Challenges2014, 5(2), 193-212; doi:10.3390/challe5020193 - published online 18 July 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for life. It occurs in living beings in the form of phosphate, which is ubiquitous in biochemistry, chiefly in the form of C-O-P (carbon, oxygen and phosphorus), C-P, or P-O-P linkages to form life. Within prebiotic chemistry, several key questions concerning phosphorus chemistry have developed: what were the most likely sources of P on the early Earth? How did it become incorporated into the biological world to form the P compounds that life employs today? Can meteorites be responsible for the delivery of P? What were the most likely solvents on the early Earth and out of those which are favorable for phosphorylation? Or, alternatively, were P compounds most likely produced in relatively dry environments? What were the most suitable temperature conditions for phosphorylation? A route to efficient formation of biological P compounds is still a question that challenges astrobiologists. This article discusses these important issues related to the origin of biological P compounds.
Challenges2014, 5(1), 175-192; doi:10.3390/challe5010175 - published online 5 June 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: We study the bias induced by a weak (200 mT) external magnetic field on the preferred handedness of sodium chlorate crystals obtained by slow evaporation at ambient conditions of its saturated saline solution with 20 ppm of added racemic (dl) hydrophobic amino acids. By applying the Fisher test to pairs of experiments with opposing magnetic field orientation we conclude, with a confidence level of 99.7%, that at the water-air interface of this saline solution there is an enantioselective magnetic interaction that acts upon racemic mixtures of hydrophobic chiral amino acids. This interaction has been observed with the three tested racemic hydrophobic amino acids: dl-Phe, dl-Try and dl-Trp, at ambient conditions and in spite of the ubiquitous chiral organic contamination. This enantioselective magnetic dependence is not observed when there is only one handedness of added chiral amino-acid, if the added amino acid is not chiral or if there is no additive. This effect has been confirmed with a double blind test. This novel experimental observation may have implications for our view of plausible initial prebiotic scenarios and of the roles of the geomagnetic field in homochirality in the biosphere.
Challenges2014, 5(1), 159-174; doi:10.3390/challe5010159 - published online 28 May 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Rational speculation about biological evolution on other worlds is one of the outstanding challenges in astrobiology. With the growing confirmation that multiplanetary systems abound in the universe, the prospect that life occurs redundantly throughout the cosmos is gaining widespread support. Given the enormous number of possible abodes for life likely to be discovered on an ongoing basis, the prospect that life could have evolved into complex, macro-organismic communities in at least some cases merits consideration. Toward that end, we here propose a Biological Complexity Index (BCI), designed to provide a quantitative estimate of the relative probability that complex, macro-organismic life forms could have emerged on other worlds. The BCI ranks planets and moons by basic, first-order characteristics detectable with available technology. By our calculation only 11 (~1.7%) of the extrasolar planets known to date have a BCI above that of Europa; but by extrapolation, the total of such planets could exceed 100 million in our galaxy alone. This is the first quantitative assessment of the plausibility of complex life throughout the universe based on empirical data. It supports the view that the evolution of complex life on other worlds is rare in frequency but large in absolute number.
Challenges2014, 5(1), 152-158; doi:10.3390/challe5010152 - published online 21 May 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Photochemical self-shielding of CO has been proposed as a mechanism to produce solids observed in the modern, 16O-depleted solar system. This is distinct from the relatively 16O-enriched composition of the solar nebula, as demonstrated by the oxygen isotopic composition of the contemporary sun. While supporting the idea that self-shielding can produce local enhancements in 16O-depleted solids, we argue that complementary enhancements of 16O-enriched solids can also be produced via C16O-based, Fischer-Tropsch type (FTT) catalytic processes that could produce much of the carbonaceous feedstock incorporated into accreting planetesimals. Local enhancements could explain observed 16O enrichment in calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs), such as those from the meteorite, Isheyevo (CH/CHb), as well as in chondrules from the meteorite, Acfer 214 (CH3). CO self-shielding results in an overall increase in the 17O and 18O content of nebular solids only to the extent that there is a net loss of C16O from the solar nebula. In contrast, if C16O reacts in the nebula to produce organics and water then the net effect of the self-shielding process will be negligible for the average oxygen isotopic content of nebular solids and other mechanisms must be sought to produce the observed dichotomy between oxygen in the Sun and that in meteorites and the terrestrial planets. This illustrates that the formation and metamorphism of rocks and organics need to be considered in tandem rather than as isolated reaction networks.
Challenges2014, 5(1), 138-151; doi:10.3390/challe5010138 - published online 31 March 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Surface water concentrations of the acid herbicides 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop were measured in ten urban Ontario streams before (2003–2008) and after (2009–2012) a ban on the sale and use of pesticides for cosmetic (non-essential) purposes. Frequencies of detection (2003–2012) were 98%, 96% and nearly 100%, respectively for 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop. Concentrations were typically in the ng L−1 range, although periodic spikes in the µg L−1 range were observed. Concentrations in a majority of the study streams decreased significantly following the cosmetic pesticides ban. Concentrations decreased from 16% to 92% depending on the stream and herbicide. The presence of these herbicides in urban streams was likely a result of urban applications. Concentrations were significantly related to population density or urban land cover, and the relative proportion of the three herbicides observed in urban stream water approximated the ratios found in pesticide products formulated for urban use. Longer-term trends indicate that decreases in stream water herbicide concentrations may have preceded the ban and may be related to increased public awareness of pesticide issues and voluntary reductions in urban pesticide use.
Challenges2014, 5(1), 123-137; doi:10.3390/challe5010123 - published online 21 March 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Urban water systems face sustainability and resiliency challenges including water leaks, over-use, quality issues, and response to drought and natural disasters. Information and communications technology (ICT) could help address these challenges through the development of smart water grids that network and automate monitoring and control devices. While progress is being made on technology elements, as a system, the smart water grid has received scant attention. This article aims to raise awareness of the systems-level idea of smart water grids by reviewing the technology elements and their integration into smart water systems, discussing potential sustainability and resiliency benefits, and challenges relating to the adoption of smart water grids. Water losses and inefficient use stand out as promising areas for applications of smart water grids. Potential barriers to the adoption of smart water grids include lack of funding for research and development, economic disincentives as well as institutional and political structures that favor the current system. It is our hope that future work can clarify the benefits of smart water grids and address challenges to their further development.