NAI

  1. Algae Fitness and Multicellular Life


    Researchers subjected populations of <em>Pleodorina starrii</em> to selective pressures in mixed environments and studied their response. Above is a micrograph of <em>Pleodorina starrii</em>. Image Cr Researchers subjected populations of Pleodorina starrii to selective pressures in mixed environments and studied their response. Above is a micrograph of Pleodorina starrii. Image Credit: © Matthew D. Herron, University of Arizona

    By studying colonies of volvocine green algae, astrobiologists have uncovered new clues about how cells gained the ability to differentiate into functional types, a critical step in the evolution of multicellular organisms.

    The paper, “Fitness trade-offs and developmental constraints in the evolution of soma: an experimental study in a volvocine alga,” was published in the journal Evolutionary Ecology Research.

    This work was supported in part by the NASA ...

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  1. An Optically Powered Cryobot


    An artist depiction of a cryobot tunneling through ice. Credit: Copyright Stone Aerospace, presented at <a href="http://abscicon2012.arc.nasa.gov/abstracts/abstract-detail/project-valkyrie-a-next-gen- An artist depiction of a cryobot tunneling through ice. Credit: Copyright Stone Aerospace, presented at AbSciCon 2012

    Researchers are developing a protoype cryobot that could help astrobiologists explore icy worlds in the Solar System as well as some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Technologies developed for VALKYRIE (Very-deep Autonomous Laser-powered Kilowatt-class Yo-yoing Robotic Ice Explorer) could allow robots to explore beneath the ice caps of planets, or glaciers here on Earth. One element of the design includes using a high-energy laser to power the ice explorer.

    Details about the 4-year effort are presented in the paper, “Progress towards ...

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  1. Possible Algae Fossils in Mongolia


    Scanning electron microscopy image of a MOWS specimen, which is about 4 mm in total length. Image taken by Phoebe Cohen Scanning electron microscopy image of a MOWS specimen, which is about 4 mm in total length. Image taken by Phoebe Cohen

    Researchers supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have discovered new and unusual fossils in Mongolia. The structures, known as macroscopic organic warty sheets (MOWS), could be the remains of fungal biofilms, or even previously unknown organisms that are now extinct. However, the team believes that multiple lines of evidence indicate that the MOWS are the remnants of ancient marine algae.

    Regardless of the organisms responsible for their production, the discovery of MOWS increases our understanding of biological diversity during a period of Earth’s history known as the Cryogenian glacial interlude (662–635 million years ago). The discovery also shows that macroscopic and morphologically complex multicellular organisms were present in the Cryogenian.

    The study, “Fossils of putative marine algae from the cryogenian glacial interlude of Mongolia,” was published in the journal Palaios.

    Source: [Palaios]

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  1. Nathalie Cabrol: How Mars Might Hold the Secret to the Origin of Life


    Nathalie A. Cabrol diving and sampling in the Licancabur lake at 5,917 m elevation in the volcano’s crater. Photo Credit: The High Lakes Project: The SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center/NASA Ames/ NAI Nathalie A. Cabrol diving and sampling in the Licancabur lake at 5,917 m elevation in the volcano’s crater. Photo Credit: The High Lakes Project: The SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center/NASA Ames/ NAI

    Astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol recently spoke about her work in remote field sites, including high-altitude lakes in the Andes, at the TED2015 conference. In her talk, Cabrol discusses how this work could help scientists search for signs of life on Mars.

    Cabrol’s TED Talk, “Nathalie Cabrol: How Mars might hold the secret to the origin of life,” is now available to watch from TED.com ...

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  1. Discovering Missing Body Parts of Ancient Fossils


    Dickinsonia fossil from Nilpena, South Australia. Black arrow points to lifted portion of the specimen and is pointed in the direction the waves would have moved during the Ediacaran. Credit: Droser L Dickinsonia fossil from Nilpena, South Australia. Black arrow points to lifted portion of the specimen and is pointed in the direction the waves would have moved during the Ediacaran. Credit: Droser Lab, UC Riverside.

    Scientist supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have discovered that certain specimens of fossil Dickinsonia appear incomplete because they were lifted from the sea floor by ancient ocean currents, allowing sand to fill in the gap. The results suggest that Dickinsonia was mobile and not attached to the sea floor.

    The study, “Dickinsonia liftoff: Evidence of current derived morphologies,” was published in the ...

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  1. Iron-Rich Rocks Could Hold Signs of Life


    A hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Image Credit: Darren Edwards, http://fettss.arc.nasa.gov/collection/details/yellowstone-1/ A hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Image Credit: Darren Edwards, http://fettss.arc.nasa.gov/collection/details/yellowstone-1/

    A study of the Yellowstone hot springs has revealed new clues about how organic materials might have been preserved in similar environments on ancient Mars. Researchers found that iron could either preserve or react with organic material in a way that helps form a fossil record.

    The study, supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program, was published in the journal Astrobiology.

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. NASA’s NExSS Coalition to Lead Search for Life on Distant Worlds


    NASA is bringing together experts spanning a variety of scientific fields for an unprecedented initiative dedicated to the search for life on planets outside our solar system.

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, or “NExSS”, hopes to better understand the various components of an exoplanet, as well as how the planet stars and neighbor planets interact to support life.

    “This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” says Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only ...

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  1. A New Tool for Deep Sea Microbiology


    The remotely operated Nereus vehicle at the the Mid-Cayman Spreading Center in 2009. A new sample collection tool for marine microbiology and biogeochemical studies could be used on such vehicles to h The remotely operated Nereus vehicle at the the Mid-Cayman Spreading Center in 2009. A new sample collection tool for marine microbiology and biogeochemical studies could be used on such vehicles to help astrobiologists study environments deep below the ocean surface. Credit: Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, WHOI

    Researchers supported in part by the Astrobiology Science & Technology for Exploring Planets element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have developed a new tool for collecting large-volume samples for marine microbiology and biogeochemical studies.

    The Suspended Particulate Rosette V2 large volume multi-sampling system can be deployed on remotely operated vehicles, and allows astrobiologists to quickly collect multiple samples of the water column from remote environments like hydrothermal plumes. The system was successfully tested on hydrothermal vent systems of the Mid-Cayman Rise.

    The paper, “A large volume particulate and water multi-sampler with in situ preservation for microbial and biogeochemical studies,” was published in the journal Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers.

    Source: [Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers]

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  1. Early Career Astrobiologists Recognized


    Giulio Mariotti (left) and Nicholas Swanson-Hysell (right). Credit: EOS Giulio Mariotti (left) and Nicholas Swanson-Hysell (right). Credit: EOS

    The American Geophysical Union (AGU) has recognized two early career astrobiologists.

    Giulio Mariotti received the 2014 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award for his work on the interactions of coastal hydrodynamics, morphodynamics, and ecological processes. Mariotti was a participant in the 2013 Australian Astrobiology Tour with the The Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA), one of the first international partners of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

    Nicholas Swanson-Hysell was selected as the recipient of the 2014 William Gilbert Award for his work on basalts of the North American Midcontinent Rift. Swanson-Hysell was a ...

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  1. Report on Contamination Considerations for Mars 2020


    Researchers at NASA are currently hard at work on the proposed Mars 2020 rover, which will expand upon previous missions to help determine Mars’ potential habitability, both past and present. One task the rover might face is to collect and cache scientific samples that could one day be returned to Earth for further study.

    Protecting such samples from contamination has been identified as an important and complex issue by the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), and was the subject of an independent investigation by the Mars 2020 Organic Contamination Panel (OCP).

    In 2014, the OCP convened to evaluate and ...

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  1. A Case for Brine on Mars


    The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover's mast. One of the REMS booms extends to the left from t The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover's mast. One of the REMS booms extends to the left from the mast in this view. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    NASA Mars Rover’s Weather Data Bolster Case for Brine

    Martian weather and soil conditions that NASA’s Curiosity rover has measured, together with a type of salt found in Martian soil, could put liquid brine in the soil at night.

    Perchlorate identified in Martian soil by the Curiosity mission, and previously by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission, has ...

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  1. Viruses Help Microbial Hosts Cope With Life at the Extremes


    A view of a hydrothermal vent at the Main Endeavour Field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, snapped from the submersible Alvin. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution A view of a hydrothermal vent at the Main Endeavour Field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, snapped from the submersible Alvin. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    A new study reveals that viruses lend a surprisingly helpful hand to microbes eking out a living near deep-sea hydrothermal vents. When they infect the vent’s resident bacteria and archaea, the viruses mix and match the single-celled creatures’ genes. As a result, the microbes can benefit from possessing a wide range of genes in a way that broadens their repertoire of responses to the quick-changing, harsh conditions of the vent environment.

    The ...

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  1. There and Back Again: Biofilm Specializaton


    Mixed biofilm. Credit: Cooper Lab, Vaughn Cooper, University of New Hampshire Mixed biofilm. Credit: Cooper Lab, Vaughn Cooper, University of New Hampshire

    A new study is helping astrobiologists understand how bacteria adapt to environmental conditions during infections. The researchers paired experimental evolution and modern sequencing techniques to study adaptations in biofilm bacteria when recovering from pathogen infection.

    The study, “There and back again: consequences of biofilm specialization under selection for dispersal,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics

    This research was supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

    Source: [Frontiers in Genetics]

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  1. New Library of Congress Astrobiology Chair Announced


    Nathaniel Comfort of the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine. Credit: Johns Hopkins Nathaniel Comfort of the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine. Credit: Johns Hopkins

    Nathaniel Comfort Announced as Third Chair in Astrobiology at John W. Kluge Center

    Historian of science Nathaniel Comfort will begin on October 1, 2015 as the third Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology in the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. He will be in residence for twelve months. As Astrobiology Chair, Comfort will use the Library’s collections to examine the history of the genomic revolution in origin-of-life research.

    The Astrobiology Chair at the Kluge Center is ...

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  1. Diverse Methane Sources in Shallow Alaskan Lakes


    An investigator is having a closer look at an open water region of Sukok Lake. Credit: NASA JPL, Icy Worlds <a href="https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/reports/annual-reports/2011/jpl-icy-worlds/detect An investigator is having a closer look at an open water region of Sukok Lake. Credit: NASA JPL, Icy Worlds 2011 Annual Report

    Astrobiologists studying ecological changes in shallow lakes on the North Slope of Alaska have discovered diverse sources of methane in lake sediments. The study shows that methane can arise from sources deep in the Earth or from biological communities that inhabit sediments on the lake floor.

    Importantly, the research also reveals that rising global temperatures may result in increasing production of this potential greenhouse gas by methane-generating microbes. The results of the five-year study are an important ...

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