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Scientists Have Discovered the Origins of the Building Blocks of Life – Global Health News Wire

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This image shows a fold (shape) that may have been one of the earliest proteins in the evolution of metabolism.

Rutgers researchers have discovered the origins of the protein structures responsible for metabolism: simple molecules that powered early life on Earth and serve as chemical signals that NASA could use to search for life on other planets.

Their study, which predicts what the earliest proteins looked like 3.5 billion to 2.5 billion years ago, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists retraced, like a many thousand piece puzzle, the evolution of enzymes (proteins) from the present to the deep past. The solution to the puzzle required two missing pieces, and life on Earth could not exist without them. By constructing a network connected by their roles in metabolism, this team discovered the missing pieces.

“We know very little about how life started on our planet. This work allowed us to glimpse deep in time and propose the earliest metabolic proteins,” said co-author Vikas Nanda, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a resident faculty member at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine. “Our predictions will be tested in the laboratory to better understand the origins of life on Earth and to inform how life may originate elsewhere. We are building models of proteins in the lab and testing whether they can trigger reactions critical for early metabolism.”

A Rutgers-led team of scientists called ENIGMA (Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors) is conducting the research with a NASA grant and via membership in the NASA Astrobiology Program. The ENIGMA project seeks to reveal the role of the simplest proteins that catalyzed the earliest stages of life.

“We think life was built from very small building blocks and emerged like a Lego set to make cells and more complex organisms like us,” said senior author Paul G. Falkowski, ENIGMA principal investigator and a distinguished professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick who leads the Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Laboratory. “We think we have found the building blocks of life – the Lego set that led, ultimately, to the evolution of cells, animals and plants.”

The Rutgers team focused on two protein “folds” that are likely the first structures in early metabolism. They are a ferredoxin fold that binds iron-sulfur compounds, and a “Rossmann” fold, which binds nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA and RNA). These are two pieces of the puzzle that must fit in the evolution of life.

Proteins are chains of amino acids and a chain’s 3D path in space is called a fold. Ferredoxins are metals found in modern proteins and shuttle electrons around cells to promote metabolism. Electrons flow through solids, liquids and gases and power living systems, and the same electrical force must be present in any other planetary system with a chance to support life.

There is evidence the two folds may have shared a common ancestor and, if true, the ancestor may have been the first metabolic enzyme of life.

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ISS is viewable in the Toronto night sky this week – The Loop

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For those in the Greater Toronto Area desperate for something to do this week, it might be time to dust off the telescope.

According to NASA’s SkyWatch website, the International Space Station will be viewable in the night sky this week as it flies between the area and the moon.

NASA’s data shows the ISS is scheduled to fly directly over downtown Toronto every night this week, with two passes on Thursday and Saturday. The space station will also be viewable in Toronto on Monday and Wednesday next week.

The areas surrounding Toronto, such as Pickering, Brampton and Burlington will also be able to view the station, although not as frequently and at slightly different times of night.  

NASA said the station will look like an airplane moving across the sky, except it doesn’t have flashing lights and will be moving considerably faster than an aircraft.

Stargazers will have to be ready, however, as the space station is only expected to be viewable for a couple of minutes each night.

For a list of exactly when the ISS will be visible, click here.

More on this story from CTVNews.ca

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Watch NASA's James Webb Space Telescope unfold its golden mirror for the 1st time (video) – Space.com

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NASA’s next great observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, has fully deployed its primary mirror for the first time, marking another milestone on its journey to space.

Before all work on the next-generation instrument, which is scheduled to launch in 2021, was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, technicians and engineers at the agency were going through a series of tests with the telescope before it’s sent to French Guiana for liftoff aboard an Ariane 5 rocket

Recently, in one of these tests, the space telescope successfully extended and unfolded its entire 21 foot 4-inch (6.5 meters) primary mirror (the largest mirror of its kind that NASA has ever built). The mirror opened up into the same configuration that it will once the telescope is in space.

Related: Building the James Webb Space Telescope (gallery)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has successfully deployed its giant primary mirror for the first time. It will launch in 2021.  (Image credit: Chris Gunn/NASA)

During the test, Webb’s mirror was hooked up to specialized gravity-offsetting equipment that simulated the zero-gravity environment in space. So, not only did the mirror deploy as designed, it did so in a space-like environment, demonstrating its readiness. Engineers and technicians will deploy Webb’s primary mirror only one more time before it’s shipped off to its launch site. 

Passing this test “is another significant milestone showing Webb will deploy properly in space. This is a great achievement and an inspiring image for the entire team,” Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement

Webb’s primary mirror is a critical piece of the instrument. A telescope’s sensitivity is directly related to the size of its mirror, which determines how much light the telescope can collect from the objects it observes. So, Webb’s mirror has to be really big in order for the instrument to be as powerful as possible. Webb’s mirror is so big that it cannot fit inside of a rocket while fully extended, so it needs to fold up in order to be transported to space. So it’s ability to fold up and then unfurl, ready to get to work, is crucial.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much underway, the regular workflow at NASA has been interrupted. Recently, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that all NASA employees who are not considered essential mission personnel would be working remotely for the time being. 

For now, the Webb team from Northrop Grumman is still continuing integration and testing work in California, though they have shifted to reducing the number of people working at a given time, according to the statement. After the deployable tower assembly is set up in April, integration and testing will be fully stopped as a significant amount of NASA personnel are required for those operations. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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ISS is viewable in the Toronto night sky this week – CTV News

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TORONTO —
For those in the Greater Toronto Area desperate for something to do this week, it might be time to dust off the telescope.

According to NASA’s SkyWatch website, the International Space Station will be viewable in the night sky this week as it flies between the area and the moon.

NASA’s data shows the ISS is scheduled to fly directly over downtown Toronto every night this week, with two passes on Thursday and Saturday. The space station will also be viewable in Toronto on Monday and Wednesday next week.

The areas surrounding Toronto, such as Pickering, Brampton and Burlington will also be able to view the station, although not as frequently and at slightly different times of night.  

Stargazers will have to be ready, however, as the space station is only expected to be viewable for a couple of minutes each night.

For a list of exactly when the ISS will be visible, click here.

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