Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life

Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life

by Ralph Pudritz
Pub. Date:
Cambridge University Press


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Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life

Several major breakthroughs in the last decade have contributed to the emerging field of astrobiology. These have ranged from the study of micro-organisms, which have been found living in extreme environments on Earth, to the discovery of over 200 planets orbiting around other stars, to the ambitious programs for the robotic exploration of Mars and other bodies in our Solar System. Focusing on these developments, this book explores some of the most exciting and important problems in this field.

Beginning with how planetary systems are discovered, the text examines how these systems formed, and how water and the biomolecules necessary for life were produced. It then focuses on how life may have originated and evolved on Earth. Building on these two themes, the final section takes the reader on an exploration for life in the Solar System. It presents the latest results of missions to Mars and Titan, and explores the possibilities for life in the ice-covered ocean of Europa. Colour versions of some of the figures are available at

This interdisciplinary book is a fascinating resource for students and researchers interested in astrophysics, planetary science, geosciences, biochemistry, and evolutionary biology. It will provide any scientifically literate reader with an enjoyable overview of this exciting field.

About the Author:
Ralph Pudritz is Director of the Origins Institute and a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University

About the Author:
Paul Higgs is Canada Research Chair in Biophysics and a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University

Aboutthe Author:
Jonathon Stone is Associate Director of the Origins Institute and SharcNet Chair in Computational Biology in the Department of Biology at McMaster University

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521875486
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 12/31/2007
Series: Cambridge Astrobiology Series , #3
Pages: 334
Product dimensions: 6.85(w) x 9.72(h) x 0.79(d)

Table of Contents

List of contributors     xi
Preface     xv
Planetary systems and the origins of life     1
Observations of extrasolar planetary systems   Shay Zucker     3
Introduction     3
RV detections     4
Transit detections     7
Properties of the extrasolar planets     10
Other methods of detection     14
Future prospects for space missions     16
Acknowledgements     17
References     17
The atmospheres of extrasolar planets   L. Jeremy Richardson   Sara Seager     21
Introduction     21
The primary eclipse     21
The secondary eclipse     23
Characteristics of known transiting planets     25
Spectroscopy     27
Model atmospheres     30
Observations     32
Future missions     35
Summary     37
References     38
Terrestrial planet formation   Edward W. Thommes     41
Introduction     41
The formation of planetesimals     42
The growth of protoplanets     43
The growth of planets     47
The origin of the Earth-Moon system     52
Terrestrial planets and life     52
Summary     56
Acknowledgements     57
References     57
From protoplanetary disks to prebiotic amino acids and the origin of the genetic code   Paul G. Higgs   Ralph E. Pudritz     62
Introduction     62
Protoplanetary disks and the formation of planet systems     63
Protoplanetary disks and the formation of biomolecules     68
Measurements and experiments on amino acid synthesis     71
A role for thermodynamics     73
The RNA world and the origin of the genetic code     76
How was the genetic code optimized?     80
Protein evolution     82
Summary     84
Acknowledgements     84
References     84
Emergent phenomena in biology: the origin of cellular life   David Deamer     89
Introduction     89
Defining emergence     89
Emergence of life: a very brief history     90
The first emergent phenomena: self-assembly processes on the early Earth     91
Sources of amphiphilic molecules     92
The emergence of primitive cells      95
Self-assembly processes in prebiotic organic mixtures     100
Emergence of membrane functions     101
Emergence of growth processes in primitive cells     103
Environmental constraints on the first forms of life     105
Acknowledgements     106
References     106
Life on Earth     111
Extremophiles: defining the envelope for the search for life in the universe   Lynn Rothschild     113
Introduction     113
What is an extremophile?     114
Categories of extremophiles     115
Environmental extremes     115
How do they do it?     123
Examples of extreme ecosystems     125
Space: new categories of extreme environments     126
Life in the Solar System?     127
Conclusions     130
Acknowledgements     131
References     131
Hyperthermophilic life on Earth - and on Mars?   Karl O. Stetter     135
Introduction     135
Biotopes     136
Sampling and cultivation     138
Phylogenetic implications     139
Physiologic properties     141
Examples of recent HT organisms     143
References     147
Phylogenomics: how far back in the past can we go?   Henner Brinkmann   Denis Baurain   Herve Philippe     149
Introduction     149
The principles of phylogenetic inference     149
Artefacts affecting phylogenetic reconstruction     152
Strengths and limitations of phylogenomics     155
The importance of secondary simplification     160
The tree of life     164
Frequent strong claims made with weak evidence in their favour     167
Conclusions     171
Acknowledgements     171
References     172
Horizontal gene transfer, gene histories, and the root of the tree of life   Olga Zhaxybayeva   J. Peter Gogarten     178
Introduction     178
How to analyse multigene data?     179
What does the plurality consensus represent? Example of small marine cyanobacteria     182
Where is the root of the 'tree of life'?     183
Use of higher order characters: example of ATPases     185
Conclusions     188
Acknowledgements     188
References     188
Evolutionary innovation versus ecological incumbency   Adolf Seilacher     193
The Ediacaran world     193
Preservational context     194
Vendobionts as giant protozoans     195
Kimberella as a stem-group mollusc     198
Worm burrows     202
Stability of ecosystems     203
The parasite connection     204
Conclusions     207
Acknowledgements     208
References     208
Gradual origin for the metazoans   Alexandra Pontefract   Jonathon Stone     210
Introduction     210
Collagen as a trait tying together metazoans     211
The critical oxygen concentration criterion     212
The Burgess Shale fauna: a radiation on rocky ground     213
Accumulating evidence about snowball Earth     215
North of 80[degree]     216
Conclusion     219
Acknowledgements     219
References     219
Life in the Solar System?     223
The search for life on Mars   Chris P. McKay     225
Introduction     225
Mars today and the Viking search for life     227
Search for second genesis     229
Detecting a second genesis on Mars     235
Conclusions     238
References     238
Life in the dark dune spots of Mars: a testable hypothesis   Eors Szathmary   Tibor Ganti   Tamas Pocs   Andras Horvath   Akos Kereszturi   Szaniszlo Berczi   Andras Sik     241
Introduction     241
History     241
Basic facts and considerations about DDSs     243
Challenges and answers     250
Partial analogues on Earth     255
Discussion and outlook     257
Acknowledgements     258
References     258
Titan: a new astrobiological vision from the Cassini-Huygens data   Francois Raulin     263
Introduction     263
Analogies between Titan and the Earth     264
A complex prebiotic-like chemistry     271
Life on Titan?     278
Conclusions     280
Acknowledgements     281
References     282
Europa, the ocean moon: tides, permeable ice, and life   Richard Greenberg     285
Introduction: life beyond the habitable zone     285
The surface of Europa     286
Tides      295
The permeable crust: conditions for a European biosphere     305
Acknowledgements     309
References     309
Index     313

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'… a volume that is uniform in style, accessible, and useful for students and workers with an astrobiological leaning, whatever subject specialism they work in. Recommended to readers throughout the Solar System.' The Observatory

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