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2005 Annual Science Report

University of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2004 – JUN 2005

Darwinian Chemistry

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The Benner laboratory has defined much of the chemistry that would allow sugars and other components of RNA to arise on a prebiotic Earth. This chemistry provides suggestions for the design of future Mars missions, and a critique of past Mars missions.

The Benner laboratory has made further progress in establishing synthetic biology as a field, developing tools to replicate and sequence DNA with 6 and 8 nucleotide letters. By converting questions of “origins”, from biomacromolecules to enzymes to pathways to regulation to cells, into an experimental science assisted by deliberate design, this will contribute to our understanding of life in ways previously unavailable.

The Benner laboratory has collaborated with McKay in exploring the possibility of organics in extreme environments, where “extreme” here means “extreme on Earth”.

The Benner laboratory has defined chemistries that might support “Weird” life in truly extreme environments, including in the hydrocarbon phase on Titan, above Venus, and in crysolvents like liquid dinitrogen.

The Benner laboratory has continued work in experimental paleobiochemistry, a field invented in the Benner laboratory, to understand the emergence of complex ecosystems. This year, the focus was the evolution of fungi and plants on Earth near the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

This work is supported by only a very small ($35,000 direct) subcontract from the NAI node at the University of Washington (Peter Ward, Principal Investigator). The principal funding for this activity comes from the NASA Exobiology program, and from the National Science Foundation.

    Steven Benner Steven Benner
    Objective 2.1
    Mars exploration

    Objective 2.2
    Outer Solar System exploration

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules

    Objective 3.3
    Origins of energy transduction

    Objective 3.4
    Origins of cellularity and protobiological systems

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere

    Objective 4.2
    Foundations of complex life

    Objective 4.3
    Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere

    Objective 5.2
    Co-evolution of microbial communities

    Objective 5.3
    Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments

    Objective 6.1
    Environmental changes and the cycling of elements by the biota, communities, and ecosystems

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth

    Objective 7.1
    Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials