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Could Extraterrestrial Sugar Explain How Life Began on Earth?

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A composite image of meteors falling through Earth’s atmosphere during the 2015 Perseid meteor shower. (Credit: Belish/Shutterstock)

Extraterrestrial Sugar

Scientists have discovered derivatives of life’s building blocks in carbon-rich meteorite samples, a first. They also showed how biological compounds can form in interstellar space. These new findings support the theory that life on Earth originated with help from cosmic impacts.

Sugars and sugar derivatives are essential to life on Earth. But they, along with amino acids and other organic molecules, can be found in space as well, on asteroids and comets. Scientists have suggested that objects in space may have fallen to Earth and delivered the compounds that would spark biological processes on our planet.

Sugar and Ice

In this new study, scientists analyzed five residues from ice mixtures exposed to ultraviolet radiation in conditions simulating the interstellar medium in space. The goal was to see whether organic molecules found in life on Earth would form in a simulated space environment. In these residues, they found 2-deoxyribose, or the sugar component that makes up the “D” in DNA. They also found derivatives of 2-deoxyribose, similar compounds that have one atom or a group of atoms that are different.

“Astrochemistry ice photolysis experiments, such as those described in our paper, provide a convincing explanation on how those compounds may form in such astrophysical environments,” lead researcher Michel Nuevo of NASA Ames Research Center said about these experiments in an email.

There are many theories surrounding the origins of life on Earth. Scientists think that biological compounds like 2-deoxyribose may have played a role in the formation of Earth’s first organisms. Some have even suggested that these biological compounds formed in the abiotic environment of space, aboard objects like comets, asteroids, meteoroids, and interplanetary dust particles. Previous studies have shown how biological compounds might form in space, and they could have fallen to Earth early on in its history when bombardment by asteroids and comets was more common.

In short, this study demonstrated that biological compounds like 2-deoxyribose can form in a non-biological environment.

“Our paper, together with several other papers describing similar astrochemistry experiments published in the last 25 years or so, show that a very wide variety of compounds of biological interest can be formed under abiotic (i.e., non-biological) conditions in astrophysical environments,” lead researcher Michel Nuevo of NASA Ames Research Center in an email.

Still Searching for DNA

In addition to this analysis, the researchers were able to identify some of these deoxy sugar derivatives in carbonaceous, or carbon-rich, meteorite samples for the first time ever. This proved that these biological compounds can be produced in a space environment. However, while the team found 2-deoxyribose in the laboratory experiments, they were unable to find the DNA component in the meteorite samples analyzed.

According to Nuevo, while this work doesn’t solve the mystery of how life on Earth originated, it shows how it is quite likely that meteorites have deposited biological compounds on Earth throughout history.

“Since asteroids and comets routinely crash onto the surface of planets, including the Earth, in the form of meteorites, it is obvious that large amounts of organic compounds, including compounds of biological interest, are routinely dumped on our continents and in our oceans, the same way they are probably dumped onto other planets of the solar system,” he said. “This does not explain how life originated on our planet more than 4 billion years ago, as nobody knows how those organic compounds could combine into the even more complex structures required for life to get started. But it shows that sugar derivatives and other compounds of biological interest are present and are probably dumped onto planets everywhere in the galaxy.”

This work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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