Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Searching newborn stars for precursors to life

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - A team of astrobiology researchers -- including two from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute -- will use a series of nighttime flights on an airborne observatory to search newly born stars for the presence of precursors to life. See article.
g Life - Synthetic biologists try to engineer useful biological systems that do not exist in nature. One of their goals is to design an orthogonal chromosome different from DNA and RNA, termed XNA for xeno nucleic acids. XNA exhibits a variety of structural chemical changes relative to its natural counterparts. These changes make this novel information-storing biopolymer “invisible” to natural biological systems. The lack of cognition to the natural world, however, is seen as an opportunity to implement a genetic firewall that impedes exchange of genetic information with the natural world, which means it could be the ultimate biosafety tool. Here’s an essay that discusses why it is necessary to go ahead designing xenobiological systems like XNA and its XNA binding proteins; what the biosafety specifications should look like for this genetic enclave; which steps should be carried out to boot up the first XNA life form; and what it means for the society at large. See essay.
g Cosmicus - Astronaut Don Pettit continues his diary from Expedition 31 on the International Space Station. In this installment he talks about how astronauts spend their time on the ISS - from performing experiments to simply trying to stay alive. See article.

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