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'Extreme' genes shed light on origins of photosynthesis
Date:12/11/2009

linkages between Touchman's work on earthbound origins and astrobiology as well. Phototrophic extremophiles are excellent model microbes for studies of interplanetary photosynthetic exchange, Touchman says. That is, exchange that might come about in stellar systems that have terrestrial-type rocky planets that could be capable of exchanging gneiss and rocky material. The arrival of oxygenic photosynthesis via transport of materials by external means, such as meteorites, could profoundly change the direction of biological evolution on a planet's surface.

Transpermia or rocky panspermia is the possibility of the exchange of micro-organisms between planets via impact material. Paul Davies, director of ASU's Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, developed some of the thinking upon which Touchman's extraterrestrial pursuits are based: "some microorganisms can survive interplanetary journeys cocooned inside rocks blasted off planets by comet and asteroid impacts. That rocky panspermia is an effective mechanism for spreading life within a planetary system."

"Oxygen is a central biosignature or fingerprint of life sought in the atmospheric spectra of planets beyond our solar system," Touchman says. "Detailed molecular understanding of how photosynthetic microbes can push the boundaries of extreme-environment existence on our own planet will also fill important gaps in our current understanding of extra-terrestrial potential for oxygen-evolving photosynthesis."

Touchman's research is part of a suite of innovative genetic and genetic engineering studies being conducted with cyanobacteria by School of Life Sciences faculty in coordination with the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Most notable of these are translational life science studies to advance bioenergy biodiesel and biohydrogen studies supported by Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) progra
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Contact: Margaret Coulombe
margaret.coulombe@asu.edu
480-727-8934
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert

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