and differences in their hemoglobin.

Scientists hope, eventually, to ‘raise hybrid elephants that could be genetically wired to thrive in colder climes — hopefully expanding their range to live at a greater remove from humans.’ So resurrected mammoth DNA may help save their endangered modern cousins.

But no one can resist the thought of herds of mammoths roaming the Earth again. “The team might even try to bring back the woolly mammoth itself.”

Not everyone favors de-extinction for the wooly mammoth, in part for fear that modern elephants would be harmed in the research process or for fear of monstrous creations.

Current efforts at rewilding, recreating the lost ecosystem of the Pleistocene, meet with similar concerns – isn’t it a big enough challenge to protect the animals alive today without trying to reconstruct the past? Rewilding advocates call for existing species to be reintroduced where their ancestors once roamed – we’re trying to save grizzly bears and condors already, and horses returned to America with European conquest long ago. Rewilding would repopulate the American high plains and mountain west with cheetahs, lions, llamas, tortoises, related plant species, and – yes – elephants. With global warming underway, I doubt the Pleistocene can be recreated in the United States – maybe Canada or Siberia? Or maybe it’s a romantic dream.

It’s hard to resist the idea. What a thrill that would be. Some say any available funds should go to preserving existing threatened species, but I think lack of political will is a bigger obstacle than lack of money. Perhaps retrieving animals from extinction would create public interest and dedication to save other species. I certainly want to see any research conducted ethically, but even acknowledging that – wooly mammoths. How cool.

Many outlets covered the Harvard work; for example: discovery.com is quoted above, or try Popular Science

Kate Rauner, Hanover, New Mexico, USA

Kate is a chemical and environmental engineer, and Cold War Warrior (honestly, that’s what Congress called us), who worked in America’s nuclear weapons complex. Now retired on the edge of the southwest’s Gila National Forest with her husband, cats, llamas, and dog, she fights fire as a volunteer and writes science fiction novels and science inspired poetry. She also shares science news that strikes her fancy (and finds it odd to write about herself in the third person.)