We’re All Just Microbe Poop


The gringa gets so excited about the search for life in outer space that I often forget about the overlooked frontier right here on earth… the deepest, darkest depths of our oceans. And some interesting discoveries have been taking place about 12 miles below the surface of the deep.

A beautiful, sparkly mineral has rendered up traces of microbial life. This is the deepest place carbon based life has ever been found on Earth. So far.  It is suspected that underwater oceanic volcanoes spit out the pretty minerals. But what does it mean? Is there any value to this information other than a cool topic of party conversation that makes a person look brilliant?

Scientists at Utrecht University, who made the discovery 6 miles below the deepest point of the Mariana Trench, consider the microbes to be something like a “message in a bottle”. Studying them will reveal information about mud volcanoes that are otherwise unknown.  Through chemical analysis they hope to find out things like what they “eat” which will tell scientists more about the microbe’s surrounding environment.  But microbes can spin quite a yarn. They are the smallest building blocks of our world’s biology.

Microbial communities basically eat different types of carbon. As these communities feast, grow and produce by-products (microbial “poop” I suppose), all sorts of things are happening. This, in essence, is how the carbon based world we live was constructed.

There are different kinds of microbe classifications. The type of microbe found 12 miles under the sea is considered an anaerobic respirator. That means it releases energy as a by-product of the carbon based food it eats. That means that anaerobic microbe poop is really energy!

This energy then turns around and changes the minerals in the microbe’s environment. And depending on what kind of carbon it eats determines the kind of energy-poop related change that takes place. For example, when microbes eat lactates, the same kind of changes repeat themselves in the surrounding environment. But when researchers feed them glucose, all kinds of different things happen.

The gringa can relate. Glucose is really just sugar. When the gringa’s oldest son was a little boy, if he avoided sugar his behavior was rather predictable. However, offer him a soda and as soon as the sugar high kicked in, he went bananas. So, I guess we really did all originate from microbes! Next time I stare at a microbe under a microscope I will ask myself if that is one of my long lost ancestors.

So, I guess in answer to my question about the value of learning about microbes is that in doing so, we learn more about ourselves!

Sources:

Graphiq

Science Daily

Image Credit:  UK News Yahoo

Video Credit:  Newsy Science

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Were Ancient Martians Vegetable Farmers?


If a petrified cauliflower garden was discovered on Mars would that indicate that ancient Martians were vegetable farmers? Again, images transmitted by Mars rover Spirit have ancient alien conspiracy theorists reveling in the possibility. Unfortunately, unless ancient Martians enjoyed a crisp, tasty salad of silica, no, they were not vegetable farmers.

Near what NASA has dubbed “Home Plate”, Spirit took some pictures of interesting mineral formations that looked like cauliflower. Now, just because something looks like something doesn’t mean that it is that something. Think of all the little fishies in the sea that believe they are about to snag a little morsel for dinner only to realize, much too late, it was actually a bio-lure attached to the head of a deep sea angler fish who is about to be enjoying some dinner of his own. See, although that glowing tidbit looked like food, it was actually a dangerous decoy and not at all what it seemed. So, no, the gringa does not believe that these cauliflower looking formations are actually petrified cauliflower. But, still, is there any exciting news attached to their existence?

According to researchers from Arizona State University, although the mineral formations are no indicator of ancient Martian farmers, they could still very well have been created by alien life. Just not the kind of alien life that walks about, flies in spaceships and probes your brain. We are talking about microscopic alien life in the form of microbes. Which, I guess, technically speaking, under the right conditions could get inside a human brain for a “brain probe”, technically speaking, of course.

Now these silica protrusions were first reported to Earthlings by Spirit in 2008. Why has it taken eight years for the media to find something interesting? Well, science takes its own sweet time in research and drawing the right conclusions. Part of this research involves studying similar mineral formations here on Earth to get some local answers. One place to do that is in the high altitude Andean Atacama Desert of Chile which has some shapes that look like a mirror image of what was found on Mars. Could the microbes that created the Martian formations have traveled to Earth and duplicated their work here? Is that a sign of a cosmic connection between our two planets or is it common for microbes to create silica based cauliflower everywhere? Are conditions simply present in lots of places remote from one another for this to happen?

Scientists Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer, who penned an article published by Smithsonian Magazine, believe that the Martian petrified cauliflower may be proof that at one time, way back when, Mars was teeming with the kind of life commonly found in the vicinity of geysers, even living within the geysers themselves. After their investigation of Chile’s cauliflower, the work of artistic microbes who have a penchant for sculptures resembling vegetables, they linked the microbes responsible to some ancient microbes found in New Zealand that were definitely from out of this world. More silica cauliflower cousins have also been found in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

So maybe, just maybe, some space traveling microbes made their way here from Mars aeons ago. And the message they have left behind to get our attention are rock formations that look like cauliflower. Does that sound crazy or what? How would ancient microscopic Martians have ever known humans would ever develop the habit of even eating cauliflower and decide that would be their key way of making first contact or leaving behind a letter of introduction? The gringa appreciates the zeal of scientists but methinks this is all just an accident. Mars probably got slammed by an enormous asteroid, comet or meteor which sent chunks of Mars shooting out into space and one of these chunks happened to make its way to Earth and, bing, bang, boom, a kazillion years later we have cauliflower rocks just like Mars.

If that’s the case, there’s no telling what other bits of Mars may have made their way here and be right under our very noses. It makes rock collecting take on a whole new meaning. That little bit of quartz or gypsum you collect and stuff in a cubby hole or box today may prove to be of galactic origins tomorrow.

More interesting to the gringa than the thought of beings similar to us living on Mars long ago is the implication of space scraps making their way hither and yon from the vast reaches of space to finally land upon Earth. Who knows?! Maybe NOTHING organic on Earth actually originated here. Maybe our planet is a virtual junkyard of the Universe, with little bits from here and there surviving and growing up into what we have today. Hey, stranger things have happened!

Sources:  www.nasa.gov

www.yahoo.news

www.smithsonianmag.com

Image source:  www.americaspace.com

 

 

Pardon Me, Is That An Asteroid On Your Finger?


The oldest rocks on Earth are zircon crystals. These highly refractive gemstones are often used to imitate diamonds or cubic zirconias in jewelry. Geologists have now announced the results of a study that has determined that zircons are quite possibly remnants of an ancient asteroid collision with Earth.

Other than simply having the pleasure of knowing you may have a bit of outer space asteroid glittering on your finger or about your ears, neck or wrist, what good is this information? Well, for one thing it dispels the previous theory that zircons were created by tectonic plate upheavals. But, more importantly, it helps scientists understand climate change. Yes, you heard the gringa right, climate change. A rock’s origins can often indicate what was going on with water on the planet at the time the rock was formed. Since zircon’s are produced by asteroids, Earthlings can also learn about the part of the cosmos that it originated from.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) collected crystals from an impact crater that is considered “young”. Scientists wanted to compare the “young” crystals with older crystals from the Sudbury crater in Ontario, Canada. Sudbury is the best preserved impact crater on Earth and is about two billion years old.

The samples were taken to Stockholm’s “Swedish Museum of Natural History”.  Comparisons  concluded that the older crystals were the same as the younger ones. This then disproved the argument that the ancient zircon crystals could not have formed at the time the impact occurred. So, now we know that they could and probably did, making zircons the oldest rocks on Earth, as old as four billion years old which is the age of the oldest impact crater on our planet. The researchers also believe this supports the narrative that early Earth saw many more asteroid impacts than in its later life.

So, what this new determination tells mankind is that about four billion years ago an asteroid slammed into Earth. The crystals were able to form because water was present. Best estimates place the Earth’s age at four and a half billion years old so logic would assume then that it has always been a watery planet.  And what’s the big deal about an old, watery Earth?

Well, for one thing, water was required for life as we know it today to have evolved. But, the new discoveries about the crystals still does not solve the mystery of how life originated on planet Earth in the first place. And there are many theories on this subject that argue their own merits. Here are a few:

Electrified Primordial Soup – This school of thought believes that in the beginning of Earth’s life as a planet there was a life-giving electrical shock to the planet, such as lightning, that interacted with the ammonia, hydrogen and water on the planet. Lightning would deliver more than just a jolting electrical shock. The atmosphere, being filled with ammonia, hydrogen and water, would react with the electricity and create amino acids and sugars. These are the building blocks of microbial life.

Clay – A Scottish chemist has offered the theory that mineral crystals in clay is where all life began. He believes it is possible that clay, possibly at the bottom of the sea, was the perfect surface for molecules to organize themselves into patterns of amino acids and proteins which would later become DNA. Once the DNA evolved independently it no longer needed the clay medium but could organize itself on its own.

Hydrothermal Vents – Even now ocean biologists discover ecosystems surrounding hydrothermal vents deep within the Earth’s oceans that are teeming with life. Concentrations of molecules and minerals exist with the rocks surrounding these vents interacting with the hydrogen rich molecules provided by the vents action.

Panspermia – The hitchhiking life surviving the impact of an asteroid with Earth is yet one more possibility. If this theory is true, then the puzzle of the origins of life is not really to be worked out here on Earth, but to be solved by traveling the cosmos to find where it came from out there.

Although the many theories of how life originate on Earth are quite varied in their ideas, they all have one common thread… water. That would mean if the original microbes that evolved into humans over billions of years originally came from somewhere in outer space, to discover or “home planet”, Earthlings have to study planets that either have water now or had it at some time in their own history. By understanding this, a person then can understand the inspiration behind every space mission and why the space agencies of the world want to travel ever farther. They are not looking for little green men. They are looking for little molecules of water or ice. And one day, we may all call home a rock that exists in another galaxy or solar system.

 

Sources:  www.redorbit.com

www.geology.gsapubs.org

www.livescience.com

Image credits:  www.en.wikipedia.org

www.alluregems.blogspot.com

The Case Of The Hitchhiking Microbe


What, exactly, does NASA hope to accomplish if astronauts really do set their boots on the surface of Mars? One thing they hope to discover are clues to the origins of life on Earth. The gringa asks, “What exactly does that mean?” It means that NASA is considering the theory of “panspermia” and is exploring outer space to see if stellar evidence proves this theory to be true.

Panspermia is nothing new.  As far back as 5BC scientists were considering panspermia as the explanation for how humans came into existence here on Earth. In 1871 it was officially proposed in the scientific community of that day. Panspermia posits that it is possible for life to planet hop, possibly even hop among star systems, and seed the planets it visits with life. In a nutshell, that would mean that the primitive biological material that evolved into the original ancestors of humans was not created here on Earth, but, rather, were alien hitchhikers who made their way here on cosmic fragments.

NASA’s exploration policy is to “follow the water” because it is necessary to produce life as we know it. Water is found throughout the universe, just not in the form we need, liquid. It’s usually frozen. However, wherever there is frozen water, perhaps, in that planet’s history, it was once liquid. And, if so, perhaps that is where human origins can be found if the panspermia theory is true, that life exists in the universe and can travel via meteors to other planets and eventually develop on other worlds where the environment is sufficient to support its development.

Since Mars was a warm world with water long ago, the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, it makes it a logical planet to explore for evidence of panspermia. The exploration and data collected so far from the rovers and satellites studying Mars have been limited to studying the surface of the Red Planet. No evidence has been found on the surface. It is possible, however, that important evidence could be buried beyond the reach of the rovers’ digging capabilities or a satellite’s imaging. That is why it is important to get some human explorers out there.

What would the implications be if Earth-like microbes were discovered on Mars? Every human would first want to go have a very long look in the mirror and then a very long look up into the heavens and ponder the concept. NASA, however, would not be surprised. NASA has already conducted studies on over 130 meteorites from Mars and determined that none contained any microbial evidence despite the fact that some claims to the contrary were made. NASA understands the serious repercussions that would occur around the world if such a discovery is made and we can trust them to report the truth without any hype. NASA takes scientific truth seriously.

They even have a program established that studies the effects such discoveries might have throughout the world. They understand that an announcement that extraterrestrial life exists will have serious philosophical, religious, legal, ethical and cultural implications that will impact people all over the world.

Despite NASA’s interest in this theory and their willingness to explore space with the idea in mind to search for supportive evidence, they are also realistic about its probability. They believe that it is probably unlikely that life as we know it on Earth was seeded from Mars origins. However, because science is not about “probably”, they must continue the studies until the theory can be proven or disproven.

There are some scientists who do believe that Mars was an ideal place for life to have existed at some time. They believe that since such life would have existed long before life on Earth ever existed, it is then not unreasonable to consider the possibility that microbes traveled to Earth on a meteorite and introduced life here on the Blue Planet.

One reason some scientists support the idea of panspermia via Mars is because Martian meteorites contain the precursors to RNA, boron and molybdenum. In fact, they contain more of these two elements than what is found in early Earth. And why does that matter? RNA is a molecule that plays a critical role in regulating genes and its presence is necessary for all life forms as we Earthlings know them. So, if an old rock from Mars contains such a molecule, it only stands to reason, at least from an Earthling perspective, that it existed on Mars for the purpose of regulating the genetic codes of some Martian life form.

Another Martian discovery that further supports the belief that life once existed on Mars has to do with phosphates. It has already been established that Mars has provided evidence of the presence of RNA. In order for RNA to form, phosphates must be present. Well, not only does Mars have phosphates, but Martian phosphates dissolve in water much better than Earth’s phosphates. The logic then goes that since life as we know it here on Earth originated in water, Martian conditions were even more friendly to the aspect of life forming than conditions on Earth. So, if it could happen here, it most certainly should have happened on Mars.

So, basically, the theory goes that about 4 billions years ago a comet or meteorite of Martian origins blasted through our galaxy and slammed into Earth. Now this could have been an accident or, according to “directed panspermia” theory, a deliberate action by an intelligent civilization.

Historically panspermia has been considered “fringe” science. However, it is now gaining new consideration in light of the Mars mission. In fact, in 2013 Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Buckingham claims to have discovered fossilized remains of organisms in meteorites found within Earth’s atmosphere. This proves that it is possible for primitive life forms to survive the intense heat of entry into Earth’s atmosphere and make its way to Earth’s surface. He believes it is possible that the entire Milky Way Galaxy could have been teeming with life at one time long, long ago. He also believes that organic, possibly even living, stellar material is constantly being exchanged throughout the cosmos through meteoric impact.

So, the gringa awaits the exciting mission of boots on the ground on Mars. I eagerly await the drill, baby, drill action that will delve deep below the dusty surface of the Red Planet. I can’t wait to find out what may lie beneath the frozen crust of the vast Martian ocean. Scientists believe the Martian seas are not frozen solid. Could a Martian “Nessie” be swimming about waiting for visitors to come feed her a few breadcrumbs? It very well could be. And, she could be our distant cousin.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit: www.groundzeromedia.org