1. Come Support Our Early Career Scientists at FameLab AGU!

    Season two of the science communication sensation FameLab kicks off at the AGU Fall meeting on December 7th. This year we’ve expanded our astrobiology theme to “Exploring Earth and Beyond” and competitors will be talking on a wide range of topics, from the climate impacts of energy extraction to Earth’s dark matter halo to black holes! If you’ll be in the San Francisco Bay Area, please plan to join us at 7pm in the Marriott Marquis’ Salon 1 on Friday, December 7th…you don’t need to be registered for the AGU meeting to attend. Please contact ...

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  1. Library of Congress Astrobiology Chair-Applications Welcome

    Application Deadline Extension to: Dec. 17, 2012

    The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress is accepting applications and nominations for the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

    Applications and nominations must be postmarked by Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Guidelines and forms are available online.

    Established in the Fall of 2011, the Blumberg Astrobiology Chair is a distinguished senior position at the Library’s Kluge Center. The incumbent conducts research at the intersection between the science of astrobiology and its humanistic aspects, particularly its societal implications, using the collections and services of the Library ...

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  1. Photosynthetic Life Before the Great Oxidation Event

    New work from University of Washington astrobiologists describes evidence that there was life on land as early as 2.7 billion years ago, and it was affecting global biogeochemical cycles. Microbes were helping to weather land surfaces and release sulfur, facilitating its flow from land into the oceans—which in turn may have helped the spread of life in the oceans.

    The models the team used show that in order to produce sufficiently rapid weathering chemistry, photosynthetic microbes in proximity to the land surfaces would have to have been releasing oxygen—even though oxygen levels in the global atmosphere were ...

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  1. Life’s First Taste of Phosphorus

    Phosphorus is vital to life on Earth, even though our planet doesn’t provide us with very much phosphorus to work with. A team of astrobiologists, led by Matthew Pasek of the University of South Florida, is now studying how phosphorus biochemistry may have originated at the dawn of life. Their work is being supported by NASA’s Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program.

    Phosphorous is scarce on the Earth, particularly at the surface, and is primarily found in some type of phosphate. Pasek’s team hopes to provide the phosphorus chemical landscape through the first two billion years of Earth ...

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  1. Minerals, Organics, and the Origin of Life

    Life is thought to have originated on Earth via processes in which organic compounds self-organized into systems which are capable of replication and exhibit natural selection. Further evolution then led to modern biochemical systems. One key to this process is thought to be mineral-organic interactions. Research into mineral-organic interfaces could help astrobiologists understand the origin of life on our planet and the potential for Earth-like life on other worlds in the Universe.

    Recently, a team of astrobiologists led by H. James Cleaves of the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science has performed an extensive review of the current state of ...

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  1. A New Understanding of Undersea Volcanic Life

    Astrobiologists are shining a light into the dark and mysterious world of organisms that live in our planet’s rocks and sediments. In the journal PNAS, the team has reported the first detailed data on methane-exhaling microbes that live deep in the cracks of hot undersea volcanoes. The study involves methanogens – microbes that inhale hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce methane as waste – and could help scientists better understand natural gas formation on Earth. The data will advance our knowledge of biogeochemical cycles in the deep ocean. The project also addresses questions about how metabolic processes on the early Earth ...

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  1. An Excess of Enantiomers in Primitive Meteorites

    Astrobiologists at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University have performed a comprehensive analysis of the organic composition of ancient asteroidal remnants that fell to Earth called carbonaceous chondrites (CRs). CRs are unique in that, once having been part of asteroids, they have avoided the geological reprocessing that larger planets and moons have undergone, thus preserving a record of the conditions of the early solar system. Studying these materials is like experiencing time travel!

    The study, published recently in PNAS, shows that several CR compounds, including amino acids, show no or minimal exposure to water. The team also analyzed ...

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  1. Newfound Gene Aids Survival in Extreme Environments

    With support from the NASA Astrobiology Program, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered a new bacterial gene that could provide clues about how life survives in some of Earth’s most extreme environments.

    The gene codes for a protein, named HpnR, that is responsible for producing bacterial lipids known as 3-methylhopanoids. These lipids could help prepare nutrient-starved microbes to make a sudden appearance in nature when conditions are favorable. It allows the organisms to survive in extreme, oxygen-depleted environments until food — such as methane and the oxygen needed to metabolize it — become available.

    The lipid produced ...

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  1. In Memoriam: Heinrich (Dick) Holland (1927-2012)

    The NASA Astrobiology Program mourns the death of Dick Holland, treasured colleague and forefather of astrobiology.

    Dick Holland died May 21, 2012 in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, just short of his 85th birthday. He was born in Mannheim, Germany and spent his early years there before coming to the U.S. in 1940.

    He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry (with high honors) from Princeton University in 1946 at the age of 19, served in the U.S. Army, then entered graduate school at Columbia University in 1947, receiving is master’s degree in 1948 and Ph.D. in 1952, both ...

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  1. Astrobiologists Receive Accolades

    Please join the NASA Astrobiology Program in congratulating these five scientists on their recent awards and accolades! From the left: Sue Brantley from Penn State was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in May, 2012; Dave Des Marais will receive the 2012 Alfred Treibs Award from the Geochemcial Society for achievements in organic chemistry; Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute received the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in May, 2012 given to outstanding early career scientists in Germany; Sara Seager from MIT was awarded the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences from Tel Aviv ...

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  1. US Advances to FameLab International Final

    The FameLab International event began today at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK with two rounds of semi-final competition. 19 competitors took the stage but only 10 emerged as finalists…one of which was our very own Brendan Mullan of Penn State, the FameLab Astrobiology winner!

    The Grand Final will take place at 1pm EDT on Friday, June 15th and will be webcast, so tune in and show your support!

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  1. Channeling Our Ion Past

    To understand how the first cells transported ions across their membranes, researchers supported by the NASA Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology (Exo/Evo) program are studying simple channels used by fungi to kill off bacteria. The ability to shuffle ions in and out of a cell is clearly vital to life as we know it, but how the necessary membrane channels originated is a mystery. Andrew Pohorille, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and his team are now studying how these simple “tunnels” could have developed the ability to regulate the flow of ions through them. A better understanding of ion ...

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  1. Recorded Sessions From AbSciCon Now Available

    Several sessions at the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference were broadcast live via Adobe Connect and recorded. An archive of talks from 18 sessions is now available for viewing online via the AbSciCon website.

    Source: [AbSciCon]

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  1. FameLab Astrobiology…and the Winner Is…

    Join us in congratulating Brendan Mullan from Pennsylvania State University on winning the 2012 FameLab Astrobiology competition! The Finals were held on Monday, April 16th during the Astrobiology Science Conference in Atlanta, GA. The judges selected one winner from among the 11 finalists, whose presentations can all be seen here. Brendan joins the winners of FameLab competitions from all over the world this June in the UK, and will represent the United States in the FameLab International Final event!

    FameLab was set up in 2005 by Cheltenham Festivals in partnership with the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and ...

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  1. NASA and Library of Congress Select First Astrobiology Chair

    NASA and the Library of Congress have announced the selection of David H. Grinspoon to be the first Baruch S. Blumberg NASA-Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

    The chair, selected through an international competition, is named for the late Nobel Laureate and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Baruch “Barry” Blumberg. Applications are solicited by the Library of Congress and reviewed by a panel jointly established by the Library and NASA. The prestigious position was created in November 2011.

    Grinspoon will be in residence for a year beginning November 2012 at the library’s scholarly research organization, the Kluge ...

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