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Scientists look for life's building blocks in outer space
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Apr 10, 2017

Most deep-sea animals produce their own light, research shows
Washington (UPI) Apr 10, 2017 - There a few ecosystems on Earth where the sun doesn't shine. The largest is the deep sea. Below 1,000 feet, the ocean is pitch black.

According to new research, the vast majority of creatures found at such depths create their own light.

Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute analyzed the footage from 240 dives conducted by the institute's remote-controlled submersibles. The survey identified more than 350,000 individual animals using the Video Annotation and Reference System.

Scientists compared the results of their survey with a database of species known to be bioluminescent and classified the identified individuals into one of five categories: definitely bioluminescent, highly likely to be bioluminescent, very unlikely to be bioluminescent, definitely not bioluminescent and undefined.

The research showed nearly three-quarters of all deep-sea dwellers produce their own light. Surprisingly, scientists say, the percentage of bioluminescent species is consistent at a range of depths. However, the groups of animals responsible for bioluminescence at each depth changes.

Between the surface and roughly 5,000 feet, bioluminescence is mostly produced by jellyfish and comb jellies. Between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, most bioluminescent creatures are marine worm species. Most of the glowing species below 10,000 feet are small sperm-like filter feeders called appendicularians, or larvaceans.

"I'm not sure people realize how common bioluminescence is," MBARI researcher Severine Martini said in a news release. "It's not just a few deep-sea fishes, like the angler fish. It's jellies, worms, squids...all sort of things."

Study authors Martini and Steve Haddock published their work in the journal Scientific Reports.

Scientists have long theorized comets delivered key ingredients for life on Earth. Scientists in Germany are currently testing the theory.

Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum are replicating the conditions of outer space to test whether cometary chemical reactions could have yielded complex molecules like amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

The average comet hosts all of the ingredients necessary for amino acid construction -- oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon. Scientists suspect the molecule hydroxylamine, NH2-OH, could have served as an amino acid precursor. But researchers haven't been able to confirm the molecule's presence on a comet flying through space.

Scientists have studied space-based chemical reactions in the gas phase, but researchers at RUB are interested in the chemical reactions in the condensed phases, solids and liquids, on the surfaces of comets.

A pair of radicals are likely to form a simple, direct bond when meeting in a gaseous environment.

"However, if we observe the reactions in the ice, anything is possible," researcher Teddy Butscher said in a news release.

Researchers set up experiments to see whether simple molecules could evolve complex molecules like hydroxylamine in ice. Researchers supplied the ice with ammonia and oxygen and subjected the sample to high-energy radiation. Infrared spectroscopy helped scientists track chemical reactions inside the ice. Specific vibrations can reveal certain molecules.

At first, scientists were unable to locate hydroxylamine. The chorus of chemical vibrations from other molecules drowned out its signature. But when researchers heated the sample, sublimating other molecules, hydroxylamine's signature surfaced.

"I think that people had not been searching for it using the right methods until now," said researcher Yetsedaw Tsegaw.

The research is a promising first step in explaining the origins of life, but RUB scientists are quick to point out the impossibility of proving how life began. Researchers say they can only provide plausible theories backed by thorough research and scientific evidence.

"The creation of life occurred over a timescale that we cannot simulate," said researcher Wolfram Sander. "Even though our research is of fundamental importance, it will not be able to provide a definitive answer to this question."

'Smart' cephalopods trade off genome evolution for prolific RNA editing
Cape Cod MA (SPX) Apr 10, 2017
Octopus, squid, and cuttlefish are famous for engaging in complex behavior, from unlocking an aquarium tank and escaping to instantaneous skin camouflage to hide from predators. A new study suggests their evolutionary path to neural sophistication includes a novel mechanism: Prolific RNA editing at the expense of evolution in their genomic DNA. The study, led by Joshua J.C. Rosenthal of th ... read more

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