Life2014, 4(3), 386-432; doi:10.3390/life4030386 (registering DOI) - published 28 August 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Spring mounds on Earth and on Mars could represent optimal niches of life development. If life ever occurred on Mars, ancient spring deposits would be excellent localities to search for morphological or chemical remnants of an ancient biosphere. In this work, we investigate models of formation and activity of well-exposed spring mounds in the Mechertate-Chrita-Sidi El Hani (MCSH) system, eastern Tunisia. We then use these models to explore possible spring mound formation on Mars. In the MCSH system, the genesis of the spring mounds is a direct consequence of groundwater upwelling, triggered by tectonics and/or hydraulics. As they are oriented preferentially along faults, they can be considered as fault spring mounds, implying a tectonic influence in their formation process. However, the hydraulic pressure generated by the convergence of aquifers towards the surface of the system also allows consideration of an origin as artesian spring mounds. In the case of the MCSH system, our geologic data presented here show that both models are valid, and we propose a combined hydro-tectonic model as the likely formation mechanism of artesian-fault spring mounds. During their evolution from the embryonic (early) to the islet (“island”) stages, spring mounds are also shaped by eolian accumulations and induration processes. Similarly, spring mounds have been suggested to be relatively common in certain provinces on the Martian surface, but their mode of formation is still a matter of debate. We propose that the tectonic, hydraulic, and combined hydro-tectonic models describing the spring mounds at MCSH could be relevant as Martian analogs because: (i) the Martian subsurface may be over pressured, potentially expelling mineral-enriched waters as spring mounds on the surface; (ii) the Martian subsurface may be fractured, causing alignment of the spring mounds in preferential orientations; and (iii) indurated eolian sedimentation and erosional remnants are common features on Mars. The spring mounds further bear diagnostic mineralogic and magnetic properties, in comparison with their immediate surroundings. Consequently, remote sensing techniques can be very useful to identify similar spring mounds on Mars. The mechanisms (tectonic and/or hydraulic) of formation and evolution of spring mounds at the MCSH system are suitable for the proliferation and protection of life respectively. Similarly, life or its resulting biomarkers on Mars may have been protected or preserved under the spring mounds.
Abstract: In polar aprotic organic solvents, fluorine might be an element of choice for life that uses selected fluorinated building blocks as monomers of choice for self-assembling of its catalytic polymers. Organofluorine compounds are extremely rare in the chemistry of life as we know it. Biomolecules, when fluorinated such as peptides or proteins, exhibit a “fluorous effect”, i.e., they are fluorophilic (neither hydrophilic nor lipophilic). Such polymers, capable of creating self-sorting assemblies, resist denaturation by organic solvents by exclusion of fluorocarbon side chains from the organic phase. Fluorous cores consist of a compact interior, which is shielded from the surrounding solvent. Thus, we can anticipate that fluorine-containing “teflon”-like or “non-sticking” building blocks might be monomers of choice for the synthesis of organized polymeric structures in fluorine-rich planetary environments. Although no fluorine-rich planetary environment is known, theoretical considerations might help us to define chemistries that might support life in such environments. For example, one scenario is that all molecular oxygen may be used up by oxidation reactions on a planetary surface and fluorine gas could be released from F-rich magma later in the history of a planetary body to result in a fluorine-rich planetary environment.
Abstract: Three-dimensional algebraic models, also called Genetic Hotels, are developed to represent the Standard Genetic Code, the Standard tRNA Code (S-tRNA-C), and the Human tRNA code (H-tRNA-C). New algebraic concepts are introduced to be able to describe these models, to wit, the generalization of the 2n-Klein Group and the concept of a subgroup coset with a tail. We found that the H-tRNA-C displayed broken symmetries in regard to the S-tRNA-C, which is highly symmetric. We also show that there are only 12 ways to represent each of the corresponding phenotypic graphs of amino acids. The averages of statistical centrality measures of the 12 graphs for each of the three codes are carried out and they are statistically compared. The phenotypic graphs of the S-tRNA-C display a common triangular prism of amino acids in 10 out of the 12 graphs, whilst the corresponding graphs for the H-tRNA-C display only two triangular prisms. The graphs exhibit disjoint clusters of amino acids when their polar requirement values are used. We contend that the S-tRNA-C is in a frozen-like state, whereas the H-tRNA-C may be in an evolving state.
Abstract: Supercritical fluids have different properties compared to regular fluids and could play a role as life-sustaining solvents on other worlds. Even on Earth, some bacterial species have been shown to be tolerant to supercritical fluids. The special properties of supercritical fluids, which include various types of selectivities (e.g., stereo-, regio-, and chemo-selectivity) have recently been recognized in biotechnology and used to catalyze reactions that do not occur in water. One suitable example is enzymes when they are exposed to supercritical fluids such as supercritical carbon dioxide: enzymes become even more stable, because they are conformationally rigid in the dehydrated state. Furthermore, enzymes in anhydrous organic solvents exhibit a “molecular memory”, i.e., the capacity to “remember” a conformational or pH state from being exposed to a previous solvent. Planetary environments with supercritical fluids, particularly supercritical carbon dioxide, exist, even on Earth (below the ocean floor), on Venus, and likely on Super-Earth type exoplanets. These planetary environments may present a possible habitat for exotic life.
Abstract: This review summarizes our recent findings on the role of mineral salts in prebiotic RNA synthesis, which is catalyzed by montmorillonite clay minerals. The clay minerals not only catalyze the synthesis of RNA but also facilitate homochiral selection. Preliminary data of these findings have been presented at the “Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)” conference at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, 5–6 September 2013. The objective of this meeting was to recognize the significance of RNA in LUCA. We believe that the prebiotic RNA synthesis from its monomers must have been a simple process. As a first step, it may have required activation of the 5'-end of the mononucleotide with a leaving group, e.g., imidazole in our model reaction (Figure 1). Wide ranges of activating groups are produced from HCN under plausible prebiotic Earth conditions. The final step is clay mineral catalysis in the presence of mineral salts to facilitate selective production of functional RNA. Both the clay minerals and mineral salts would have been abundant on early Earth. We have demonstrated that while montmorillonite (pH 7) produced only dimers from its monomers in water, addition of sodium chloride (1 M) enhanced the chain length multifold, as detected by HPLC. The effect of monovalent cations on RNA synthesis was of the following order: Li+ > Na+ > K+. A similar effect was observed with the anions, enhancing catalysis in the following order: Cl− > Br− > I−. The montmorillonite-catalyzed RNA synthesis was not affected by hydrophobic or hydrophilic interactions. We thus show that prebiotic synthesis of RNA from its monomers was a simple process requiring only clay minerals and a small amount of salt.
Abstract: Long-duration spaceflight results in muscle atrophy and a loss of bone mineral density. In skeletal muscle tissue, acute exercise and protein (e.g., essential amino acids) stimulate anabolic pathways (e.g., muscle protein synthesis) both independently and synergistically to maintain neutral or positive net muscle protein balance. Protein intake in space is recommended to be 12%–15% of total energy intake (≤1.4 g∙kg−1∙day−1) and spaceflight is associated with reduced energy intake (~20%), which enhances muscle catabolism. Increasing protein intake to 1.5–2.0 g∙kg−1∙day−1 may be beneficial for skeletal muscle tissue and could be accomplished with essential amino acid supplementation. However, increased consumption of sulfur-containing amino acids is associated with increased bone resorption, which creates a dilemma for musculoskeletal countermeasures, whereby optimizing skeletal muscle parameters via essential amino acid supplementation may worsen bone outcomes. To protect both muscle and bone health, future unloading studies should evaluate increased protein intake via non-sulfur containing essential amino acids or leucine in combination with exercise countermeasures and the concomitant influence of reduced energy intake.