Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

For the paper trail of life on Mars or other planets, find cellulose

02.04.2008
Looking for evidence of life on Mars or other planets? Finding cellulose microfibers would be the next best thing to a close encounter, according to new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The cover story for the April issue of the journal Astrobiology, the new research also pushes back the earliest direct evidence of biological material on Earth by about 200 million years.

Cellulose is the tough, resilient substance best-known as the major structural component of plant matter. It is one of the most abundant biological materials on Earth, with plants, algae and bacteria generating an estimated 100 gigatons each year. Prehistoric forms of cellulose were made by cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae and bacteria still found in almost every conceivable habitat on land and in the oceans, which is known to have been present on Earth 2.8 billion years ago.

Jack D. Griffith, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor of microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, found cellulose microfibers in samples he took from pristine ancient salt deposits deep beneath the New Mexico high desert.

“The age of the cellulose microfibers we describe in the study is estimated to be 253 million years old. It makes these the oldest native macromolecules to date to have been directly isolated, visualized and examined biochemically,” said Griffith, who is also a virology professor at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Until now, the oldest evidence of biological material from fragments of ancient protein – found in Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur fossils – was dated at 68 million years.

According to Griffith, the most primitive life forms likely developed means of polymerizing glucose – the energy currency of all known carbon-based life forms – into cellulose as a structural molecule. “Cellulose is like the bacteria’s house, the biofilm surrounding them. Plants adopted cellulose as their structural entity, and insects changed cellulose slightly to make kitin of which their exoskeletons are formed,” he said.

Griffith’s study took him to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the world’s first underground repository licensed to safely and permanently dispose of radioactive waste left over from nuclear weapons research and production, which is located near Carlsbad, N.M.

The waste is placed more than 2,000 feet below the surface in rooms excavated from the salt deposits that were laid more than 200 million years ago. The site was chosen to hold the waste because salt is somewhat plastic and will flow to seal any cracks that develop.

The salt samples Griffith retrieved from the WIPP were studied in his transmission electron microscopy lab at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. In examining the content of fluid “inclusions”, or microscopic bubbles, in the salt and in solid halite (“rock salt”) crystals, he and his team found abundant cellulose microfibers that were “remarkably intact.”

Their examination clearly revealed the cellulose was in the form of microfibers as small as five nanometers in diameter, as well as composite ropes and mats. “The cellulose we isolated from the ancient salt deposits is very much like real, modern day cellulose: it looks like cellulose, behaves like cellulose, it’s chopped up by the same enzymes that cut modern day cellulose and it’s very intact,” Griffith said.

As to evidence of ancient DNA, Griffith said it was observed, but in much lesser amounts than cellulose.

“So in looking for evidence of life on Mars, for bacteria or higher plants that existed on Mars or other planets in the solar system, then looking for cellulose in salt deposits is probably a very good way to go. Cellulose appears to be highly stable and more resistant to ionizing radiation than DNA. And if it is relatively resistant to harsh conditions such as those found in space, it may provide the ideal ‘paper trail’ in the search for life on other planets.”

Patric Lane | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.unc.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>