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May 24, 2022

Mesodinium Chamaeleon Is A Unique Life Form That is Half Plant Half Animal

Posted by in categories: biological, evolution

Circa 2012


In nature, you’ll find animals that undergo vast transformations, becoming almost unrecognizable in their new forms. Examples like caterpillars becoming butterflies and tadpoles becoming frogs almost look like distinct animals in the different stages of their evolution.

While this might sound amazing, all stages of these animals still belong to the same biological taxonomic rank, Animalia. This means that caterpillars don’t become plants, in their new shapes, they remain animals. That’s not what Mesodinium chamaeleon does. This single-celled organism is a unique mix of animal and plant life.

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May 24, 2022

NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

Posted by in categories: alien life, chemistry, evolution

For the past fifty years of space exploration, mass spectrometry has provided unique chemical and physical insights on the characteristics of other planetary bodies in the Solar System. A variety of mass spectrometer types, including magnetic sector, quadrupole, time-of-flight, and ion trap, have and will continue to deepen our understanding of the formation and evolution of exploration targets like the surfaces and atmospheres of planets and their moons. An important impetus for the continuing exploration of Mars, Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and Venus involves assessing the habitability of solar system bodies and, ultimately, the search for life—a monumental effort that can be advanced by mass spectrometry. Modern flight-capable mass spectrometers, in combination with various sample processing, separation, and ionization techniques enable sensitive detection of chemical biosignatures.

May 24, 2022

Planetary Mass Spectrometry for Agnostic Life Detection in the Solar System

Posted by in categories: alien life, chemistry, evolution

Circa 2021


For the past fifty years of space exploration, mass spectrometry has provided unique chemical and physical insights on the characteristics of other planetary bodies in the Solar System. A variety of mass spectrometer types, including magnetic sector, quadrupole, time-of-flight, and ion trap, have and will continue to deepen our understanding of the formation and evolution of exploration targets like the surfaces and atmospheres of planets and their moons. An important impetus for the continuing exploration of Mars, Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and Venus involves assessing the habitability of solar system bodies and, ultimately, the search for life—a monumental effort that can be advanced by mass spectrometry. Modern flight-capable mass spectrometers, in combination with various sample processing, separation, and ionization techniques enable sensitive detection of chemical biosignatures. While our canonical knowledge of biosignatures is rooted in Terran-based examples, agnostic approaches in astrobiology can cast a wider net, to search for signs of life that may not be based on Terran-like biochemistry. Here, we delve into the search for extraterrestrial chemical and morphological biosignatures and examine several possible approaches to agnostic life detection using mass spectrometry. We discuss how future missions can help ensure that our search strategies are inclusive of unfamiliar life forms.

Biosignatures are the tantalizing chemical and physical imprints associated with life, and the possibility that life exists elsewhere beyond Earth drives us to search for these biosignatures on other planets and moons. The enterprise of space exploration, galvanized by the question of “Are we alone in the Universe?”, demands a stronger understanding of the diversity of biosignatures that life could express, thereby driving payload instruments on board astrobiology missions to offer broader and more advanced detection capabilities. In tandem with cutting-edge instrument platforms, research in data processing and data analysis on Earth-based (Terran) astrobiology analogs and on extraterrestrial materials also serves to increase the breadth of interpretations possible with mission data.

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May 21, 2022

Single Cell Analysis Technologies Help Generate Unprecedented Maps of Disease

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution

Astronomy was born when early scientists peered into the sky with their naked eyes and recorded what they could see above them. Then, the invention of the telescope brought forth new insights. And today, astronomers conduct their studies from big observatories and launch sophisticated telescopes into space for a much more in-depth look.

Now, a similar evolution is occurring in biology as scientists develop new techniques for taking a closer look at cells—the basic living units of organs. The origins of cell biology date back to 1,665 when Robert Hooke was the first to look at a cell under a simple compound microscope. But while the development of more powerful microscopes such as the scanning electron microscope has allowed scientists to take a peek at molecules smaller than a billionth of a meter, until recently they have never had the ability to look at the molecular profile of a single cell.


Yale researchers across disciplines are using single cell technologies to profile various kinds of cells that exist together in both healthy and diseased organs and create the most detailed blueprints of diseases to date, as well as to better understand how various cells develop over time and interact with one another. Through creating these “cell atlases” of organs throughout the body, they hope to shed light on the mechanisms of a wide variety of diseases and biological development.

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May 20, 2022

The evolution and development of consciousness: the subject-object emergence hypothesis

Posted by in categories: evolution, neuroscience

A strategy for investigating consciousness that has proven very productive has focused on comparing brain processes that are accompanied by consciousness with processes that are not. But comparatively little attention has been given to a related strategy that promises to be even more fertile. This strategy exploits the fact that as individuals develop, new classes of brain processes can transition from operating ‘in the dark’ to becoming conscious. It has been suggested that these transitions occur when a new class of brain processes becomes object to a new, emergent, higher-level subject. Similar transitions are likely to have occurred during evolution. An evolutionary/developmental research strategy sets out to identify the nature of the transitions in brain processes that shift them from operating in the dark to ‘lighting up’. The paper begins the application of this strategy by extrapolating the sequence of transitions back towards its origin. The goal is to reconstruct a minimally-complex, subject-object subsystem that would be capable of giving rise to consciousness and providing adaptive benefits. By focusing on reconstructing a subsystem that is simple and understandable, this approach avoids the homunculus fallacy. The reconstruction suggests that the emergence of such a minimally-complex subsystem was driven by its capacity to coordinate body-environment interactions in real time e.g. hand-eye coordination. Conscious processing emerged initially because of its central role in organising real-time sensorimotor coordination. The paper goes on to identify and examine a number of subsequent major transitions in consciousness, including the emergence of capacities for conscious mental modelling. Each transition is driven by its potential to solve adaptive challenges that cannot be overcome at lower levels. The paper argues that mental modelling arose out of a pre-existing capacity to use simulations of motor actions to anticipate the consequences of the actions. As the capacity developed, elements of the simulations could be changed, and the consequences of these changes could be ‘thought through’ consciously. This enabled alternative motor responses to be evaluated. The paper goes on to predict significant new major transitions in consciousness.

May 18, 2022

New insights on link between genetic mutations and biological evolution

Posted by in categories: biological, evolution, genetics

In biological evolution, we know that it’s all about the survival of the fittest: organisms that develop genetic traits that allow them to better adapt to their physical environment are more likely to thrive, and thus pass down their winning genes to their offspring.

From the longer-beaked Galapagos Island finches studied by biologist Charles Darwin that enabled them to more effectively snatch insects, to the ability of some humans over others to digest milk, the process of natural selection results in that give some organisms an edge over others.

New research by University of Toronto Mississauga biology assistant professor Alex N. Nguyen Ba adds an important dimension to our understanding of how interact in the evolutionary process.

May 12, 2022

The origin of life: A paradigm shift

Posted by in categories: biological, evolution, genetics

According to a new concept by LMU chemists led by Thomas Carell, it was a novel molecular species composed out of RNA and peptides that set in motion the evolution of life into more complex forms.

Investigating the question as to how life could emerge long ago on the early Earth is one of the most fascinating challenges for science. Which conditions must have prevailed for the basic building blocks of more complex life to form? One of the main answers is based upon the so-called RNA world idea, which molecular biology pioneer Walter Gilbert formulated in 1986. The hypothesis holds that nucleotides—the basic building blocks of the nucleic acids A, C, G, and U—emerged out of the primordial soup, and that short RNA molecules then formed out of the nucleotides. These so-called oligonucleotides were already capable of encoding small amounts of genetic information.

As such single-stranded RNA molecules could also combine into double strands, however, this gave rise to the theoretical possibility that the molecules could replicate themselves—i.e. reproduce. Only two nucleotides fit together in each case, meaning that one strand is the exact counterpart of another and thus forms the template for another strand.

May 9, 2022

Does Earth Have a Mind and Agency of Its Own?

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution, neuroscience

Does our planet have a mind and agency of its own? This is one of the main questions philosopher and mystic Oberon Zell illuminates in his latest masterpiece GaeaGenesis: Conception and Birth of the Living Earth. Just as we don’t see a bacterium with a naked eye, we don’t quite seem to have an innate ability to perceive the Gaian mind with a “naked” brain. As Dr. Ralph Metzner, Professor Emeritus of California Institute of Integral Studies and Founder-President of The Green Earth Foundation, writes: “Oberon Zell was the first person to conceive and publish the biological and metaphysical foundations of what has become known as the ‘Gaia Theory’ — the unified body and emergent soul of the living Earth… For over 50 years Oberon has been writing and lecturing on Gaian consciousness, and it is high time that he put it all together into a book!” And, indeed, he did.

The newly-released book takes the idea beyond the metaphorical realm postulated by James Lovelock in his “Gaia Hypothesis” and posits that the entire evolution of life on Earth is the literal embryology of a single vast living being — one replicating continuum of DNA and protoplasm. This distinction has significant implications for the subject of this book: The proposition that Mother Earth is a living, sentient being with a “soul” that humans can perceive if they are aware enough to sense it. In essence, the living beings that populate the Earth are cells within a greater macro-organism.

Here’s one of the revelatory passages from the book: To better understand the planet as a living system, we need to go beyond the time scales of human life to the planet’s own time scale, vastly greater than our own. Looked at in this way, the rhythm of day and night might be the pulse of the planet, one full cycle of every hundred thousand human heartbeats. Speeding up time appropriately, we would see the atmosphere and ocean currents swirling round the planet, circulating nutrients and carrying away waste products, much as the blood circulates nutrients and carries away waste in our own bodies.

May 9, 2022

Ancient Cave Art in Alabama May Be The Largest Ever Found in North America

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution

New details of our past are coming to light, hiding in the nooks and crannies of the world, as we refine our techniques to go looking for them. Most lauded is the reconstruction of the evolution of humanity since our African origins around 300,000 years ago, by analyzing our living and fossil DNA.

Replete with the ghosts of African and Eurasian populations of the deep past, these have been resurrected only through the ability of science to reach into the world of the minuscule by studying biomolecules.

Now, digital analysis of rock surfaces reveals how other ghosts of the deep past – this time from almost 2,000 years ago in North America – have been coaxed into the light.

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May 7, 2022

IM Issue No. 11

Posted by in category: evolution

Radical ideas shaping human evolution.

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