NASA News: NASA Research Shows DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space

WASHINGTON -- NASA-funded researchers have found more evidence
meteorites can carry DNA components created in space .

Scientists have detected the building blocks of DNA in meteorites
since the 1960s, but were unsure whether they were created in space
or resulted from contamination by terrestrial life. The latest
research indicates certain nucleobases -- the building blocks of our
genetic material -- reach the Earth on meteorites in greater
diversity and quantity than previously thought.

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the chemistry
inside asteroids and comets is capable of making building blocks of
essential biological molecules. Previously, scientists found amino
acids in samples of comet Wild 2 from NASA's Stardust mission and in
various carbon-rich meteorites. Amino acids are used to make
proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. Proteins are used in
everything from structures such as hair to enzymes, which are the
catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions.

The findings will be published in the online edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the new work,
scientists analyzed samples of 12 carbon-rich meteorites, nine of
which were recovered from Antarctica. The team found adenine and
guanine, which are components of DNA nucleobases.

Also, in two of the meteorites, the team discovered for the first time
trace amounts of three molecules related to nucleobases that almost
never are used in biology. These nucleobase-related molecules, called
nucleobase analogs, provide the first evidence that the compounds in
the meteorites came from space and not terrestrial contamination.

"You would not expect to see these nucleobase analogs if contamination
from terrestrial life was the source, because they're not used in
biology," said Michael Callahan, astrobiologist and lead author of
the paper from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
"However, if asteroids are behaving like chemical 'factories'
cranking out prebiotic material, you would expect them to produce
many variants of nucleobases, not just the biological ones, because
of the wide variety of ingredients and conditions in each asteroid."

Additional evidence came from research to further rule out the
possibility of terrestrial contamination as a source of these
molecules. The team analyzed an eight-kilogram (21.4-pound) sample of
ice from Antarctica, where most of the meteorites in the study were
found. The amounts of nucleobases found in the ice were much lower
than in the meteorites. More significantly, none of the nucleobase
analogs were detected in the ice sample. The team also analyzed a
soil sample collected near one of the non-Antarctic meteorite's fall
site. As with the ice sample, the soil sample had none of the
nucleobase analog molecules present in the meteorite.

Launched in Feb. 7, 1999, Stardust flew past an asteroid and traveled
halfway to Jupiter to collect particle samples from the comet Wild 2.
The spacecraft returned to Earth's vicinity to drop off a
sample-return capsule on January 15, 2006.

The research was funded by NASA's Astrobiology Institute at the
agency's Ames Research Laboratory in Moffett Field Calif., and the
Goddard Center for Astrobiology in Greenbelt, Md.; the NASA
Astrobiology Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program and the NASA
Postdoctoral Program at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

Additional information and images are available at:



NASA Holds Future Forum At University Of Maryland

WASHINGTON -- NASA's first Future Forum of 2011 will bring together
agency officials and local business, science and education leaders to
discuss the agency's role in advancing innovation, technology,
science, engineering, and education and NASA's benefit to the
nation's economy. Rep. Donna F. Edwards will deliver opening remarks
at 8 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 11, at the University of Maryland's
Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center in College Park.

The one-day forum will feature panel discussions with NASA speakers
such as Chief Technologist Bobby Braun; Chief Scientist Waleed
Abdalati; Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems
Laurie Leshin; and astronaut and Associate Administrator for
Education Leland Melvin.

Media representatives interested in attending the forum should contact
David Steitz at david.steitz@nasa.gov or 202-358-1730 by noon
Wednesday, Aug. 10. The forum will be broadcast live on NASA
Television and streamed online at:


Social media users can participate in the forum via Twitter using the
hashtag: #NASAFuture. During the event, Tweeps can submit questions
by including @NASA_Technology in their tweet.

NASA's Future Forum series will be visiting four geographically
distributed university campuses this academic year. For more
information on NASA's Future Forums visit:


For more information about the University of Maryland, visit:



NASA Announces Web Enterprise Services And Technology Contract

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected The Portal Group (TPG) Consulting of
Long Beach, Calif., for the Information Technology Infrastructure
Integration Program's Web Enterprise Services and Technology (WEST) contract.

Under the contract, TPG will install and operate hardware, software
and provide support services. The consulting group also will develop
or acquire and implement new services or enhancements to existing
systems primarily at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The work
includes agency websites' support and services; infrastructure
support, bandwidth provisioning; and security, search and
collaboration services.

The WEST contract is part of NASA's Information Technology
Infrastructure Integration Program, also known as I3P, managed by the
agency's Office of the Chief Information Officer. The firm-fixed
price, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract has a
maximum potential value of approximately $82.6 million. The contract
has a two-year base period with three one-year options.

For more information about NASA's CIO, visit:


For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:



NASA Selects Visionary Advanced Technology Concepts For Study

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected 30 proposals for funding under the
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, or NIAC, program. The advanced
concepts selected for study under NIAC were chosen based on their
potential to transform our future space missions, enable new
capabilities or significantly alter current approaches to launching,
building and operating space systems.

Each proposal will receive approximately $100,000 for one year to
advance the innovative space technology concept and help NASA meet
operational and future mission requirements.

"These innovative concepts have the potential to mature into the
transformative capabilities NASA needs to improve our current space
mission operations, seeding the technology breakthroughs needed for
the challenging space missions in NASA's future," said the agency's
Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Proposals include a broad range of imaginative and creative ideas,
such as: changing the course of dangerous orbital debris; a spacesuit
that uses flywheels to stabilize and assist astronauts as they work
in microgravity; the use of 3-D printing to create a planetary
outpost; and multiple innovative propulsion and power concepts needed
for future space mission operations.

NASA's early investment and partnership with creative scientists,
engineers and citizen inventors from across the nation will pay huge
technological dividends and help maintain America's leadership in the
global technology economy.

NASA solicited visionary, long-term concepts for future technologies
for maturation based on their potential value to NASA's future space
missions and operational needs. These first NIAC projects were chosen
based on being technically substantiated and very early in
development -- 10 years or more from mission infusion.

The portfolio of diverse and innovative ideas represented multiple
technology areas, including power, propulsion, structures, and
avionics, as identified in NASA's Technology Roadmaps. The roadmaps
provide technology paths needed to meet NASA's strategic goals.

The original NIAC program, known as the NASA Institute for Advanced
Concepts, served agency needs from 1998 to 2007. It was an
independent open forum for the external analysis and definition of
revolutionary space and aeronautics concepts to complement the
advanced concepts activities conducted within NASA.

In 2008, Congress directed the National Research Council to conduct a
review of NIAC's effectiveness and to make recommendations concerning
the importance of such a program. Chief among the council's
recommendations was NASA and the nation would be well served by
maintaining a mechanism to investigate visionary, far-reaching
advanced concepts as part of the agency's mission. Following an
October 2009 hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, NASA re-established the NIAC
program during fiscal year 2011.

NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist manages the NIAC program. For
a complete list of the selected proposals, and more information about
the program, visit:



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