Science: The primary theory for the origin of life on Earth is that RNA molecules gave rise to RNA-based life that then evolved into DNA-based life. However, how gene-length RNA molecules formed in the oceanic environment of early Earth is uncertain because the nucleotides that make up RNA don’t bond in water. One theory is that RNA itself could have been produced from a molecular combination, dubbed proto-RNA. Earlier research using cyanuric acid and triaminopyrimidine (TAP)—chemicals in the same families as the bases that make up RNA—has shown that in an organic solvent, proto-RNA can successfully bond into ring-like structures called rosettes that can stack into long chains but failed to do so in water. Now Nicholas Hud of Georgia Tech in Atlanta and his colleagues have found that a modified version of TAP allows the molecules to form rosettes and create gene-length chains in water. The ability of the molecules to self-assemble into long chains is a significant step forward in proving the development of RNA-based life. Hud says the next step will be to determine whether the molecules can be made to encode gene-like information in the way that RNA does.
BBC: An international team of researchers has created a computer program that they believe can be used to help reconstruct the long-extinct precursors of modern languages. They used a database of 142 000 words and pronunciations from a collection of currently spoken Asian and Pacific languages and calculated probabilities of sound changes to calculate the parent language from which the current languages evolved. When compared to a parent language reconstructed by hand by linguists, 85% of the words in the computer generated language were within one sound difference of words in the linguist-constructed language. The benefit of the software is the large amount of data it can analyze quickly. However, that has to be balanced against its inability to recognize various quirks of language that make it less accurate than professional linguists.
New Scientist: In the face of climate change and global warming, wind power is becoming the power source of choice for many countries around the world. Although fossil fuel remains relatively cheap, improvements in wind turbine design and wind farm layout have been increasing wind power’s efficiency and lowering its cost. And because many governments favor renewables by imposing carbon taxes on fossil-fuel plants, wind farms are beginning to be seen as a safer long-term investment, according to Guy Turner of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which has offices worldwide.
Space.com: On 11 February, NASA launched the Landsat Data Continuity Mission aboard an Atlas V rocket. It is the eighth satellite of the 41-year-old joint NASA and US Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat program, which monitors a wide range of Earth environmental conditions and human impact ranging from glacial retreat to urban sprawl. After the satellite reaches a 705-km-high polar orbit and its functionality is checked out by NASA, it will be handed over to the USGS and will be renamed Landsat 8. It will collect images in the visible, near-IR, and shortwave-IR wavelengths with a spatial resolution of 30 m and will record surface temperature measurements. It will join Landsat 7, the only other currently operational Landsat satellite, which was launched in 1999 and should remain operational until 2016. Although each of the satellites can fully image Earth every 16 days, together they will reduce that time by half.