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Biotech Space Science

NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life In the Lab 264

xp65 writes "NASA scientists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life. 'We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space,' said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. 'We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth.'"
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NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life In the Lab

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  • Re:An Application? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:06PM (#30040466) Homepage

    It's heading towards understanding the origins of life on earth and anywhere else it may have arisen or came from.

    If you need an application to appreciate that, then we have very little in common, but uh it could help in our search for life on other planets, creating useful life-like things on earth, and hey why not some medical applications? Geeze who cares at this point? Not I. This is basic research of the most important kind. Who knows what could result?

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:12PM (#30040520)

    They just happened by random chance.

    Or, as the story shows, by entirely natural processes.

  • Re:An Application? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:33PM (#30040742)

    They're debunking the god myth.

  • Re:An Application? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:40PM (#30040804) Journal

    It's heading towards understanding the origins of life on earth and anywhere else it may have arisen or came from.

    There's a committed portion of the US population who don't need to "head..towards understanding the origins of life" because they are absolutely certain that they know exactly how life came about because some Bronze Age scroll tells them so. They're not going to take kindly to anything that could challenge their certainty.

    I wouldn't be so sure that ten years from now this kind of research will be allowed, at least in public institutions. Don't forget that until recently there were bans on publicly-funded research which used cells from deceased embryos and lab-created blastocytes, because they "have souls".

    This is basic research of the most important kind.

    You think so, and I think so, but a very vocal and (seemingly) influential minority thinks it's heresy.

  • Re:An Application? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by randy of the redwood ( 1565519 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:44PM (#30040842)
    Not necessarily. Just because it occurs naturally, doesn’t mean that a God didn’t use this technique to design life on earth.

    Full disclosure: I don’t currently believe in such a God, due to lacking supporting evidence. However, as a scientist, I am more than willing to be proven wrong.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:52PM (#30040908) Journal

    No one is saying that this discovery somehow is some giant leap, but it sure makes the likelihood of the chemistry being more tenable. At any rate, at least us "evolutionists" come up with testable hypotheses. I mean, how do you falsify "God did it"? Or do you even bother as your movement spends more time trying to trick dimwitted school boards and judges into buying the pure crapola that is ID?

  • Re:Ah, Uracil! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @08:55PM (#30040936) Journal

    Uh, no. They pretty much deny a number of facts. What they deny will change over time, and often will change depending on the audience. I have had Creationists deny in one moment any evolution beyond species variation, then the next claim that some degree of macroevolution is possible, then in the next try to rearend Biblical "kinds" into genuses and families. In fact, the only thing that Creationists can be counted on to declare as "fact" is that no matter how much evolution is going on, men and apes are not related.

  • Re:An Application? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mweather ( 1089505 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @09:05PM (#30041032)
    On a cosmological timescale, if the separate parts are capable of coming together, then their existence makes that event an inevitability.
  • by Paltin ( 983254 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @09:07PM (#30041050)
    No one said what you think they said.

    This is, however, one more piece of evidence to support evolution and one more bit of knowledge that we can use to understand where we came from.

    There is no scientifically tenable theory for human origins except for evolution from a common ancestor. It's been that was for about a hundred years. Get over it.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @09:30PM (#30041210) Homepage

    I don't think we can use induction, in this case, to try to say that since we uracil can be formed with natural processes, all building blocks of life can be, too.

    We can't use induction as proof, because this is not mathematics.

    We can use induction to say that we can reasonably expect to discover that other building blocks can form from natural processes as well, though. At the very least, this reduces -- again -- the number of things we know can be formed naturally. The trend is pretty obvious, and if you're holding out on something coming up that can't be formed naturally then you'll probably be disappointed.

  • Re:An Application? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @11:08PM (#30041846) Homepage

    The example of artificial insemination is a good example. When artificial insemination was first introduced there was a lot of outcry over it. Now the only major objection is from the Catholic Church. Others who still object do so out of side-effects such as the destruction of embryos rather than objecting to the process as a whole (which the Catholic Church does). And in a few years even the Catholics will likely be fine with it.

    But at the same time, this sort of example isn't so great. It involves a direct application: people are much more willing to change their ethical and moral attitudes when they see the actual benefits of a new technology.

    The general worry of poor treatment of science is a valid one. Sarah Palin railed against research involving "fruit flies" and John McCain complained about research about bear DNA, and neither of those even had any moral or ethical component to them. There's a very strong anti-science attitude in certain groups in the United States. Worse, it appears on both sides of the political spectrum (the anti-vaccination movement and much of the fringier elements of alternative medicine are very much on the left end of the political spectrum). Moreover, strongly negative attitudes about evolution and abiogenesis research have already won out in some Islamic countries. Look at Turkey for example which is a nominally secular country (indeed with disturbingly enforced secularism) and yet evolution isn't taught in schools and universities have trouble doing any research connected to evolution or abiogenesis. See for example [] for a quick summary of the current situation in the Islamic world. Moreover, Islamic creationists in Turkey have succeeded partially due to support and cooperation with Christian creationists in the United States. So it is possible for religious fanatics to really restrict this sort of thing: It has happened in other countries. Is it likely? Probably not. But it isn't impossible.

  • Re:An Application? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RianDouglas ( 778462 ) on Monday November 09, 2009 @11:51PM (#30042108)

    People like me are concerned about at what specific point does a person turn from a pile of cells to a "human".

    What distinguishes a homo sapiens sapiens from another ambulatory pile of cells, like a bovine for instance?

    I know that wasn't the exact point you were trying to make but I just wanted to voice that not everyone is opposed to something because of religious reasons.

    You're opposed to research into abiogenesis because you're afraid it will take away our "humanity"?
    If you can define what this valuelable "humanity" thing is without invoking religious concepts (like souls), then I'd think there would no longer be a worry about research like this taking it away. I'd suggest it's something to do with sentience/consciousness and the different levels of it possessed by different people (and other animals)

    Some people have moral questions, separate from religious beliefs, that question how we treat living things.

    I don't think secular moral and ethical systems have much to worry about from scientific research.
    Though he seems to be reviled in some quarters, perhaps reading Peter Singer [] is a start?

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry