A deep-sea hydrothermal vent. Credit: Photo courtesy of Chris Germen, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason 2012, at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
A new study reports that a protein used in plant photosynthesis could have originated 2.5 billion years ago in methanogenic microbes – long before oxygen levels rose in Earth’s atmosphere. The research was supported in part by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology (Exo/Evo) element of the NASA Astrobiology program.
When studying Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, a methanogen that lives in deep-sea hydrothermal vent environments, the team found a protein called thioredoxin. This protein plays a regulatory role in photosynthesis ...February 13, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
The image to the left shows Jennifer Glass working in a chamber where she can control the oxygen levels to mimic the deep sea environment. On the right is an example of marine gas hydrates on the sea floor. Credit: Rob Felt (left image); US Department of Energy (right image)
On March 3, 2014, Dr. Jennifer Glass of the Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech) will present the second in our series of talks from alumni of the NASA Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). In her talk, “Microbes, Methane and Metals: Insights From Geochemistry, Omics and Single Cell Imaging,” Glass ...February 11, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Voyager Views Titan's Haze. There is a lot of interesting chemistry occurring in Titan's dense atmosphere. Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, NASA
Henderson (Jim) Cleaves of the Carnegie Institution of Washington will present the next talk in the NAI Director’s Seminar Series on February 10 at 11:00 AM PST.
Amino Acid Analysis of Titan Tholins and Comparison With Other Prebiotic Reaction Systems
Titan’s atmospheric chemistry produces a host of discrete organic chemical products. It is likewise well known than Miller-Urey type reactions produce a host of complex discrete organic products. We have examined various complex reaction ...February 4, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
As we are rapidly approaching the end of the end of this stage of the Astrobiology Strategy planning, we would like to thank everyone that has participated as a presenter or author, commented on a white paper or at a webinar, or even just listened in to one of the presentations. If you have not yet had the opportunity to listen to a particular webinar or comment on a particular white paper, they are all available on the website astrobiologyfuture.org. However, please visit the website soon, as we will be closing the papers to comments on Friday, February 14th ...February 1, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Panels from Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Credit: NASA Astrobiology
Issue #4 maintains the gorgeous look and feel of the series, and continues the captivating story of Exo and Astrobiology. This installment explores astrobiology’s role in missions to the outer Solar System. See how science helped shape the exploration of gas giants and icy worlds beyond our system’s main asteroid belt.
While spacecraft plied the distant corners of ...January 21, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU
On February 3, 2014, Sara Walker of Arizona State University (ASU) will present the first in a series of seminars from alumni of the NASA Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). In her talk, “Information Hierarchies, Chemical Evolution and the Transition From Non-Living to Living Matter,” Walker will discuss topics related to the emergence of life… and how to define ‘almost life.’
Sara Walker is an assistant professor at the BEYOND Center in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. Walker specializes in theoretical physics and astrobiology, and ...January 17, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Dr. David Grinspoon delivered the 2013 Carl Sagan Lecture presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. An outgrowth of his work as the first NASA—Library of Congress Baruch S. Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology, the talk is entitled “Terra Sapiens: The Role of Science in Fostering a Wisely Managed Earth.”
Click here to watch a video of Dr. Grinspoon’s lecture.January 13, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
An example of wrinkle mats at the Dresser Formation. Credit: Wikicommons
Scientists studying geological structures in Australia have found evidence of microbial life in 3.48 billion-year-old rocks. Their discovery could represent the oldest biosignatures yet identified on Earth.
Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University first spotted what looked like a microbially-induced sedimentary structure (or MISS) while visiting Australia in 2008. The MISS structures were found in Western Australia’s Dresser Formation, which contains some of the oldest known rocks on Earth’s surface. The Dresser Formation is an active research site for scientists studying the ancient environment of Earth ...
The transition to multicellularity was one of a few major events in life’s history that created new opportunities for more complex biological systems to evolve. As this transition fundamentally changes what constitutes an individual, dissecting the steps in this transition remains a major challenge within evolutionary biology.
Compared with other major transitions in evolution that occurred just once (for example, the origin of eukaryotes), multicellularity has evolved repeatedly. Most origins of multicellularity are ancient and transitional forms have been lost to extinction, so little is known about the potential for multicellularity to evolve from unicellular lineages, or the route ...
Please note that, in order to include the new director of the NAI in the CAN Cycle 7 process and to make selection with full knowledge of FY14 budgets the Step-2 proposal due date is changed to April 30, 2014. NASA expects that decisions for the Step 1 proposals will be made on or before Dec 18, 2013. In addition, a number of links to NAI websites have been corrected. The full text of the CAN is available electronically at http://nspires.nasaprs.com.
The Step-1 proposal due date changed from November 4, 2013 to November 18, 2013 due to ...September 19, 2013 / Posted by: Julie Fletcher
Gerald F. Joyce, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor and investigator in the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at the Scripps Research Institute. Credit: Scripps Research Institute
What is life? In this interview, Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute reveals why it’s been so hard for scientists to come up with a definition that encompasses the multiple dimensions of life as we know it. Joyce’s research focuses on the origin of life, and his lab was the first to produce a self-replicating system, composed of RNA enzymes, capable of exponential growth and evolution.
Defining 'life’ is ...
An artist’s conception of the Earth during the late Archean, 2.8 billion years ago. Weak solar radiation requires the Earth have increased greenhouse gas amounts to remain warm. Credit: Charlie Meeks
Astrobiologists have made a new discovery that could explain how the early Earth was warm enough for life more than 3 billion years ago, even though the Sun was 20 percent dimmer than today. The answer to the ‘faint young Sun’ paradox may come down to the atmospheric composition of the young planet. The study shows that reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mixed with ...July 21, 2013 / Posted by: Shige Abe
Robertson Glacier. Image Credit: Albertawow.com
Light drives photosynthesis, the mechanism used by many microbes to create energy from the Sun. But what if you live beneath a glacier where light is scarce? Microbes in such environments create energy by interacting with and breaking down local bedrock.
While it’s known how the microbes affect the rock, a new study in Geology from astrobiologists at Montana State University show how the rock affects the microbes. They’ve identified pyrite as a key mineral in determining microbial community structure and composition. Given how common pyrite is, it may be the dominant ...July 17, 2013 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Robertson Glacier, Canada. Image Credit: Eric Boyd.
Despite the fact that Earth has experienced widespread glaciation throughout its history and that 11% of Earth’s surface today is covered with ice, active microbial communities in subglacial systems have yet to be fully characterized. Astrobiologists at Montana State University funded by NASA’s Exobiology Program have completed a study describing the presence of active, endogenous communities of microorganisms living beneath Robertson Glacier, Alberta, Canada.
Molecular techniques have revealed that the communities are more diverse than glacial surface communities, and are making active contributions to the global carbon cycle. The study appears ...June 14, 2013 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
This map shows the locations of participants in the Astrobiology Roadmapping community around the globe. Credit: www.astrobiologyfuture.org
The Astrobiology Program has completed the first step in creating a new Astrobiology Roadmap. The next phase in outlining the future direction for astrobiology research and technology development at NASA is set to begin next week.
Roughly every ten years, the Astrobiology Program updates NASA’s official Astrobiology Roadmap. This document provides guidance for research funded by the program in areas that encompass space, Earth and biological sciences.
In writing the 2013 Astrobiology Roadmap, NASA’s Astrobiology Program decided to take ...