SETI bioastro: Marsbugs Vol. 7, No. 16 (text)

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The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter
Volume 7, Number 16, 28 April 2000.


Dr. David J. Thomas, Biology and Chemistry Division, Lyon College,
Batesville, AR 72503-2317, USA.

Dr. Julian A. Hiscox, School of Animal and Microbial Sciences,
University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AJ, United Kingdom.

Marsbugs is published on a weekly to quarterly basis as warranted by
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The purpose of this newsletter is to provide a channel of information
for scientists, educators and other persons interested in exobiology
and related fields. This newsletter is not intended to replace peer-
reviewed journals, but to supplement them. We, the editors, envision
Marsbugs as a medium in which people can informally present ideas for
investigation, questions about exobiology, and announcements of
upcoming events.

Astrobiology is still a relatively young field, and new ideas may
come from the most unexpected places. Subjects may include, but are
not limited to: exobiology and astrobiology (life on other planets),
the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), ecopoeisis and
terraformation, Earth from space, planetary biology, primordial
evolution, space physiology, biological life support systems, and
human habitation of space and other planets.


By John Bluck

Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics release

By G. Jeffrey Taylor

By Rachel Nowak

JPL image advisory

ESA release NR07-2000

JPL release

By John Bluck
NASA Ames release 00-32AR

24 April 2000

Tiny fungi that make forests possible are significantly affected by
clear-cutting tree stands, perhaps altering forests and plant types
that re-grow, according to a recent paper in the Canadian Journal of
Botany. The paper reports on ecological fungi research by NASA at
Yellowstone National Park, WY, where scientists used a police
technique, "DNA fingerprinting," to investigate biodiversity and the
importance of human changes to ecosystems. An ecosystem is the
combination of living things and raw materials, such as water, gases
and minerals, that life uses in the environment. Clear-cutting
refers to the practice of cutting a stand of trees in its entirety.

"If the fungi in ecosystems change in large areas of the world, then
the kind of plant life could also change," said Dr. Ken Cullings, a
scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, in California's Silicon
Valley, who co-authored the paper with team member Kristin Byrd.
"These fungal changes in the soil may begin to explain why it is more
difficult for certain species of trees to re-grow. Our results
identify the need for further research to understand how fungi
remained after clear-cutting," Cullings said.

"The fungi we study are related to the big mushrooms you see when
walking through the forests," he said. "If you go to the market,
you'll also see them; they are chanterelles and king bolete,
expensive mushrooms that are also mycorrhizal fungi."

"Mycorrhizal fungi are important because, without them, trees could
not get nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil," he
said. "The fungi get carbon from tree roots in exchange for
providing nitrogen and phosphorus to the trees."

If a tree does not have nitrogen, it cannot survive. Most plants on
Earth, including trees in the tropical rainforests, form associations
with fungi. "The things we are learning in Yellowstone can apply to
ecosystems across the world," said Cullings.

The paper reports that the research team took soil cores at both
undisturbed and clear-cut forest sites. Researchers found 48 species
of ectomycorrhizal fungi in clear-cut areas, and 70 species in
undisturbed Yellowstone forests. The research team also found nine
of the 14 most common "clear-cut" species in the undisturbed sites,
but at a much lower abundance.

"We're using DNA fingerprinting to identify these different kinds of
microbes," he said. "We work with a root hair the size of a pin
head. Just like forensic detectives, we amplify the DNA by taking a
gene, and we put it in a machine with the chemical building blocks of
DNA." Scientists use an enzyme, first discovered in a Yellowstone
Hot Springs bacterium in the 1960's, to make several billion copies
of each gene under study. Cullings was the first scientist to use
this process to categorize Yellowstone microbes.

"We measure biodiversity, and one way to do it is to measure the
species that are present in the soil," Cullings said. "My group is
counting microorganisms and what kinds live in Yellowstone's soil.
We're looking at how clear-cutting, forest fires and other
disturbances are affecting the microbe populations."

"We have found there is a big difference between how clear-cutting a
forest affects microbes and how fires affect those populations," he
said. "After a fire, or clearing of timber in a given area, the
number of microbe species may be the same, but different kinds
survive a fire versus survive clear-cutting."

Because some types of fungi may help certain tree varieties to
survive, but not others, the kind of forest in the area may change
after a fire or a clear-cut. The historic cycle of forest recovery
may also change. During decades or even hundreds of years, many
Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain forests change from lodge pole pines,
to firs and spruce. Human-made disturbances, such as acid rain and
changes in atmospheric gases (including carbon dioxide levels or
damage to Earth's ozone layer), can also alter the repeating cycle of
tree growth, Cullings' study suggests. The Cullings paper appeared
in the Canadian Journal of Botany, February 2000, Volume 78, Number

Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics release

26 April 2000

The first in situ chemical analysis of interstellar dust particles
produces a puzzling result. These cosmic particles consist mostly of
3-dimensionally cross-linked organic macromolecules, so-called
polymeric-heterocyclic-aromates. "They rather resemble tar-like
substances than minerals" say Dr. Franz R. Krueger (contractor) and
Dr. Jochen Kissel, Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
(for extraterrestrial Physics), Garching near Munich, Germany, in the
latest issue of 'Sterne und Weltraum' a monthly, German language
Astronomy magazine in Heidelberg, Germany.

So far, five interstellar dust particles (dust between the stars)
have hit the Garching-built dust impact mass spectrometer CIDA
(Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyzer) onboard the NASA spacecraft
Stardust. Launched on February 7th 1999 Stardust will visit comet
Wild-2 (pronounce Vild-2) in 2004.

To reach the comet, Stardust has to perform three orbits about the
sun. At the close fly-by (miss-distance 500 km/300 miles) another
instrument will collect cometary dust and return it, well packed, to
earth in January of 2006. During its 7-year mission, Stardust will
face the stream of interstellar dust several times. This dust is
part of the local environment in the Milky Way, which the solar
system currently passes through at high speed. It has recently be
seen by dust instruments of the Heidelberg-based Max-Planck-Institut
für Kernphysik (for Nuclear Physics) on both NASA's Galileo and ESA's
Ulysses spacecrafts. The first measuring campaign for CIDA from
February through December 1999 has produced the new results.

During this time Stardust was at a distance of about 240 million
kilometers (150 million miles) from the earth when the first impact
occurred. Just before the campaign the spacecraft pointed the
instrument into the direction of the interstellar dust, so that it
would not measure the more frequent interplanetary dust particles,
which are parts of our solar system. At an impact speed of about 30
kilometers/second (18 miles/second) these interstellar dust particles
are vaporized immediately and broken up into molecular fragments. A
fraction of those carries a positive or negative electronic charge.
By its electric field in front of the target CIDA pulls the positive
ions into the instrument to the detector. Depending on their mass it
takes the ions different times to travel the 1.5 meters (5 feet)
distance (heavier ions travel longer). This way they are detected
mass after mass with in some 200 millionth of a second, and a mass
spectrum is generated.

"It is the size of these molecular fragments with nuclear masses of
up to 2000 (e.g., water has 18 such units) which surprised us as much
as the seemingly absence of any mineral constituents", explains Dr.
Kissel of the Garching-based Max-Planck-Institut für
extraterrestrische Physik. "Only organic molecules can reach those
sizes". The largest molecules found in space so far are the
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which reach masses of a few
hundred mass units.

The details of the mass spectra measured with CIDA show that the
molecules of the interstellar dust must have about 10% of nitrogen
and/or oxygen in addition to hydrogen and carbon. This means that
these cannot be pure PAHs, which are planar, but are especially due
to the nitrogen extend into all three spatial directions.

Such three dimensional molecules can form links to their neighbors
and reach a thermal stability necessary to survive the trip into the
inner solar system with 300 to 350 Kelvin (70 to 180 degrees
Fahrenheit). "The organic material analyzed with CIDA in the
interstellar dust particles is another type of reactive molecules
which we found in the dust of comet Halley 14 years ago" says Dr.
Kissel. "When they got in contact with liquid water on the young
earth, they could have triggered the type of chemical reactions which
are a prerequisite for the origin of life."

Related web-pages:
* Stardust,

By G. Jeffrey Taylor
>From Planetary Research Discoveries

26 April 2000

Analytical techniques have advanced so far that it is possible to
slice up a sample only 10 micrometers across (with a mass of only a
billionth of a gram) so that a dozen microanalytical techniques can
be used to extract fascinating, crucial information about the
sample's history. This astonishing ability is useful in analyzing
interplanetary dust collected in the stratosphere, tiny interstellar
grains in meteorites, sparse and wispy weathering products in martian
meteorites, and samples to be collected and returned to Earth by
current and future sample return missions from comets, asteroids,
martian moons, and Mars. The importance of the array of techniques
available to cosmochemists has been documented by Michael Zolensky
(Johnson Space Center), Carle Pieters (Brown University), Benton
Clark (Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver), and James Papike
(University of New Mexico), with special attention to sample-return

For the full story, go to

By Rachel Nowak
>From New Scientist

26 April 2000

An astronaut's life is already fraught with danger, but two recent
studies show that attempts to help astronauts who are injured in
space may put them at even greater risk. A study with monkeys
suggests that emergency surgery within hours of returning to Earth
could prove fatal, while an international team of anesthetists claims
that medical equipment on the space shuttle for keeping an astronaut
breathing in an emergency is inadequate.

Only the healthiest people can become astronauts. But during lengthy
spells in space, for example on the International Space Station or on
a mission to Mars, serious health problems and accidents are
inevitable. "Send a few more John Glenns up there and someone is
going to have a [heart attack]," says Michael Todd, an anesthetist at
the University of Iowa in Iowa City and the editor of the journal

Concerns about emergencies in space have been heightened following
the joint Russian-American Bion 11 mission in 1997, in which two
monkeys flew aboard the space shuttle [sic]. The monkeys were given
a general anaesthetic on their first day back on Earth-something that
had never been tried before. One monkey died and the other suffered
serious complications.

Details of what triggered the complications are being prepared for
publication. "The events could be explained if there was inadequate
blood flow under anesthesia, similar to that seen in a diabetic with
severe nerve disorder," says Ronald Merrell of the Medical College of
Virginia in Richmond, who chaired the Bion task force for NASA.
People take at least a day to regain control of their blood flow when
they return to Earth from space.

If a seriously ill astronaut had to be rushed back to Earth for
emergency treatment, "clinicians should be aware that there are
potentially some unique anaesthetic risks involved," says William
Norfleet, a space medicine expert at NASA's Johnson Space Center in
Houston, Texas.

There is also plenty of scope for accidents on spacecraft,
particularly fires that could release toxic fumes that stop an
astronaut breathing. "Electrical fires are an ever-present hazard
and there is nowhere to run," says Norfleet. To find the best way to
maintain an open passage to the lungs in microgravity, a team led by
Joseph Brimacombe of the University of Queensland in Cairns and
Christian Keller of the University of Innsbruck built a mock-up of
the living quarters on the International Space Station and submerged
it in a pool to simulate microgravity. Then the team, which included
four anaesthetists, tested four different techniques on manikins.
They discovered that the equipment carried on the space shuttle--an
endotracheal tube and a laryngoscope to insert it, similar to those
commonly used on Earth--is likely to fail unless the patient is
strapped down, which would take valuable time in an emergency.
Inserting an endotracheal tube requires two hands and considerable
force. In space, this would push an unrestrained patient out of
reach. The three other techniques tested by the researchers, all of
which leave the doctor with a free hand to stabilise the patient's
head, worked well with or without restraints. The results will be
published in the next issue of Anesthesiology.

"The space shuttle definitely does not have the appropriate equipment
for airway management by inexperienced personnel like astronauts,"
says Brimacombe.

New Scientist issue: 29th April 2000

JPL image advisory

27 April 2000

New images of the martian south polar cap and a crater in the
Northern Hemisphere show seasonal changes taking place in each region
as seen from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, currently
orbiting Mars. It is summer at Mars' South Pole and the residual ice
cap has shrunk to its minimal size but is still covered with carbon
dioxide frost. It is winter in the North, and the rims of the
Lomonosov Crater are draped with an icy frost beneath low-lying
ground fog.

The Global Surveyor images are available at
bin/, or

Mars Global Surveyor is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for
NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of
the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

ESA release NR07-2000

28 April 2000

On 3 May 2000, the European Space Agency and researchers from
academia and industry in Germany, Italy and Switzerland will sign a
contract for a health research project which will lay the scientific
and industrial foundations for the development of a space bioreactor
for biomedical applications to be set up on the International Space
Station. As Jörg Feustel-Büechl, ESA's Director of Manned
Spaceflight and Microgravity points out: "This is the first in a
series of over fifty contracts that ESA will sign in the coming years
for application-oriented research projects that involve use of the
International Space Station in the development of which Europe is
participating, together with the USA, Russia, Japan and Canada."

A bioreactor is a cultivation vessel used in research laboratories
and industrial production to grow bacteria, yeast or animal cells
and, increasingly in the recent past, tissues. The one to be
developed under this contract will be designed specifically for
mammalian cell cultivation and will be used on the International
Space Station to study the cultivation of medically relevant cells,
tissues and organ-like structures, with particular emphasis on
vessels and cartilage.

Millions of people every year suffer organ and tissue damage from
diseases and accidents. Transplantation of tissues and organs from
other human bodies is severely restricted by the limited availability
of donors. Taking tissue samples from unaffected areas of a
patient's own body, growing them in vitro, outside the patient's
body, to a size and structure suitable for re-implantation into the
body parts affected by organ or tissue damage is therefore seen as a
promising alternative to the transplantation of foreign tissues and
organs. Re-implantation also eliminates the fundamental problem of
rejection of foreign tissues and organs by the patient's system.
Growing tissue samples in vitro, i.e. in a bioreactor, is currently
one of the major goals of medical research.

One of the possible applications of this technique is mass
cultivation of biological implants to regenerate the meniscus and the
articular cartilage of the knee. Cartilage regeneration is urgently
needed by patients in their 20's to 50's, many of them with injuries
from sports accidents. Demand for such implants in Europe alone is
estimated at 100 000 cases a year. The principles of in vitro cell
culture have been known for almost 100 years, but only in the last
10-20 years has the cultivation of mammalian cultures increased
significantly, leading to the creation of the discipline of tissue
engineering. These techniques are expected to revolutionize
biomedical and surgical procedures in the near future.

Space research has potential to give a boost to tissue engineering.
As compared to the normal gravity conditions on Earth, a
weightlessness environment may provide much better conditions for
obtaining proper three-dimensional cell structures. Over the past
decade, evidence in the scientific literature has indicated that
weightlessness (also known as "microgravity" in the scientific world)
may become a surprising, unconventional and yet attractive medium for
the generation of macroscopic tissue equivalents for a variety of
basic and applied medical purposes.

The modular space bioreactor for growing medically relevant organ-
like structures proposed by a European scientific and industrial
research team under the coordination of Professor Augusto Cogoli from
the Swiss Federal Technical University (ETH) in Zurich will play an
essential part in clarifying cellular and molecular mechanisms
responsible for cell aggregation and differentiation control
mechanisms and also in obtaining better pseudo-organs for possible
clinical uses.

Professor Cogoli's team comprises members from Switzerland, Italy and
Germany: Dr. Isabelle Walther from the Swiss Federal Technical
University (ETH), Zurich (CH), Dr. Werner Müller from the Sulzer
Medica company in Winterthur (CH), Professor Saverio Ambesi-
Impiombato from the University of Udine (I), Dr. Augustinus Bader
from the Medical University of Hannover (D), Professor Peter Bruckner
from the University of Münster (D) and Dr. Ralf Pörtner from the
Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg (D).

The modular space bioreactor project is one of over 50 microgravity
applications projects for the International Space Station that the
European Space Agency expects to initiate in the near future. The
aim of these projects is to use the International Space Station as a
vehicle for application-oriented scientific and industrial research
to obtain data in space that will be needed for digital simulation on
Earth or to give more insight into Earth-based industrial processes.
With the availability of the International Space Station, examining
specific applied research questions in the unique environment of
weightlessness promises to be a rewarding long-term undertaking for

This project is being sponsored by ESA's Microgravity Applications
Promotion Programme and is being funded jointly with the
participating scientific research institutes and industry. A major
aspect of this program is the setting-up of Europe-wide teams and
networks involving partners from academia and industry working
together on industrially relevant research. The aim is to initiate
concrete industrial projects in which terrestrial research with
industrial objectives and commercial funding, with the participation
of researchers from scientific institutes, will be supported by ESA,
including the sponsoring of space flight opportunities and associated
ground-based activities.

Professor Cogoli and his scientific-industrial team proposed the
modular space bioreactor project in response to ESA's first
Announcement of Opportunity for Physical Sciences and Biotechnology,
issued in 1998 to invite scientists to submit research proposals for
the International Space Station. ESA received 145 proposals in
response to this announcement, a number for exceeding expectations.
In a review of the proposals by independent peers, 6 were rated
"outstanding", 26 were "highly recommended" and 30 were
"recommended". Of these proposals, 31 dealt with application-
oriented research, including thermophysical properties of liquid
metals, advanced foams, biological tissue culturing, osteoporosis and
combustion processes.

The peer review panel summarized its evaluation of the proposal made
by Professor Cogoli and his team in the following words: "The
proposal for producing cartilage without using any scaffold structure
is an outstanding and innovative approach. Because of the extremely
high content of exopolymeric material in cartilage this may be the
only way for in vitro production of a functional cartilage analogue.
This approach cannot be done except under microgravity conditions.
Only microgravity conditions will allow an appropriate cell contact
that is stable in position while loose in cohesiveness."

JPL release

24 April - 14 May 2000

The first of the next three weeks sees the continued return of
science data stored on the spacecraft's onboard tape recorder. In
the second and third weeks, the orbital motion of the Earth and
Jupiter brings the Sun between the two, creating radio interference
and making reliable communications between the spacecraft and Earth
impossible. The Sun's effect on Galileo's radio signal gradually
increases as the spacecraft moves behind the Sun, and then gradually
decreases as the spacecraft emerges from behind the Sun. This
geometric situation is known as superior solar conjuction. The
spacecraft will emerge just in time to prepare for a close flyby of
Ganymede on May 20.

During the week of April 24th, playback is interrupted twice. On
Tuesday, April 25 playback is halted to allow the spacecraft to
perform a small turn to keep its antenna pointed toward Earth. On
Thursday, April 27, playback is interrupted again to perform standard
maintenance on the spacecraft's propulsion system. On Friday, April
28 playback is terminated for the duration of the solar conjunction.

Prior to the loss of reliable communications, Galileo returns three
observations acquired during its February flyby of Io. The
observations are returned by the Photopolarimeter Radiometer (PPR),
the Solid-State Imaging camera (SSI), and the Near-Infrared Mapping
Spectrometer (NIMS). PPR returns a dayside thermal map of Io. The
map is designed to provide information on the thermal properties of
Io's surface in the presence of sunlight. NIMS and SSI complete the
playback plans by returning additional independent views of Io.

Come back in a few weeks for the return of This Week on Galileo, when
you'll be able to read all about Galileo's next exciting encounter!
For more information on the Galileo spacecraft and its mission to
Jupiter, please visit the Galileo home page at one of the following

End Marsbugs, Volume 7, Number 16.

David J. Thomas, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology
Biology and Chemistry Division
Lyon College
2300 Highland Road
Batesville, AR 72501
Phone: (870) 698-4269 Fax: (870) 698-4622
E-mail: or

Editor of Marsbugs: The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter


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