Life2014, 4(2), 142-173; doi:10.3390/life4020142 - published online 14 April 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: We discuss the chemical pre-conditions for planet formation, in terms of gas and ice abundances in a protoplanetary disk, as function of time and position, and the resulting chemical composition and cloud properties in the atmosphere when young gas giant planets form, in particular discussing the effects of unusual, non-solar carbon and oxygen abundances. Large deviations between the abundances of the host star and its gas giants seem likely to occur if the planet formation follows the core-accretion scenario. These deviations stem from the separate evolution of gas and dust in the disk, where the dust forms the planet cores, followed by the final run-away accretion of the left-over gas. This gas will contain only traces of elements like C, N and O, because those elements have frozen out as ices. PRODIMO protoplanetary disk models are used to predict the chemical evolution of gas and ice in the midplane. We find that cosmic rays play a crucial role in slowly un-blocking the CO, where the liberated oxygen forms water, which then freezes out quickly. Therefore, the C/O ratio in the gas phase is found to gradually increase with time, in a region bracketed by the water and CO ice-lines. In this regions, C/O is found to approach unity after about 5 Myrs, scaling with the cosmic ray ionization rate assumed. We then explore how the atmospheric chemistry and cloud properties in young gas giants are affected when the non-solar C/O ratios predicted by the disk models are assumed. The DRIFT cloud formation model is applied to study the formation of atmospheric clouds under the influence of varying premordial element abundances and its feedback onto the local gas. We demonstrate that element depletion by cloud formation plays a crucial role in converting an oxygen-rich atmosphere gas into carbon-rich gas when non-solar, premordial element abundances are considered as suggested by disk models.
Life2014, 4(2), 131-141; doi:10.3390/life4020131 - published online 10 April 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The RNA World Hypothesis posits that the first self-replicating molecules were RNAs. RNA self-replicases are, in general, assumed to have employed nucleotide 5ʹ-polyphosphates (or their analogues) as substrates for RNA polymerization. The mechanism by which these substrates might be synthesized with sufficient abundance to supply a growing and evolving population of RNAs is problematic for evolutionary hypotheses because non-enzymatic synthesis and assembly of nucleotide 5ʹ-triphosphates (or other analogously activated phosphodiester species) is inherently difficult. However, nucleotide 2ʹ,3ʹ-cyclic phosphates are also phosphodiesters, and are the natural and abundant products of RNA degradation. These have previously been dismissed as viable substrates for prebiotic RNA synthesis. We propose that the arguments for their dismissal are based on a flawed assumption, and that nucleotide 2ʹ,3ʹ-cyclic phosphates in fact possess several significant, advantageous properties that indeed make them particularly viable substrates for prebiotic RNA synthesis. An RNA World hypothesis based upon the polymerization of nucleotide 2ʹ,3ʹ-cyclic phosphates possesses additional explanatory power in that it accounts for the observed ribozyme “fossil record”, suggests a viable mechanism for substrate transport across lipid vesicle boundaries of primordial proto-cells, circumvents the problems of substrate scarcity and implausible synthetic pathways, provides for a primitive but effective RNA replicase editing mechanism, and definitively explains why RNA, rather than DNA, must have been the original catalyst. Finally, our analysis compels us to propose that a fundamental and universal property that drives the evolution of living systems, as well as pre-biotic replicating molecules (be they composed of RNA or protein), is that they exploit chemical reactions that already possess competing kinetically-preferred and thermodynamically-preferred pathways in a manner that optimizes the balance between the two types of pathways.
Life2014, 4(2), 117-130; doi:10.3390/life4020117 - published online 2 April 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Musculoskeletal pathologies associated with decreased bone mass, including osteoporosis and disuse-induced bone loss, affect millions of Americans annually. Microgravity-induced bone loss presents a similar concern for astronauts during space missions. Many pharmaceutical treatments have slowed osteoporosis, and recent data shows promise for countermeasures for bone loss observed in astronauts. Additionally, high magnitude and low frequency impact such as running has been recognized to increase bone and muscle mass under normal but not microgravity conditions. However, a low magnitude and high frequency (LMHF) mechanical load experienced in activities such as postural control, has also been shown to be anabolic to bone. While several clinical trials have demonstrated that LMHF mechanical loading normalizes bone loss in vivo, the target tissues and cells of the mechanical load and underlying mechanisms mediating the responses are unknown. In this review, we provide an overview of bone adaptation under a variety of loading profiles and the potential for a low magnitude loading as a way to counteract bone loss as experienced by astronauts.
Life2014, 4(1), 107-116; doi:10.3390/life4010107 - published online 4 March 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The reduced-gravity environment in space is known to cause an upward shift in body fluids and thus require cardiovascular adaptations in astronauts. In this study, we recorded in rats the neuronal activity in the subthalamic cerebrovasodilator area (SVA), a key area that controls cerebral blood flow (CBF), in response to partial gravity. “Partial gravity” is the term that defines the reduced-gravity levels between 1 g (the unit gravity acceleration on Earth) and 0 g (complete weightlessness in space). Neuronal activity was recorded telemetrically through chronically implanted microelectrodes in freely moving rats. Graded levels of partial gravity from 0.4 g to 0.01 g were generated by customized parabolic-flight maneuvers. Electrophysiological signals in each partial-gravity phase were compared to those of the preceding 1 g level-flight. As a result, SVA neuronal activity was significantly inhibited by the partial-gravity levels of 0.15 g and lower, but not by 0.2 g and higher. Gravity levels between 0.2–0.15 g could represent a critical threshold for the inhibition of neurons in the rat SVA. The lunar gravity (0.16 g) might thus trigger neurogenic mechanisms of CBF control. This is the first study to examine brain electrophysiology with partial gravity as an experimental parameter.
Life2014, 4(1), 77-104; doi:10.3390/life4010077 - published online 26 February 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The term “extremophile” was introduced to describe any organism capable of living and growing under extreme conditions. With the further development of studies on microbial ecology and taxonomy, a variety of “extreme” environments have been found and an increasing number of extremophiles are being described. Extremophiles have also been investigated as far as regarding the search for life on other planets and even evaluating the hypothesis that life on Earth originally came from space. The first extreme environments to be largely investigated were those characterized by elevated temperatures. The naturally “hot environments” on Earth range from solar heated surface soils and water with temperatures up to 65 °C, subterranean sites such as oil reserves and terrestrial geothermal with temperatures ranging from slightly above ambient to above 100 °C, to submarine hydrothermal systems with temperatures exceeding 300 °C. There are also human-made environments with elevated temperatures such as compost piles, slag heaps, industrial processes and water heaters. Thermophilic anaerobic microorganisms have been known for a long time, but scientists have often resisted the belief that some organisms do not only survive at high temperatures, but actually thrive under those hot conditions. They are perhaps one of the most interesting varieties of extremophilic organisms. These microorganisms can thrive at temperatures over 50 °C and, based on their optimal temperature, anaerobic thermophiles can be subdivided into three main groups: thermophiles with an optimal temperature between 50 °C and 64 °C and a maximum at 70 °C, extreme thermophiles with an optimal temperature between 65 °C and 80 °C, and finally hyperthermophiles with an optimal temperature above 80 °C and a maximum above 90 °C. The finding of novel extremely thermophilic and hyperthermophilic anaerobic bacteria in recent years, and the fact that a large fraction of them belong to the Archaea has definitely made this area of investigation more exciting. Particularly fascinating are their structural and physiological features allowing them to withstand extremely selective environmental conditions. These properties are often due to specific biomolecules (DNA, lipids, enzymes, osmolites, etc.) that have been studied for years as novel sources for biotechnological applications. In some cases (DNA-polymerase, thermostable enzymes), the search and applications successful exceeded preliminary expectations, but certainly further exploitations are still needed.