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Lisa Pratt
22 Jan 2018
Lisa Pratt, ...has been named the planetary protection officer at NASA. The position is responsible for the protection of Earth from potential contamination by extraterrestrial life forms.... This appointment would have been unimaginable 20 years ago.
Astrobiologist Named NASA Planetary Protection Officer, Indiana University (+Newswise), 18 Jan 2018. Introduction: More Than Panspermia has some relevant history.

20 Jan 2018 What'sNEW about HGT |
The genomes of all vertebrates harbor remnants of ancient retroviral infections, having affected the germ line cells during the last 100 million years. These sequences, named Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs), have been transmitted to the offspring in a Mendelian way, being relatively stable components of the host genome even long after their exogenous counterparts went extinct. ...ERVs significantly contributed to the host genome shaping by introducing genetic variation and novel functions.
HERV-W group evolutionary history in non-human primates: characterization of ERV-W orthologs in Catarrhini and related ERV groups in Platyrrhini by Nicole Grandi et al., doi:10.1186/s12862-018-1125-1, BMC Evolutionary Biology, online 19 Jan 2018. Viruses... is the main related local webpage.

17 Jan 2018 What'sNEW about HGT |
Viruses Drive Evolution
This matter-of-fact heading comes in a well-referenced review article by three expert virologists. They confirm this once-radical notion with accumulated knowledge that needs to be more widely recognized. For example, ...the successful transfer of novel viral genes into host genomes is likely commonplace. ...the human genome contains between 8% and 40% virus derived sequences, some of which have been beneficial for human development.

They also remind us that viral genes are mostly unknown. Many viral genomes contain genes that have no homologs except in closely related viruses. ...A recent analysis of all published viral DNA metagenomes found that nearly 70% of virus-associated genes were novel. We think viral genes might enable future life here to evolve in unforseeable ways.

Astrovirology: Viruses at Large in the Universe by Aaron J. Berliner, Tomohiro Mochizuki, and Kenneth M. Stedman, doi:10.1089/ast.2017.1649, Astrobiology, online 10 Jan 2018.
Commentary by Alex Barasch, Slate, 17 Jan 2018. Viruses... is the main related local webpage.

13 Jan 2018 What'sNEW about HGT |
The genomes of plants and animals are littered with the remains of viruses that integrated themselves into their DNA hundreds of millions of years ago. Most of these viral remnants are inactive, but the latest research suggests that some evolved into genes that let cells communicate (pictured: SEM of an Arc protein).
SEM of an ARC protein
Cells hack virus-like protein to communicate by Sara Reardon, Nature News, 11 Jan 2018; re:
The Neuronal Gene Arc Encodes a Repurposed Retrotransposon Gag Protein that Mediates Intercellular RNA Transfer by Elissa D. Pastuzyn et al., doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.024, Cell, 11 Jan 2017; and:
Retrovirus-like Gag Protein Arc1 Binds RNA and Traffics across Synaptic Boutons by James Ashley, Benjamin Cordy et al., doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.022, Cell, 11 Jan 2017.
Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms has many more examples of viruses advancing eukaryotic evolution.

12 Jan 2018
You'd expect life to be seasonal, says NASA's Mike Mumma, commenting on the annual cycle of methane abundance in the northern atmosphere of Mars.
Mars methane rises and falls with the seasons by Eric Hand, Science, 05 Jan 2018. Life on Mars! is related.

12 Jan 2018
...the results support the idea that the organic matter originated from ocean world in the early solar system, possibly Ceres.
Halite chemistry An interdisciplinary collaboration of Japanese and American scientists make this observation following their study of 4.5 billion-year-old, millimeter-sized blue salt crystals from two meteorites. Using state-of-the-art instruments, the analysts propose mechanisms to account for the amino acids and other organics (see right), and the varied isotope ratios observed. Lead author Chan says, Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere.

Their suppositions and conclusion follow the standard assumption that all evidence from space is pre-biotic. But evidence like amino acids in meteorites might also be explained with actual biology, as they almost admit.

Organic matter in extraterrestrial water-bearing salt crystals, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aao3521, by Queenie H. S. Chan et al., Science Advances, 10 Jan 2018.
Ingredients for Life Revealed in Meteorites That Fell to Earth, by Glenn Roberts Jr., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (+Newswise), updated 11 Jan 2018. Thanks Thanks, Tom Fulton and Stan Franklin.
Comets and ...Interstellar Dust are related webpages. 17 Feb 2017: news about Ceres.
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