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Posts tagged with "Life As We (Don’t) Know It"

  • Chemical News

    Chirality, From Chemical Supply Houses to Life as We Know It

    I wrote here a few years ago about the Mysterious Sparteine Shortage, and it’s a problem that hasn’t gone away. Sparteine, for those who collect neither alkaloids nor asymmetric organic chemistry routes, is a naturally occurring compound (found in a South American species of lupine, among other places), and it’s also an interestin… Read More
  • Chemical News

    Hydrothermal Vents Weren’t Home?

    It’s probably not surprising, but you would be hard pressed to find an area that’s full of more intractable arguments than origin-of-life studies. There are so many theories, because it’s relatively easy to add new ones, and it’s difficult to impossible to put many of them to the real test. Meanwhile, the scientific stakes a… Read More
  • Biological News

    The Blind Watchmaker’s Workshop

    Did it have to be this way? I mean all of it – biochemistry, the molecules of life. More specifically, as proteins evolve and change, how many paths could they have taken that would have taken them to the same sorts of function? That’s a pretty hard question to answer, since we’re looking at a… Read More
  • Life As We (Don't) Know It

    The Urey Variation

    Here’s a paper that probably doesn’t have much relevance out here in the real world, but illustrates some of the problems that we do face. Everyone remembers the Miller-Urey experiment, where a mixture of “primordial” gases (water, methane, ammonia, hydrogen) was subjected to repeated electric sparks and heat in a closed ve… Read More
  • Chemical News

    The Solvent-Soaked Universe

    I’ve been meaning to say something about these chemistry results from the ongoing Rosetta comet mission, and my plans to attend this astronomy get-together this weekend have brought them to mind again. (Here are the papers from the Rosetta team themselves). Note the variety of small organic molecules that this (ordinary) comet contains, and c… Read More
  • Life As We (Don't) Know It

    Acetonitrile. . .In Space!

    You may have seen stories about this paper, which shows that the protoplanetary disk around a (very) young star system is full of HCN, acetonitrile, and other CN-containing compounds. Studies of comets in our own system suggest that these were common materials in our early solar nebula, and this observation strongly suggests that our own… Read More
  • Life As We (Don't) Know It

    How Many Things Can Be Enzymes, Anyway?

    For many years, enzymes were thought to be basically the only biological catalyst molecules out there. Then things like ribozymes were discovered, and it was appreciated that the nucleic acid polymers could also bind substrates and catalyze their reactions. That brought up a natural question: what other sorts of complex polymers might be able to… Read More
  • Life As We (Don't) Know It

    We Don’t Know What We’re Missing

    I enjoyed this article in Science about looking for hidden types of life. There are, of course, plenty of microorganisms that can’t be cultured (this has been known for a long time). And there are plenty of odd DNA sequences that are pulled out of environmental samples, corresponding to undescribed bacteria and archaea. But what… Read More
  • Biological News

    Artificial Base Pairs in Living Cells

    Synthetic biology seems to have taken another big step. Many labs over the years have tried out expanding the genetic code in various ways, but all these run in various in vitro systems. Now the first organism has been engineered with a working unnatural base pair, according to this paper in Nature from the Romesburg… Read More
  • Chemical News

    Thermodynamics of Life

    Origin-of-life studies have been a feature of chemistry for a long time, and over the years some key questions have become clear. It’s clear from astronomical and planetary science data that the common molecules of organic chemistry are more or less soaking the universe. Amino acids and simple carbohydrates are apparently part of the cloud… Read More
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