Science Frontiers
The Unusual & Unexplained

Strange Science * Bizarre Biophysics * Anomalous astronomy
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About Science Frontiers

Science Frontiers is the bimonthly newsletter providing digests of reports that describe scientific anomalies; that is, those observations and facts that challenge prevailing scientific paradigms. Over 2000 Science Frontiers digests have been published since 1976.

These 2,000+ digests represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Sourcebook Project, which publishes Science Frontiers, also publishes the Catalog of Anomalies, which delves far more deeply into anomalistics and now extends to sixteen volumes, and covers dozens of disciplines.

Over 14,000 volumes of science journals, including all issues of Nature and Science have been examined for reports on anomalies. In this context, the newsletter Science Frontiers is the appetizer and the Catalog of Anomalies is the main course.


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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 130: JUL-AUG 2000 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Has Human Evolution Been Directed by Bacteria?With considerable fanfare, a multinational team of scientists has announced that the mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) "squeezed" from a 29,000-year-old Neanderthal skeleton found in the northern Caucasus differs by 3.48% from the mtDNA of a 40,000-year-old Neanderthal skeleton from (fittingly) Germany's Neander Valley. Furthermore, both mtDNA samples differ from that of modern humans by a substantial 7%. These two innocent-appearing, widely publicized numbers have far-reaching implications: Modern humans and Neanderthals are only very distantly related, and they certainly never interbred, as suggested in many recent, popular articles; and Since neither Neanderthal mtDNA sample is closer to that of modern Europeans than it is any other modern human population, the so-called "multiregional" theory of human evolution and dispersion is unlikely to be correct. Thus, the out-of-Africa theory is favored;. These data and their implications stimulate several observations and comments; only one of which is mentioned in the references given below. F.H . Smith, an anthropologist from Northern Illinois University and a supporter of the multiregional theory, opines that 30,000-40,000 years ago the mtDNA of the early humans, who were mixing it up with the Neanderthals, was certainly very different from what it is today. Since mtDNA mutates rapidly, ...
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... -swallowing leviathan. (Griffin, D.J .G ., and Yaldwyn, J.C .; "Giant Colonies of Pelagic Tunicates..," Nature, 226:464, 1970) Slime molds. Moving down life's ladder to even smaller and simpler organisms, some amoebas have a bizarre life cycle that ends as a superorganism called a "slime mold." If you viewed an amoeba through the microscope in biology lab, you know that they are very tiny, very simple, and most certainly not very bright. But given enough food, some species of amoeba divide and keep dividing until they clump together in a "slug" that sends out streamers and sort of flows along the surface. We now have a mobile superorganism searching for food (mostly bacteria). Eventually, the moving colony of amoebas anchors itself. Some of the superorganism's cells specialize to create a stalk called a "fruiting body." The amoebas in the fruiting body change into spores and are wafted away on the wind. In this way, the simple, lowly amoebas are transformed into a radically different entity. One wonders how this superorganism, this slime mold, is controlled. Where are its sensors and its information processing center, if it possesses one? (Stewart, Ian; "Spiral Slime," Scientific American, 283:116, November 2000.) This question becomes more difficult to answer when we learn that slime molds can display rudimentary intelligence in the sense that they can solve mazes in their search for food. They are not as ...
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... whole ocean systems . . Gel is like the dark matter of the sea. While sea gel does not impede the snorkeler, . it does herd microbes into clumps or microniches . which we cannot see either. These microbes. in effect, exist in a tangled. 3-D mesh that affects not only their movements but also those of their prey and predators. A few statistics confirm the amazing complexity of the seawater microcosm and its incredibly high microbe population density. The long strands in the oceanic gel are mostly crosslinked polysaccharides. If the polysaccharides in 1 milliliter of seawater could be placed end-to-end, they would stretch out to 5,600 kilometers! Coexisting proteins would span 310 kilometers ; DNA, 2 kilometers. This same milliliter may also contain up to a million bacteria and ten times as many virus particles. Also in this brew are, on the average, 1.000 protozoans and 100 phytoplankton. It's a microscopic metropolis, about the size of a sugar cube, and one in which you may never wish to swim again! The polysaccharides and proteins that comprise most of the thin goo are not alive, although the bacteria are. Just how this thin goo and its multitudinous inhabitants evolved has not been explained. Which came first, the goo or the bacteria? Being devoid of life's spark, the goo cannot evolve, or can it? (LaFee, Scott; "Meet Me at the Goo," New Scientist, p. 44, November 25, 2000.) Comment. Do similar microcosms thrive in freshwater ...
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... Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects "Uprooting the Tree of Life"Yes, that is the title of a long article in the February 2000 issue of Scientific American. In the Table of Contents, we see words concerning this article that we never thought would be permitted in a mainstream science magazine. After first noting that 10 years ago it was generally agreed that all organisms evolved from a single ancestral cell that existed about 3.5 billion years ago, there comes the assertion that the Tree of Life: "is far more complicated than was believed and may not have had a single root at all." The article proper relates how the Tree of Life has its own evolutionary history. Twenty years ago, scientists had that single ancestral cell splitting into two main trunks: the prokaryotes (bacteria) and the eukaryotes (every-thing else). More recently, a third trunk has been grafted onto the Tree; namely, the archaea (microorganisms that look like bacteria but possess markedly different genes). The archaea favor extreme environments and, curiously, are more closely related to you and me than are the bacteria. But according to this article (by W.F . Doolittle), the triple-trunked Tree of Life is simplistic. One reason for this is that genes, once thought to flow only from parent to progeny, are now known to travel laterally. Species barriers are broken. Genes jump from trunk to trunk, from branch to branch, twig to twig. Of course, these jumps are seen primarily among the microorganisms. The real Tree of ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 129: MAY-JUN 2000 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The Extremophilic Terraforming of Mars If we are to colonize Mars, we must make it more earthlike; and that is what terraforming does. Right now, the Martian atmosphere, surface temperatures, level of ionizing radiation, and noxious soil are inimical to delicate, complex life forms, such as us. But these hostile Martian conditions are easily endured by some bacteria, such as Deinococcus radiodurans . This bacterium, one of the extremophiles, lives in our sewage systems and other unpleasant places. It can survive desiccation, freeze-drying, and high radiation levels. D. radiodurans can do more than survive on Mars. It can begin to detoxify the soil and prepare the way for other pioneer microorganisms. And even more: What D. radiodurans can provide is a microscopic (and therefore easily portable) factory -- a kind of terra-forming toolkit -- from which any number of products potentially can be derived. Whether it is engineered to reduce metals, produce drugs for ailing astronauts or simply manufacture the polymers necessary for the production of thread, D. radiodurans , one of the world's oldest bacteria, may provide a means of expanding the limits of human imagination beyond the written sci-fi page. (Slotnick, Rebecca Sloan; "Extremophilic Terraforming," American Scientist, 88: 124, 2000.) Comment. Perhaps D. radiodurans is the oldest bacterium on earth. Having arrived eons ago on ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 130: JUL-AUG 2000 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Biogenic Magnetite in ALH84001 Many scientists were justifiably skeptical about those tiny, worm-like shapes seen in Martian meteorite ALH84001. Said to be fossilized bacteria, the objects seemed much too small to be viable. Some experts suggested they were just abiotic crystal-line growths. K.L . Thomas-Keprta, who led the NASA team studying ALH84001, snorted that her group was not so stupid that it would mistake crystals for fossils. ( SF#116 ) Thomas-Keprta et al have now come forward with more evidence that ALH-84001 does indeed contain biogenic material. Those worm-like forms have iron-rich rims containing fine-grained crystals of magnetite, some of which possess a unique morphology and which are essentially identical to the magnetite crystals secreted by magnetotactic bacteria on earth. Their conclusion: In ALH84001, the presence of these elongated prismatic magnetite crystals embedded within the carbonate glo- bules, which clearly formed on Mars, represents strong evidence for life on early Mars. (Thomas-Keprta, Kathie L., et al; "Biogenic Magnetite within Martian Meteorite ALH84001," Eos, 80:F69, 1999.) From Science Frontiers #130, JUL-AUG 2000 . 2000 William R. Corliss Other Sites of Interest SIS . Catastrophism, archaeoastronomy, ancient history, mythology and astronomy. Lobster . The journal of intelligence and political conspiracy (CIA, FBI, JFK, MI5, NSA, ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 134: MAR-APR 2001 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Speaking of ALH 84001 Among the various magnetic grains comprising ALH 84001 are some nanometersized, hexagonal prisms that are "indistinguishable" from those excreted by terrestrial magnetotactic bacteria: Just when scientists in general were convinced that ALH 84001's "worms" had a mineralogical (i .e ., non-biological) origin, along comes this revelation. The ALH-84001 controversy is not over yet. (Kerr, Richard A.; "Tiny Magnets Point to Martian Life," Science, 290:2242, 2000.) Comment. In terrestrial magnetotactic bacteria, these magnetic crystals are strung together to make a sort of compass needle that helps orient the organism in muck and other lightless and lowly habitats.) From Science Frontiers #134, MAR-APR 2001 . 2001 William R. Corliss Other Sites of Interest SIS . Catastrophism, archaeoastronomy, ancient history, mythology and astronomy. Lobster . The journal of intelligence and political conspiracy (CIA, FBI, JFK, MI5, NSA, etc) Homeworking.com . Free resource for people thinking about working at home. ABC dating and personals . For people looking for relationships. Place your ad free. ...
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... Frontiers ONLINE No. 133: JAN-FEB 2001 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Strange Red Slime In Mine In the 1960s, an abandoned mine in Wisconsin flooded with groundwater. Scuba divers could not resist the challenge. As they explored the murky depths, they chanced upon deposits of spongy, red slime. When analyzed, the slime was found to contain the first naturally produced nanocrystals. Nano-crystals, like those described above under BIOLOGY, had previously been grown only in the lab. Also like the artificial nanocrystals, those in the red slime did not aggregate randomly; they "rotate into structural accord with the adjacent particles." Whence the slime's 2-3 nanometer clumps of iron oxyhydroxide? Iron-oxidizing bacteria excreted them! (Anonymous; "Strange Crystal Growth Found in Mine," Science News, 158:207, 2000.) Question. Was the red slime a biofilm? From Science Frontiers #133, JAN-FEB 2001 . 2001 William R. Corliss Other Sites of Interest SIS . Catastrophism, archaeoastronomy, ancient history, mythology and astronomy. Lobster . The journal of intelligence and political conspiracy (CIA, FBI, JFK, MI5, NSA, etc) Homeworking.com . Free resource for people thinking about working at home. ABC dating and personals . For people looking for relationships. Place your ad free. ...
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... believed to have been blasted off the Martian surface by five or six impacts of much larger meteorites. All save one of these Martian meteorites have formation ages of about 1.3 billion years. The only part of the Martian surface believed to be 1.3 billion years old is the TMOM (Tharsis Montes and Olympus Mons) region. The rest of Mars -- about 90% of it is much older. To have 12/13ths. of the Martian meteorites originate from 1/10th. of the planet's surface is highly unlikely. Something is wrong somewhere; probably a bad assumption. And what about that 13th. meteorite that did not get ejected from the TMOM region? This is ALH 84001, the controversial meteorite that contains strange worm-like structures resembling terrestrial bacteria. (See SF#130, #116, #110, #108, and #101.) (Taylor, Richard L.S ., and Mittlefehldt, David W.; "Missing Martian Meteorites," Science, 290:273, 2000.) From Science Frontiers #134, MAR-APR 2001 . 2001 William R. Corliss Other Sites of Interest SIS . Catastrophism, archaeoastronomy, ancient history, mythology and astronomy. Lobster . The journal of intelligence and political conspiracy (CIA, FBI, JFK, MI5, NSA, etc) Homeworking.com . Free resource for people thinking about working at home. ABC dating and personals . For people looking for relationships. Place your ad free. ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 130: JUL-AUG 2000 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The Midi-Chlorians are with Us!Whoops! We meant to write "mitochondria" in that title. In the movie Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn explains the origin of the supernatural powers possessed by Jedi knights. It arises, he says, from microscopic lifeforms called chlorians" that dwell within all living cells and reveal the will of the Force. Mitochondria are popularly seen as mere powerhouses within cells, with little influence on the organisms they inhabit. They are, it is believed, just the distant progeny of bacteria that invaded complex cells hundreds of millions of years ago. With only 37 genes in their arsenal, human mitochondria would not seem to pose any threat to humanity. After all, we have about 100,000 genes per cell. Of course, mitochondria do evolve separately from us, and this is a bit disconcerting. Could they be more than mere symbionts? The midi-chlorians of the Jedi knights were "good guys", but our mitochondria sometimes seem to be working for an insidious alien Force. There is good evidence that they: Selected which of your mother's germ cells matured to produce you; Have decided your odds of living to be 100; and May influence your being afflicted with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's , as well as rarer disorders. The first item (or "force") is the most ...
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... large and complex that one is unsure that physics is up to the task of explaining these tangled structures consisting many hundreds of atoms. Some of these doubts have been relieved by recent advances in protein chemistry. It appears that the different types of protein folds, which number in the thousands, can be classified and sorted into distinct structural families -- just like the much simpler crystals of salt, quartz, galena, etc fall into orderly classes. The clear implication is that protein folds and, by extension via further research, the protein molecules themselves, are also natural and reducible just like the salt crystals. If proteins are natural, perhaps even more complex biological forms are also, and so on up the complexity ladder to viruses (which often look like crystals through the microscope), bacteria, and even (gasp!) mammals. This is, of course, reductionism in the extreme. But the successes with protein folding have led two New Zealand biochemists to speculate as follows: If it does turn out that a substantial amount of higher biological form is natural, then the implications will be radical and far-reaching. It will mean that physical laws must have had a far greater role in the evolution of biological form than is generally assumed. And it will mean a return to the pre-Darwinian conception that underlying all the diversity of life is a finite set of natural forms that will recur over and over again anywhere in the cosmos where there is carbon-based life. (Denton, Michael, and Marshall, Craig; "Laws of Form Revisited, ...
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... Neurons Do Advanced Math," Science, 292:185, 2001.) Hornets Install Magnetic Markers. Hornets of the species Vespa orientalis affix a tiny crystal of magnetic mineral in the roof of each of the brood-rearing cells in their nests. These crystals are roundish and about 0.1 millimeter in diameter. The mineral is ilmenite with the formula: FeTiO3. The purpose of the magnetic crystals is obscure. The favored explanation is that the hornets use them as guides during nest construction -- sort of like those little flags human surveyors set out. This explanation assumes that hornets can somehow sense and make use of the complex magnetic field created by an array of many tiny magnets. Another question asks where the magnetic crystals come from. Do the hornets secrete them like the magnetotactic bacteria or do they gather them from their environments? (Stokroos, Ietse, et al; "Keystone-Like Crystals in Cells of Hornet Combs," Nature, 411:654, 2001.) Comment. It would be so easy to dismiss the hornets' little crystals as just one more animal gee-whiz fact, but we should not. Did the hornets first recognize that magnetic crystals would be useful to them and then set out to find some or, even more remarkably, evolve the ability to secrete them? Did their (presumed) magnetic sense evolve solely for the purpose of employing magnetic markers during nest building? There are more questions, but you get the idea. From Science Frontiers #138, NOV-DEC 2001 . 2001 William R. Corliss Other Sites ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 105: May-Jun 1996 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The Nether Universe Of Life Bacteria well-adapted to high temperatures have been brought up from oil wells thousands of miles apart. All indications are that these bacteria are indigenous to the wells; that is, not introduced by the drilling fluids. What is most interesting is the fact that these bacteria are all closely related despite their remoteness from each other. They not only look and behave alike, but they also share 98.2 % of their 16S ribosomal RNA sequences. M. Magot asks what an anomalist would ask. "For example, where are these bacteria from? How did they succeed in colonizing these habitats?...Are these microorganisms directly descended from bacteria that were trapped during the formation of the oil, or accompanied its migration through tens to hundreds of millions of years? Did they arrive in the oil field later as a consequence of aquifer activity? What is their mode of maintenance and development in their environment?" (Magot, Michel; "Similar Bacteria in Remote Oil Fields," Nature, 379:681, 1996) Comment. Bacteria have also been extracted from mineral-charged fluids circulating in drill holes over 12 kilo meters deep and also in deep aquifers. There must be an unexplored universe of life thriving not only beneath our feet but also - quite possibly - beneath the forbidding surface of Mars. Reference. Examples of life thriving at great depths in the earth may be found ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 85: Jan-Feb 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Biogeology It is accepted that every cubic centimeter of the topsoil beneath our feet seethes with thousands of microorganisms. It is less well known that life's domain extends down much further. The hard rocks and strata of earth's crust -- seemingly sterile and inert -- are continuously being transformed by bacteria and other life forms. In fact, it was easy to find three examples of such processes from the literature collected from the past two months. Although the discoveries reported below may seem dull to anomalists ued to more exciting fare, it may well be that life from "inner space" has been and will be more important to humankind than life from "outer space," as implied in third item! Bacteria and placer gold. "Lacelike networks of micrometresize filiform gold associated with Alaskan placer gold particles are interpreted as low-temperature pseudomorphs of a Pedomicrobium -like budding bacterium. Submicron reproductive structures (hyphae) and other morphological features similar to those of Pedomicrobium occur as three-dimensional facsimiles in highpurity gold in and on placer gold particles from Lillian Creek, Alaska." In short, bacteria help create placer gold deposits. The author believes that bacterioform gold is widespread. (Watterson, John R.; "Preliminary Evidence for the Involvement of Budding Bacteria in the Origin of Alaskan Placer Gold," Geology , 20:315, 1992.) Microorganisms and iron deposits. At least 500 million years ago ...
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... glow which was not unlike viewing the negative of a photograph." The milky sea is a rather common phenomenon. In fact, the British Meteorological Office has established a Bioluminescence Database, which presently contains 235 reports of milky seas seen since 1915. P.J . Herring and M. Watson have employed this Database in a review paper on these impressive displays. Geographical plotting of the reports shows a strong concentration in the northwest Indian Ocean (see figure). Seasonally, there is a strong peaking in August and a secondary blip in January. The phenomenon is independent of water depth and distance from land. Surely bioluminescent organisms must be the explanation for milky seas. But most such organisms simply flash briefly and are incapable of generating the strong, steady glow of the milky sea. Marine bacteria alone glow steadily. However, calculations show that unrealistic concentrations of bacteria would be needed to generate the observed light. Furthermore, samples from the affected waters show no such bacteria. Herring and Watson admit there is no acceptable explanation of the milky sea. What, they ask, is so special about the northwest Indian Ocean? Why do milky seas not occur in the adjacent Red Sea and Persian Gulf? These bodies of water seem equally promising. (Herring, P.J ., and Watson, M.; "Milky Seas: A Bioluminescent Puzzle," Marine Observer, 63:22, 1993.) From Science Frontiers #86, MAR-APR 1993 . 1993-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 88: Jul-Aug 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Early Life Surprisingly Diverse The three life forms sketched below are tiny microorganisms, not the worms they appear to be. They are thought to be bacteria, for they closely resemble modern cyanobacteria. What is most important about these fossilized micro-organisms is that they were found in the Apex chert of Western Australia. The Apex chert is designated Early Archean and assigned an age of 3.465 billion years [Four significant figures!]. It is rare to find any fossils at all in rocks this old, but apparently the Apex chert escaped most of the fossil-destroying metamorphism afflicting most Precambrian formations. Even more remarkable is the diversity of these suspected bacteria. J.W . Schopf reports finding no less than eleven different kinds so far--and our planet was only a few hundred million years old at the time the Apex chert was formed. Schopf's discoveries generate at least three questions: How could life have originated and diversified to such an extent in just a few hundred millions years? Why after such rapid diversification did these microorganisms remain essentially unchanged for the next 3.465 billion years? Such stasis, common in biology, is puzzling. If these microorganisms are really cyanobacteria, they would have released oxygen to the atmosphere. Is the standard assumption that the earth's atmosphere lacked oxygen until 2.2 billion years ago correct? (Schopf, J. William; "Microfossils of the Early ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 88: Jul-Aug 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Ship falls: supplements to whale falls?" Strange tube worms up to six feet long have been discovered off the Spanish coast, dining on the hydrogen sulphide from rotting beans [beams?] in the hold of a ship that sank 13 years ago. Lacking mouth, gut and anus, they rely on bacteria to process the nutrients in minerals and dissolved in sea water. They had been found previously in the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. It was thought they liked to live in huge colonies around cracks in the ocean floor where hot, mineral-rich lava pours out and areas where oil and gas leak from the seabed." (Anonymous; "Gas Guzzlers," Fortean Times, p. 19, no. 68, 1993. Via Daily Telegraph , June 22, 1992.) From Science Frontiers #88, JUL-AUG 1993 . 1993-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 84: Nov-Dec 1992 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects It Came From Within Life did, that is! Forget that warm little pond where life incubated according to all the textbooks. Instead, says T. Gold, an iconoclastic Cornell physicist, life began in rocky fissures deep down in the earth's crust. The idea is not as unlikely as it sounds. Look at the most primitive life forms we know, the archaebacteria. They like heat, need neither air nor sunlight, and prosper on sulfur compounds for sustenance. Such bacteria are today found in boreholes as deep as 500 meters, in thermal springs, and around deepsea vents. Gold surmises that these archaebacteria migrated to the surface long ago, where they evolved into higher forms of life. "Gold argues, moreover, that the earth's interior would have provided a much more hospitable environment for proto-life four billion years ago than the surface would have, ravaged as it was by asteroids and cosmic radiation. And if life emerged within the earth, then why not within other planets? 'Deep, chemically supplied life,' Gold says, 'may be very common in the universe.'" (Horgan, John; "It Came from Within," Scientific American, 267:20, September 1992.) From Science Frontiers #84, NOV-DEC 1992 . 1992-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 80: Mar-Apr 1992 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Dinosaur Flatulence And Climate Changes "Fossilized dinosaur dung contains evidence that flatulence from the giant creatures may have helped warm the Earth's climate millions of years ago, scientists said yesterday. "The researchers detected chemical signs of bacteria and algae in known and suspected dinosaur droppings. That indicates that plant-eating dinosaurs digested their food by fermenting it, a process that gives off methane." We all know that methane is a "greenhouse gas," so it seems that the dinosaurs may have self-destructed. (Anonymous; "How Dinosaurs May Have Helped Make Earth Warmer," San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 1991. Cr. D.H . Palmer) Comment. We are not being facetious here, for it is seriously proposed that much of the greenhouse gas produced today comes from cattle, sheep, and other animals that ferment their food. From Science Frontiers #80, MAR-APR 1992 . 1992-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 88: Jul-Aug 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Whale falls: stepping stones across the ocean abysses Unique biological communities flourish at widely separated "oases" on the deepsea floors, where hydrothermal vents supply the energy and chemicals necessary for life. Here are found free-living bacteria, tube worms, molluscs, and several other species that prosper without the benefit of photosynthesis. These chemosynthetic, thermal-vent communities are separated by thousands of kilometers of sea-floor "desert." Yet, the species involved are similar worldwide and must, at some time, have crossed these wide, forbidding expanses. One possible mechanism for this mysterious dispersion came in 1987, when the research submersible Alvin chanced upon the remains of a 21-meter whale at a depth of 1,240 meters off California's coast. The whale's skeleton was covered with bacterial mats like those at the hydrothermal vents. Also sustained by the carcass were mussels, snails, and worms; all in all, a community much like those at the vents. Furthermore, many of the species partaking of the whale's energy and chemical resources are not normally found in that part of the Pacific. Subsequently, more "whale falls" with attached biological communities were found elsewhere. Calculations suggest that whale falls are more common that one might suppose -- perhaps occurring with average spacings of only 25 kilometers. They could very well be the stepping stones that allow hydrothermal vent communities to disperse across the ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 84: Nov-Dec 1992 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The Hunt For The Magnetoreceptor When magnetite particles were found in organisms from bacteria to bats, it was assumed that here was the long sought magnetoreceptor which animals used for magnetic navigation. But so far, biologists do not have the slightest notion how such magnetite particles can be turned into a "magnetic sense," which sends the brain information on the direction of the geomagnetic field or, perhaps, draws a magnetic map of sorts. A completely different sort of magnetreceptor is now under investigation, one that humans may also unknowingly possess. It utilizes special photoreceptors that employ an electron-spin resonance process which is modulated by the geomagnetic field. Some of our very sensitive magnetometers use similar phenomena. The biological version of such a receptor would be connected to the brain, as the eye is, and send signals as to the direction of the earth's magnetic field. Sounds interesting, but is there any basis for thinking such a sophisticated gadget could have evolved? It seems that some experiments with newts by J.B . Phillips and S.C . Borland support the idea. The newts were first trained to orient themselves in a certain direction with respect to the geomagnetic field. "When tested under one of four artificial field alignments (magnetic north at geographic north, east, south or west), the newts kept their training directions constant relative to the magnetic rather than the geographic system of reference, but they selected ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 90: Nov-Dec 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Depths Of Ignorance Oceanographers have been heard to complain that science knows more about the surface of Mars than it does about the topography of the deep ocean floors. Marine biologists, however, have even more reason to feel slighted. To illustrate, the usual picture painted of the abyssal terrain beyond the continental shelves and slopes is one a a frigid biological desert -- endless plains of sterile muck, broken once in a while by oasis-like deepsea vents, where weird tube worms thrive amidst clouds of chemosynthetic bacteria. This is a highly misleading portrayal. The situation, in fact, recalls what happened when biologists first released clouds of insecticides in rain forest canopies, thus precipitating a deluge of uncataloged insects into collecting nets waiting below. Now, instead of a mere million species of insects worldwide, entomologists are thinking perhaps 10 million or more. Will the same diversity prevail in the deepsea muck? C.L . Van Dover believes so: "Away from the vents, in the great ocean plains, life is much less dramatic and often scaled down to minute proportions -- threadlike worms, tiny snails, delicate, transparent clams. Yet, the diversity of animals in the cold abyssal muds, it now appears, may rival the celebrated biodiversity of the tropical rain forests." We now know virtually nothing about this fauna, how it survives, and how it evolved. Millions of undescribed species may be awaiting discovery by ...
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... . The expected boundary (" suture") between two old tectonic plates thought to exist at 3 km according to surface geology had not yet appeared at 7.5 km. Most interestingly, crevicular structure (crevices and pores) existed at almost all depths, even though theory said they could not because of intense pressures. And these voids were filled with fluids. P. Keher, a KTB scientist, was amazed at what the drill found: "When I started 25 years ago, the idea was that the deeper you go into the crust, the drier it gets." (Kerr, Richard A.; "Looking -- Deeply -- into the Earth's Crust in Europe," Science, 261:295, 1993.) Comment. Deep-living bacteria were not mentioned in the above article, but Soviet scientists claim to have pumped them up from 12 km down! Outer space may not be our final frontier despite the introductory blurb to Star Trek! From Science Frontiers #90, NOV-DEC 1993 . 1993-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 68: Mar-Apr 1990 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Magnetic bacteria in the soil and who knows where else?It is already well-established that saltand fresh-water sediments harbor bacteria that synthesize grains of magnetite - presumably for the purpose of sensing the ambient magnetic field and orienting themselves. Similar bacteria have recently been discovered living in ordinary soil in Bavaria. It is near-certain that they will now be found just about everywhere. J.W .E . Fassbinder et al, who reported the Bavarian bacteria, conclude their Abstract with: "We suggest that the magnetic bacteria and their magnetofossils can contribute to the magnetic properties of soils." (Fassbinder, Jorg W.E ., et al; "Occurrence of Magnetic Bacteria in Soil." Nature, 343:161, 1990.) Comment. It is easy to reach great heights of speculation given the facts that: (1 ) magnetic bacteria exist; (2 ) bacteria in general are exceedingly abundant; and (3 ) bacteria are found deep inside the earth's crust and, seemingly, just about anywhere one cares to look. Now, let's see how ridiculous one can get: Magnetic bacteria and/or their fossils contribute heavily to the magnetic properties of sedimentary rocks and unlithified sediments, such as deep-sea sediments. In fact, magnetostratigraphy and paleomagnetism in general may be based upon bioartifacts and be suspect. Magnetic bacteria and/or their fossils are present in such immense ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Microorganisms complicate the k-t boundary Ancient bacteria, it appears, have tampered with the K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary of some 65 million years ago. A key marker of this boundary is a thin "spike" of iridium that is found worldwide, and which was supposedly deposited by the asteroid impact that helped finish off the dinosaurs. For many scientists, the asteroid-impact scenario has become a "non-negotiable" brick in the Temple of Science. The problem they have faced is that the iridium layer is variable in thickness and concentration from site to site. Sometimes iridium can be detected well above and below the K-T boundary. This variability has tended to undermine the asteroid-impact theory. Recent experiments at Wheaton College by B.D . Dyer et al have demonstrated that bacteria in ground water can both concentrate and disperse iridium deposits. In other words, bacteria could smear out an iridium spike, perhaps partially erase it, or even move it to a deeper or shallower layer of sediment. (Monastersky, R.; "Microbes Complicate the K-T Mystery," Science News, 136: 341, 1989.) Comment. An obvious question now is how bacteria might have affected other chemicals, such as oxygen and carbon isotopes, widely used in stratigraphy. From Science Frontiers #67, JAN-FEB 1990 . 1990-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 79: Jan-Feb 1992 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Deeply-buried life West-to-east profile of the Florida-Bahamas carbonate platform. Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, along the edge of the great carbonate platform that breaks the surface as Florida and the Bahamas, thrives a diverse community of animals that does not depend upon the sun for energy. Instead, they feast on carbohydrates provided by symbiotic bacteria. Since there are no ocean-floor vents spewing mutrients and hot water in the area, scientists have wondered where these bacteria obtain the methane and sulfides that nourish them. C.S . Martens and C.K . Paull, of the University of North Carolina, propose that bacteria living miles down within the carbonate platform generate the methane and sulfides as they consume organic matter buried long ago in the limestone. These excreted, energy rich gases and fluids seep upward and outward, sustaining biological communities along the edge of the platform. (Monastersky, R.; "Buried Rock, Bacteria Yield Deep-Sea Feast," Science News, 140:103, 1991.) Comment. (1 ) Looking far back in time, the sun was, of course, the energy source, because it helped create the buried organic matter. (2 ) However, there is always the possibility that the methane seeping out of the earth is abiogenic. See BLACK GOLD -- AGAIN under Geology . (3 ) How deeply into the crust has life penetrated ...
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... Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Hypermutation rather than directed mutation?The year 1988 saw a flurry of excitement over the purported discovery of "directed mutation" in the laboratory; that is, mutations of organisms that seemed goal-directed rather than random and independent of environmental pressures. The concept of directed mutation is counter to prevailing biological dogma, and, naturally, this research bore severe scrutiny. Objections and arguments against directed mutation arose, but the original research was never shown to be faulty. New experiments along this line, by B. Hall at the University of Rochester, have supported the original Harvard work and refuted some of the objections that had been leveled. Working with a special strain of Escherichia coli , Hall starved the bacteria of a certain amino acid, (tryptophan) that they usually got from the environment and could not synthesize. In the days that followed, many of the bacteria mutated so that they could synthesize their own tryptophan. Hall concluded: "Mutations that occur more when they're useful than when they're not: That I can document any day, every day, in the laboratory." Rather than assign any "conscious" goal-seeking attributes to the bacteria, Hall prefers to think that the environmental stress induced a state of "hypermutation." In this state all sorts of mu-tations occurred in abundance. Only those that synthesized tryptophan survived the starvation program; even potentially favorable mutations died quickly. (Stolzenburg, W.; "Hypermutation: Evolutionary Fast Track ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 66: Nov-Dec 1989 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Care for a cup of viruses?" The concentration of bacteriophages in natural unpolluted waters is in general believed to be low, and they have therefore been considered ecologically unimportant. Using a new method for quantitative enumeration, we have found up to 2.5 x 108 virus particles per millilitre in natural waters. These concentrations indicate that virus infection may be an important factor in the ecological control of planktonic microorganisms, and that viruses might mediate genetic exchange among bacteria in natural aquatic environments." (Bergh, Oivind, et al; "High Abundance of Viruses Found in Aquatic Environments," Nature, 340:467, 1989.) A sip of water could therefore introduce a billion virus particles into your stomach! This level of virus density in natural water is about 10 million times that formerly estimated. Besides reducing your thirst, what are the implications of this discovery? First, it suggests that bacteria in natural waters are probably kept in check by viruses as well as protozoans. So far, this sounds good. Second, since viruses can ferry genetic material between organisms via transduction (i .e ., host DNA is carried to the next host). This means that genes for antibody resistance and increased bacterial virulence (as present in sewage) may be spread quickly and widely. Also, "engineered bacteria" proposed for use in agriculture, viz., the ice-minus bacterium created to protect strawberries, ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 65: Sep-Oct 1989 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Microorganisms At Great Depths It was a surprise when diverse biological communities were discovered around deep-sea thermal vents, where sunlight is nonexistent and the energy for sustaining life must be extracted from the mineral-charged water gushing from the vents. An analogous situation occurs at great depths in the earth's crust itself, as proven by sampling at three deep boreholes in South Carolina. Number of microorganism colony types at various depths at Site P28. The concentration and diversity of microorganisms (mostly bacteria) at depths as great as 520 meters (1610 feet) below the ground's surface are remarkably high. It makes one wonder what will be found even farther down. To illustrate, more than 3000 different microorganisms have been found in the boreholes. Many of the bacteria are new to science. As the following two paragraphs demonstrate, subterranean life consists of many well-adapted microorganisms working together. "The traditional scientific concept of an abiological terrestrial subsurface is not valid. The reported investigation has demonstrated that the terrestrial deep subsurface is a habitat of great biological diversity and activity that does not decrease significantly with increasing depth. "The enormous diversity of the microbiological communities in deep terrestrial sediments is most striking. The organisms vary widely in structure and function, and they are capable of transforming a variety of organic and inorganic compounds. Regardless of the depth sampled, the microorganisms were able to perform the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects We Live Atop A Chemical Retort Far down there beneath our feet, the earth's chemicals are bubbling away, aided often by bacteria and other life forms. It's a dark world, but it's also hot, permeated by fluids, and possibly the abode of organisms we haven't dreamed of. Three hints of this nether world follow. Quick oil. Rather than ripening in deep strata for millions of years, as per prevailing theory, some oil is being created in only a few thousand years in the vicinities of ocean-bottom chimneys. Dimesized oil globules have been sighted floating near these chimneys. Analysis of chunks broken off the chimneys by research submersibles reveal the presence of petroleum-like hydrocarbons that are less than 5000 years old. It is thought that high-temperature fluids percolating up through the sediments convert buried organic matter into oil very rapidly. (Monastersky, R.; "The Quick Recipe for a Soup of Black Gold," Science News, 136:295, 1989.) Comment. Not mentioned in this article is T. Gold's theory that oil is actually derived from primordial carbon deep in the crust. Gassy water. Some water wells in Texas also produce much methane. This methane is apparently not related to any oil or gas wells in the region. Rather, surmise has it that bacteria deep in the crust are converting buried organic material into methane and ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 75: May-Jun 1991 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Can organisms direct their evolution?" In 1988. Harvard molecular biologist John Cairns committed an act of scientific heresy. He proposed in a Nature article that bacteria living in an unfavorable environment are able to choose which mutations to produce to adapt to the stressful situation. Cairns made his directed-mutation hypothesis in response to an unusual finding -- data that strongly hinted bacterial mutations might occur more often when beneficial." The above quotation is the lead paragraph in a long BioScience article that details the consternation Cairns' results have created in the biological community. The problem that biology-as-a -discipline has is that it has deified a paradigm: neo-Darwinism. Now, neo-Darwinism is supported by many experiments showing that some mutations are indeed random. Consequently, as M. Gillis re-marks in her BioScience article, the biological community 'got locked into its belief that an organism cannot control its own mutation.' Furthermore, Cairns' claims recall the long battle with Lamarckism, a subject that biology has closed-the-book-on. In a nutshell, Lamarckism has been interred since the 1950s, and 'Nobody wants to give the appearance of straying from the neoDarwinism fold.' Gillis goes on to review some recent experiments supporting those of Cairns. But, impressive though these may be, there have been neo-Darwinian explanations for some of the results. Even so, more and ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 66: Nov-Dec 1989 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Strange Blue Pool Found At The Bottom Of Crater Lake "A mysterious, small aqua-blue pool of dense fluid has been discovered at the bottom of Crater Lake. "' It is bizarre, it is remarkable,' said Jack Dymond, who with Robert Collier heads the three-year Crater Lake exploration project. 'I have never seen anything like it,' he said. "The Oregon State University oceanographer said the pool, about 6 feet in depth, is approximately 3 feet wide by 8 feet long. It is near the lush white and orange bacteria mats found last summer." The murky pool of fluid was discovered during a dive in a research submarine. The temperature of the pool was about 4.5 C (40.1 F) which made it 1 C warmer than the surrounding lake water. (Anonymous; "Strange Blue Pool Found in Crater Lake," Sunday Oregonian , August 13, 1989. Cr. R. Byrd) Comment. Some lakes in northern climes still retain ancient seawater in their bottoms. Also, we have the well-publicized African lakes that suddenly overturn, producing clouds of poisonous gases. See our catalog: Anomalies in Geology. Ordering information here . From Science Frontiers #66, NOV-DEC 1989 . 1989-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 70: Jul-Aug 1990 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Crystal Engineering Left to themselves, molecules of calcium carbonate tend to crystallize into neat rhombohedrons. But when a sea urchin gets hold of the same molecules, its biological machinery coaxes them into crystallizing into long spines, complete with pores and curved edges. X-ray diffraction patterns prove that the spines are all one crystal . In like fashion, bacteria mold miniature single-crystal bar magnets for navigational purposes. Many animals indulge in crystal engi neering. Now if we can only train organisms to build crystalline electronic devices for us. Biogenic chips? (Mann, Stephen; "Crystal Engineering: The Natural Way," New Scientist, p. 42. March 10, 1990.) From Science Frontiers #70, JUL-AUG 1990 . 1990-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... remarkable similarities between them, despite the fact that they were reared under radically different circumstances. Their physical appearances, habits, vocations, health histories, and other factors are often eerily the same. For example, two female identical twins, who had never seen each other, each wore eight rings! The upshot of such investigations is that most of a person's characteristics are genetic in origin; that is, Nature dominates nurture. But what about identical twins who are remarkably different? They can, for instance, differ appreciably in size, intellect, and behavior. In such cases, does nurture dominate nature? No! Identical twins may diverge even in the womb, where one may receive more oxygen and nutrients than the other. One also may be assailed in by viruses, bacteria, or drugs, while the other escapes. Even more drastic is the possi bility that one twin may pick up an extra chromosome soon after the original egg has split. Also, mutations may doom one twin to Down's syndrome or some other genetic affliction, while the other is unscathed. Identical twins may even be of different sex! Of course, such twins are genetically different, but they are still monozygotic (from the same egg). Blood tests will show them to be identical. It used to be thought that the small differences that did exist between identical twins separated at birth were surely due to nurture, not nature. But, considering all the differences that can accrue in, it seems that the role of nurture in shaping individuals is much smaller than thought ...
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... makes molecules coalesce into cells and humans? The answer given is: spontaneous self-organization ! In other words, there is no guiding external force. Molecules do this spontaneously. There are even computer models being developed, based on a branch of mathematics called "dynamical systems," that describe how this all happens - spontaneously, of course. (Waldrop, M. Mitchell; "Spontaneous Order, Evolution, and Life," Science, 247:1543, 1990.) Comment. When water molecules spontaneously cluster together to form a snowflake, with all its symmetry and order, science explains the process in terms of the properties of water molecules. The same must be true when molecules merge to form life forms. But why do atoms and molecules possess these properties that lead to bacteria, to humans, to who-knows-what's -next? "Spontaneous self-organization" is a cop out! From Science Frontiers #69, MAY-JUN 1990 . 1990-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... traffic peaks about every 11 years, just when the solar cycle reaches its maximum. By now, you've probably guessed that F. Hoyle and N.C . Wickramasinghe are again talking about flu pandemics and sunspots. You must admit, however, that their correlation is becoming more and more convincing. Yearly means of daily sunspot numbers correlated with dates of flu pandemics First, we have their graph covering the past 70 years which speaks for itself. You can add the 1990 flu outbreak to the curve yourself! To strengthen the correlation Hoyle and Wickramasinghe tabulate flu and sunspot data back to 1761. They find that flu pandemics and sunspot maxima have kept in step for the last 17 cycles. Key to the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe argument is their contention that simple life forms (viruses, bacteria, etc.) not only exist in outer space but likely evolved there. If so, how do they ride in to afflict us on the peaks of the solar cycle? Here's how, in their words: "In conclusion, we note that electrical fields associated with intense solar winds can rapidly drive charged particles of the size of viruses down through the exposed upper atmosphere into the shelter of the lower atmosphere, the charging of such particles being due to the photoelectric effect. This could define one possible causal link between influenza pandemics and solar activity." (Hoyle, F., and Wickramasinghe, N. C.; "Sunspots and Influenza," Nature, 343: 304, 1990.) Reference. Periodic epidemics are cataloged in BHH3 in: Biological Anomalies ...
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... it. Do you simply starve to death, ending your world's brief experiment with life? Not if a rust-colored substance called tholin is within reach. Tholin may have served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the first life on Earth." The tholins are hard, red-brownish substances made of complex organic compounds. They do not exist naturally on earth, because our present oxidizing atmosphere blocks their synthesis. However, tholins can be made in the lab by subjecting mixtures of methane, ammonia, and water vapor to simulated lightning discharges. Conditions like this probably exist many places in the universe. In fact, the icy moons of the outer solarsystem planets appear ideal places for tholin manufacturing. What would eat such stuff? Lab tests show that many kinds of bacteria love it and thrive on it. (Chaikin, Andrew; "First Foods," Discover, p. 18, February 1991.) Comment. A purposeless universe that just happens to create a substance for primitive life? Strange that things should be this way! From Science Frontiers #75, MAY-JUN 1991 . 1991-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... the Captain of the m.v . Benalder , enroute from Singapore to Jeddah. "18 August 1990. At 1640 UTC the sea surface was noticed to have a white appearance which at first was thought to be low-lying fog. This theory was disproved when shining a light in the water gave to noticeable increase in luminance. "The phenomenon extended to the horizon in all directions and was bright enough to make the ship's foredeck and the sky appear much darker than the sea. Its appearance and disappearance was gradual apart from an area of normal sea which was passed about five minutes before the phenomenon faded away ay 1725." (Anderson, F.G .J .; "Bioluminescence," Marine Observer, 61:117, 1991.) Comment. Luminous bacteria are usually blamed for milky seas, but biologists have paid little attention to the phenomenon. Reference. Milky seas and "white water" are cataloged in GLW9 in Lightning, Auroras. To order, visit: here . From Science Frontiers #79, JAN-FEB 1992 . 1992-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... of $40 million, drilling at the Siljan Ring has been terminated. The drill penetrated to 6.8 kilometers before it got stuck. No significant methane had been found. The experts snickered! But the story is not finished, at least as far as Gold is concerned. He maintains that the drilling stopped just short of an apparent reservoir at 7.2 kilometers (probably located by seismic methods). Another, deeper hole will vindicate him, he believes. After all, there are tantalizing hints: The drillers did find an assortment of hydrocarbons that could have been deposited by upward-seeping methane. Skeptics say they are derived from the drilling fluids. Tons of micrometer-sized grains of magnetite were taken out of the hole. Gold opines that these grains were synthesized by bacteria subsisting upon seeping methane at a depth of 6 kilometers. Russian drillers on the Kola Peninsula report the existence of intriguing circulating fluids as far down as 12 kilometers. Despite the problems and disappointments at the first hole, some Swedish investors seem ready to finance a second hole at the Siljan Ring. (Kerr, Richard A.; "When a Radical Experiment Goes Bust," Science, 247:1177, 1990.) Reference. To read more on primordial methane and the Siljan Ring, refer to ESC16 in our catalog: Anomalies in Geo logy. Ordering information here . From Science Frontiers #69, MAY-JUN 1990 . 1990-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 58: Jul-Aug 1988 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Bacteria One dictionary's definition: "Widely distributed group of microscopic, one-celled vegetable organisms..." As a matter of fact, the nearly universal image of a bacterium is that of a simple, single-cell organism. But: "That view is now being challenged. Investigators are finding that in many ways an individual bacterium is more analogous to a component cell of a multicellular organism than it is to a free-living, autonomous organism. Bacteria form complex communities, hunt prey in groups and secrete chemical trails for the directed movement of thousands of individuals." J.A . Shapiro, author of the preceding quote, attributes the simplistic picture of bacteria to medical bacteriology, in which disease-causing bacteria are classically identified by isolating single cells, growing cultures from them, and then showing that they cause the disease in question. In the microscopic real world, bacteria virtually always live in colonies, which possess collective properties quite different and much more impressive than those of the single-cell-in-a -dish! That old human urge for reductionism has led us astray again. Shapiro seeks to remove the blinders of reductionism in a wonderful article in the June, 1988, issue of Scientific Amer can . We have room here to mention only the Myxobacteria, many of which never exist as single cells in nature. Even those that do are "social" in the sense that ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 57: May-Jun 1988 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Subterranean life! (part 3)We almost forgot this recent tidbit from Science News that mentions microscopic life forms: "In recent years, scientists have found bacteria, as far down as 1,150 feet, in wells that penetrate deeply buried aquifers -- porous layers of rock that hold underground water. Such finds have forced hydrologists to question their traditional belief that deep aquifers were devoid of life. But it was not clear whether these bacteria were native residents of the aquifers or just contaminants from the world above, living solely within the wells. Moreover, no one had established how the bacteria were affecting the environment, if at all." Experiments have now shown that these subterranean bacteria are indigenous and are important to groundwater chem istry. The bacteria feed on organic molecules and display a curious propensity for metabolizing the carbon-13 isotope rather than carbon-12. Thus, carbon dissolved in some deep aquifer water is enriched in carbon-13 compared to surface water. None of the bacteria found so far seems dangerous to humans. (Monastersky, R.; "Bacteria Alive and Thriving at Depth," Science News, 133: 149, 1988.) Comment. Subterranean bacteria may be associated with the creation of oil and natural gas. From Science Frontiers #57, MAY-JUN 1988 . 1988-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 60: Nov-Dec 1988 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Purposeful evolution?One seemingly unassailable dogma of evolutionary biology insists that natural selection involves, first, the continuous, random, environment-independent generation of genetic mutations; and, second, the subsequent fixation of those mutations that are favored by prevailing conditions. In other works, the genetic mutations cannot be influenced by external events and conditions. But in recent experiments with bacteria (E . coli), J. Cairns et al, at the Harvard School of Public Health, find they actually do produce mutations in direct response to changes in their environment. The adjective "purposeful" has even been applied to the action of these bacteria! Can anything be more heretical? "One of the experiments involves taking colonies of E. coli that are incapable of metabolizing lactose and exposing them to the sugar. If the lactose-utilizing mutants simply arise spontaneously in the population and are then favored by prevailing conditions, then this would lead to one pattern of new colony growth. A distinctly different pattern is produced if, under the new conditions, the rate of production of lactose-utilizing mutants is enhanced. The observation is something of a mixture of patterns, indicating that directed mutation appears to be occurring. 'This experiment suggests that populations of bacteria...have some way of producing (or selectively retaining) only the most appropriate mutations,' note Cairns and his colleagues." (Lewin, Roger; "A Heresy ...
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... . She says, "The stakes in this dispute are high, indeed. If directed mutations are real, the explanations of evolutionary biology that depend on random events must be thrown out. This would have broad implications. For example, directed mutation would shatter the belief that organisms are related to some ancestor if they share traits. Instead, they may simply share exposure to the same environmental cues. Also, different organisms may have different mutation rates based on their ability to respond to the environment. And the discipline of molecular taxonomy, where an organism's position on the evolutionary tree is fixed by comparing its genome to those of others, would need extreme revision." What sort of experiment did Cairns do to cause such a ruckus? In particular, he studied E. Coli bacteria. Normally, these bacteria cannot metabolize the sugar lactose. Cairns exposed the E. Coli to a sudden dose of lactose, demonstrating that if the bacteria must have lactose to survive, they quickly cast off the two genes that inhibit their metabolizing of lactose. Of course, the experiments were more complicated than this, but the fundamental finding was that the bacteria mutated so that they could use lactose much, much faster than chance mutation would permit, stastically speaking. The battle lines are forming. A sup-porter of directed mutation, J. Shapiro, of the University of Chicago, is quoted as follows in Moffat's article: "The genome is smart. It can respond to selective conditions. The signifi cance of the Cairns paper is not in the presentation of new ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 61: Jan-Feb 1989 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Gaia At Work Under The Hudson "Oxygen-starved bacteria working in sediment beneath the Hudson River are transforming toxic PCB compounds into less dangerous forms, raising hopes of a significant easing of a major PCB cleanup problem nationwide," researchers said yesterday. "The resulting types of PCBs do not accumulate in living tissue, a government scientist said." Researchers at the University of Michigan stated that it appeared that these bacteria had evolved specifically to attack PCBs. (Anonymous; "Hudson Bacteria Transform PCBs into Safer Forms," Baltimore Sun, November 4, 1988.) Comment. Thus does Gaia act so as to protect humanity from its own mistakes! From Science Frontiers #61, JAN-FEB 1989 . 1989-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Jun 1988 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Living stalactites! subterranean life! (in three parts)Translation of the Introduction of an article from Science et Vie : "One has always held that the calcareous concretions in caves are the work of water and the chemical constituents of the rock. Surprise! The true workers in the kingdom of darkness are living organisms." It's all true. All the references we have state unequivocally that stalactites and stalagmites are created by dripping water that is charged with minerals, calcium carbonate in particular. That stalactites contain crystals of calcite is not denied in the Science et Vie article. Indeed, an electron micro scope photograph shows them clearly; but it also shows that a web of mineralized bacteria is also an intergral part of the stalactite's structure. Laboratory simulations have shown that microorganisms take an active role in the process of mineralization. (Dupont, George; "Et Si les Stalactites Etaient Vivantes?" Science et Vie , p. 86, August 1987. Cr. C. Mauge.) Besides being a surprising adjustment of our ideas about stalactite growth, the recognition that microorganisms may play an active role in the subterranean world stimulates two new questions: (1 ) Can we believe any longer that stalactite size is a measure of age, as is often claimed? (2 ) Is the immense network of known caves (some as long as 500 kilometers) the consequence only of chemical actions? It turns out that the earth beneath our feet is not so ...
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... appears often in Science Frontiers. Currently, he is promoting the theory that many of the earth's hydrocarbon deposits (gas, oil, graphite, etc.) are not of biological origin but are formed rather when primordial methane outgases from the planet's interior. A vanishingly small number of geologists buy Gold's theory. Nevertheless, the Swedish State Power Authority and some private investors have been impressed enough to fund a drilling project at the Siljan Ring, a meteorite crater 150 miles north of Stockholm. There are no significant sources of biogenic hydrocarbons nearby, but oil seeps are not uncommon around the Ring. Mainstream theory cannot account for these seeps, but Gold's theory can: primordial methane streaming up through the cracked granite shield is converted, probably with the help of bacteria, into oil and hydrocarbon sludge. "Ridicuous," say the mainstreamers. Recently, the drilling program, which has reached the 22,000foot level, brought up 60 kilograms of very smelly black sludge with the consistency of modeling clay. The gunk seems to have a biological origin. In addition to the black sludge, the drillers have been encountering increasing quantities of various hydrocarbon gases as the hole went deeper. All very supportive of Gold's hypothesis. Establishment geologists are having difficulties explaining these results. They blame contamination by drilling lubricants and/or the surface oil seeps. Gold discounts these explanations. (Anonymous; "Going for Gold," Scientific American, 259:20, August 1988. Also: Begley, Sharon, and Lubenow, Gerald C.; " ...
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... if a large meteor impact excavated a 60milewide crater. "Phinney's group used a computer to calculate where 1,000 particles would go if ejected from Earth in random directions, moving about 2.5 kilometers per second faster than the minimum speed necessary to escape. Of the 1,000 hypothetical particles, 291 hit Venus and 165 returned to Earth; 20 went to Mercury, 17 to Mars, 14 to Jupiter and 1 to Saturn. Another 492 left the solar system completely, primarily due to gravitational close encounters with either Jupiter or Mercury that 'slingshot' them on their way." (Eberhart, Jonathan; "Have Earth Rocks Gone to Mars?" Science News, 135:191, 1989.) Comment. One implication from the preceding analysis is that terrestrial bacteria and spores could well have infected every planet in the solar system and perhaps even planets in nearby star systems! Conceivably, if other star systems had histories like ours, biological traffic might be quite heavy in interstellar space. In fact, extraterrestrial life forms may be arriving here continually; and we may be such ourselves! From Science Frontiers #63, MAY-JUN 1989 . 1989-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 46: Jul-Aug 1986 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Halley's comet infected by bacteria?" Halley's comet is coated with organic molecules. Two astronomers working with the Anglo-Australian Telescope, David Allen and Dayal Wickramasinghe, have found strong evidence in an infrared spectrum of the comet, taken two weeks ago. The spectrum, spanning the wavelengths 2-4 micrometres, shows a prominent feature centred at 3.4 micrometres which the two astronomers attribute to emission by carbon-hydrogen bonds in a solid." Chandra Wickramasinghe (Dayal's brother) states that the emissivity of Halley's comet matches exactly the emissivity of bacteria as observed in the laboratory. This observation supports the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe suggestion that comets transport life forms around the universe. Of course, more conservative scientists contend that rather complex organic molecules can be synthesized in space abiogenically. These molecules might account for the observations. (Chown, Marcus; "Organics or Organisms in Halley's Nucleus," New Scientist, p. 23, April 17, 1986.) Comment. This article seems to be accompanied by a bit of scientific revisionism. In response to this discovery, one English scientist remarked that these results, ". .. only confirm what everyone has always suspected." Now, it is true that comets have long been termed "dirty snowballs" but until very recently no one has maintained that comets are covered with dark, organic sludge. Reference. In category ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 43: Jan-Feb 1986 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Exploring The Suberranean World Of Life Examining fluid inclusions in hydrothermal quartz crystals obtained from a drill hole in Yellowstone National Park, K.E . Bargar and his colleagues from the U.S . Geological Survey noted many rodlike and threadlike particles that closely resembled bacteria. Although these partiles move, as if alive, they are only in Brownian motion. But even in death, they tell us that life forms can prosper deep underground at very high pressures and temperatures. The crystals that ultimately grew around the fluid particles came from fractures in Pleistocene rhyolite hundreds of feet below the surface. The authors concluded: "Thermophilic microorganisms may hold the key to an understanding of several biological and geochemical processes, including the origin of life. The discovery of possible microorganisms in these fluid inclusions from the Yellowstone volcanic area enlarges the range of potential environments over which subsequent investigations should be conducted." (Barger, Keith E., et al; "Particles in Fluid Inclusions from Yellowstone National Park -- Bacteria?" Geology, 13:483, 1985.) Comment. It is appropriate to note that similar "organized elements" have been noticed in meteorites for over a century. From Science Frontiers #43, JAN-FEB 1986 . 1986-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 41: Sep-Oct 1985 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Genetic Garrulousness It is tempting to predict that those cells with the most genetic material will belong to the most advanced organisms. One would, for example, expect to find more DNA or nucleotide pairs in human cells than the cells of bacteria or plants. In the case of the bacteria, this expectation is realized. Some plants, however, have one hundred times more DNA per cell than humans. Some fish and salamanders do, too. One reason why there is no simple relationship between a cell's genetic complement and the organism's complexity is that a lot of genetic material is apparently useless, with no known functions. Human genes, by way of illustration, possess about 300,000 copies of a short sequence called Alu. The Alu sequences seem to be simply dead weight -- functionless -- yet continuously reproduced along with useful sequences. One purposeless mouse gene sequence is repeated a million times in each cell. (Stebbins, G. Ledyard, and Ayala, Francisco J.; "The Evolution of Darwinism," Scientific American, 253:72, July 1985.) Comment. Why so much redundance? Or is there some purpose for this excess genetic material that we haven't yet descried? The "useless" sequences may merely be left over from ancient gene shufflings; or they may be awaiting future calls to action. The above tidbits come from a long review article that is ...
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