Navigation Links
For the paper trail of life on Mars or other planets, find cellulose
Date:3/30/2008

CHAPEL HILL 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 bacterias 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.

Griffiths study took him to the U.S. Department of Energys Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the worlds 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, its chopped up by the same enzymes that cut modern day cellulose and its 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.


'/>"/>

Contact: Patric Lane
patric_lane@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Beyond batteries: Storing power in a sheet of paper
2. Coal and black liquor can produce energy from papermaking
3. New paper examines dams effects on California salmon
4. 454 Sequencing: Science paper describes a novel, highly efficient method of sequencing ancient DNA
5. RAND paper finds diesel, hybrid vehicles can provide more societal benefits than gas-powered autos
6. Experts from Stevens, Merck, publish joint paper, Biosynthetic Studies of Platensimycin
7. New whitepaper offers options for university implementation of NIH policy
8. Cassini on the trail of a runaway mystery
9. Savanna habitat drives birds, and perhaps others, to cooperative breeding
10. Mothers little helpers
11. One species entire genome discovered inside anothers
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/22/2016)... 22, 2016 On Monday, the Department of ... to share solutions for the Biometric Exit Program. The ... Border Protection (CBP), explains that CBP intends to add ... the United States , in order to ... imposters. Logo - http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20160622/382209LOGO ...
(Date:6/16/2016)... The global Biometric ... USD 1.83 billion by 2024, according to a ... proliferation and increasing demand in commercial buildings, consumer ... the market growth.      (Logo: ... of advanced multimodal techniques for biometric authentication and ...
(Date:6/9/2016)... , June 9, 2016 ... deploy Teleste,s video security solution to ensure the safety of ... during the major tournament Teleste, an ... systems and services, announced today that its video security solution ... to back up public safety across the country. The ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 Houston Methodist ... the Cy-Fair Sports Association to serve as their ... agreement, Houston Methodist Willowbrook will provide sponsorship support, ... connectivity with association coaches, volunteers, athletes and families. ... the Cy-Fair Sports Association and to bring Houston ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) is pleased to announce 24 new Young Investigator ... Members of the Class of 2016 were selected from a pool of 128 ... About the Class of 2016 PCF Young Investigators ... ... ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... FRANCISCO , June 23, 2016   EpiBiome ... has secured $1 million in debt financing from Silicon ... ramp up automation and to advance its drug development ... its new facility. "SVB has been an ... beyond the services a traditional bank would provide," said ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... ... STACS DNA Inc., the sample tracking software company, today announced that Dr. Hays ... DNA as a Field Application Specialist. , “I am thrilled that Dr. Young ... DNA. “In further expanding our capacity as a scientific integrator, Hays brings a wealth ...
Breaking Biology Technology: