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:3/27/2017)... , March 27, 2017  Catholic Health Services ... Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics for achieving Stage ... Model sm . In addition, CHS previously earned ... hospitals using an electronic medical record (EMR). ... high level of EMR usage in an outpatient ...
(Date:3/23/2017)... The report "Gesture Recognition and Touchless Sensing Market by ... Global Forecast to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to be ... 2017 and 2022. Continue Reading ... ... ...
(Date:3/22/2017)... 21, 2017 Optimove , provider ... retailers such as 1-800-Flowers and AdoreMe, today announced ... and Replenishment. Using Optimove,s machine learning algorithms, these ... and replenishment recommendations to their customers based not ... of customer intent drawn from a complex web ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:5/18/2017)... ... May 17, 2017 , ... NDA Partners Chairman Carl ... CEO of Eurofins Advantar Laboratories and President of Pharmaceutical Development Business Unit of Cardinal ... at Eurofins and Cardinal Health, he was former Chief Operating Officer at Anaborex, Senior ...
(Date:5/18/2017)... ... May 17, 2017 , ... Cognition Corporation ( ... just released version 9.0 of the Cognition Cockpit platform. , “Our whole team ... David Cronin, CEO of Cognition. “We’re thrilled to finally be able to release ...
(Date:5/18/2017)... ... 2017 , ... HOLLOWAY AMERICA, a leading manufacturer of stainless ... and pharmaceutical/biotech, recently introduced The Revolution Lift™, a new precision-controlled head lift assembly ... comes on the heels of HOLLOWAY’s release of the intelliVessel™, a smart tank ...
(Date:5/18/2017)... ... May 17, 2017 , ... Many complicated neurological ... to develop Alzheimer’s disease, while men are at greater risk for Parkinson’s disease. ... bias is the aim of a research program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) ...
Breaking Biology Technology: