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Microbiology Australia Microbiology Australia
Issue 1

Vertical Transmission. March 2004

This issue contains important information about the next ASM Scientific Meeting and Exhibition to be held at the Superdome, Olympic Park, Homebush Bay in Sydney, 26 September to 1 October 2004. Some 30 overseas speakers have been invited and, with 50 symposia and workshops planned, this meeting promises to one of the best yet. The abstract deadline will be 14 May 2004. Registrations, including online registrations, are open, with the close of early bird registration being 30 June 2004.

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Embracing astrobiology

?Astrobiology? is a term popularised in 1998 by a decision of the US space agency NASA to establish the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). The then Administrator of NASA, Daniel Goldin, declared that ?biology will be the science of the 21st century?. The NAI was established to promote research aimed at gaining a fundamental understanding of the full potential of living systems. Its goal is to understand how life begins and evolves, whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, and what the future holds for life on Earth and beyond. While such ...

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The role of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (Centre of Research Excellence) in the Macquarie University Biotechnology Research Institute

It is widely recognised that there is a strong need to link microbiology more closely with geology in order to find explanations for many geological phenomena. Some of the organisms involved in geological processes are also of interest to the biotechnologist.

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Seeking the oldest evidence of life on Earth

The search for the oldest evidence of terrestrial life is a search for answers to some of mankind?s oldest questions. But do we really have a chance of finding unequivocal fossils of the simple, soft bodied microorganisms that were the first inhabitants of this planet if we consider their lack of hard parts, their concealment from the naked eye, their simple morphologies, the timeframes and planetary processes since their formation (perhaps more than 3 billion years ago), and the rarity of suitable ancient rocks?

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The fall and rise of the plankton

Hidden deep within rocks of central Australia is a microfossil record that may revolutionise our interpretation of the evolution of plants and animals, thanks to an asteroid that slammed into South Australia 580 million years ago.

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Was Mars the cradle of life

The problem of life?s origin remains one of the great outstanding challenges to science. Ever since Charles Darwin mused about a ?warm little pond? incubating life beneath sunny primeval skies, scientists have speculated about the exact location of this transforming event. Nearly a century and a half later, we remain almost completely ignorant of the physical processes that led from a nonliving chemical mixture to the first autonomous organism.

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The living rocks of Shark Bay

Stromatolites have been present on Earth, at various levels of distribution and diversity, for more than 3 billion years. Stromatolites are sedimentary structures produced by the sediment-trapping, binding and/or precipitation activity of resident microbial communities, in particular cyanobacteria.

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Martian life: stuck somewhere between inevitable biochemistry and quirky biology

If traces of life are found on Mars, the question that needs to be asked is: How independent is this life from life on Earth? A paradigm shift is needed from ?Was there a second genesis?? to ?How much of one was there?? This abandonment of a picture in black and white to a more nuanced grey is based on the idea that the boundary between life and non-life was not sharp and that the origin of life was an extended process of molecular tinkering.

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Could we ever know whether life on Mars represents a second genesis?

If we are ever successful in finding life on Mars, one of the key questions we would want to answer is whether life on Mars formed independently or shared a common origin with life on Earth. The issue arises because we know that it is possible for material to be transferred between the two planets. We know of more than 20 meteorites that originated from Mars. Indeed, it was suggested in 1996 that there was evidence for fossil life in the Martian meteorite ALH84001. While the evidence for life in ALH84001 has not been generally accepted, studies...

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Improving the chance of finding fossil microbes on Mars

All life on Earth requires the presence of liquid water. Evidence that Mars once had liquid water for extended periods of time is growing and is keeping alive the possibility that life may once have started on Mars. We are using infrared spectroscopy of Mars to search for minerals indicative of the past presence of liquid water. If we can locate regions containing such minerals, these would be promising locations to search for fossil microbes.

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White Island: a sulphur-rich hydrothermal system

White Island (Whakaari) is New Zealand?s most active volcano. The sulphur-rich hydrothermal environment of the island is considered an analogue for early terrestrial ecosystems that supported sulphur-metabolising microorganisms.

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A radon-resistant microbial community

Over the past few decades, microbes have been discovered in a positively bewildering array of extreme environments. Bacterial and archaeal extremophiles exist, and often thrive, in conditions that would quickly kill eukaryotes, such as extremes of temperature, pH, pressure, salinity and radiation.

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Lipids, biomarkers and the history of life

Organic matter is the stuff of life. Its qualities reflect the biochemical pathways used for its synthesis and, to a degree, the phylogeny and physiology of the organism. Organic matter is also readily fossilised and, under opportune circumstances, provides us with an accessible record of the history of life.

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Biogenicity inferred from microbialite geochemistry

Microbes utilise and/or concentrate diverse metal cations, whose detection may become a potent tool for reconstructing microbial processes and, in particular, for establishing the genesis of ancient carbonate rocks that were produced by microbes. Such rocks, termed microbialites, consist of trapped and bound sediment and, importantly, carbonate minerals precipitated as accidental byproducts of metabolic or decay processes within biofilms. Where trace metals are predictably incorporated into microbialites, they may reflect biofilm processes and ...

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Microbes, organic matter and ore deposits

The 1640 Ma (million years old) Here?s Your Chance (HYC) deposit at McArthur River, Northern Territory, Australia is one of the largest and least metamorphosed lead-zinc-silver deposits in the world. The mineralised interval has been divided into several orebodies and is separated by relatively barren sediment.

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Garlic ? its unexploited antimicrobial potential

The antimicrobial properties of garlic (Allium sativum) are well known. However, until relatively recently, there have been few rigorous scientific studies of these properties.

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ASM Affairs, March 2004

Emerging Microbiologists; Awards and Prizes;

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