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2006 Annual Science Report

Astrobiology Roadmap Objective 3.2 Reports Reporting  |  JUL 2005 – JUN 2006

Project Reports

  • Module 1: The Building Blocks of Life

    This module is concerned with examining the contribution of interstellar chemistry to the biochemistry that led to living systems on Earth. One focus of this investigation is the simple sugar ribose and its precursors, starting with formaldehyde, but other possible pre-biotic species are being investigated as well

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 4.3
  • Chemical Investigations of Hydrogen Cyanide Polymers and Their Possible Role in the Origin of Protein/Nucleic Acid Based Life (Minard)
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4
  • Planetary Biology, Evolution, and Intelligence

    Chris Chyba, Cynthia Phillips, Kevin Hand- The project has two components. The first, an overview of the astrobiological potential of various geological features on Europa, is proceeding well — we are continuing the study of various proposed formation mechanisms for different feature types such as ridges, bands, and chaotic terrain.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1
  • Design and Assembly of a Cavity-Ring Down Spectrometer for Determination of Concentration and Isotopic Composition of Methane in Gases
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.2 3.3 4.1 5.2 5.3 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Important Carbon Oxides in the Planetary Atmospheres and Surfaces

    Radiation-induced chemistry of carbon dioxide (CO2) is important in a variety of regions from the atmospheres of Venus, Earth, and Mars to the ices of comets, Mars, and planetary satellites. As carbon dioxide molecules are degraded by radiation, carbon monoxide and high energy oxygen atoms can be produced.

  • RNA Activities Relevant to Ribocytes
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 3.1 3.2 3.4 6.2
  • Project 4. Prebiotic Molecular Selection and Organization

    Studies in molecular self-organization continued to focus on amphiphilic molecules, which are molecules that possess both hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions. These molecules tend to self-organize spontaneously in an aqueous environment.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.1 7.1
  • Early Metabolic Pathways

    In the effort to understand the evolutionary origins of functional biological macromolecules we have evolved, for the first time, a new enzyme having a catalytic activity that has not been observed in nature. The ability to evolve novel enzymatic activities from relatively small libraries of randomized sequences suggests that the evolution of functional proteins may not have been a difficult or slow stage in the early evolution of life.

  • Leigh Project
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.2 3.3 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1
  • From Proto-Metabolism to the RNA World
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 5.3
  • Project 7. Astrobiotechnology

    Co-Investigator Steele and colleagues have continued to develop the Modular Assays for Solar System Exploration (MASSE) concept, which uses microfluidic technology to incubate a DNA or protein microarray.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.2 5.3 6.2 7.1
  • Molecular Survey of Microbial Diversity in Hypersaline Ecosystems
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1
  • Philosophical Issues in Astrobiology
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.1 5.1 5.2
  • Keck Cosmochemistry Laboratory

    The W. M. Keck Cosmochemistry laboratory will soon begin analysis of extraterrestrial samples, including sample of interest to astrobiology. At its heart is a Cameca ims 1280 ion microprobe. This state-of-the-art instrument uses a focused ion beam to sputter and ionize atoms from sample surfaces. The sputtered ions are then extracted into a mass spectrometer and measured. The 1280 can measure isotopic compositions of most elements, with better precision and accuracy than previous ion probes.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1 3.2
  • Large Scale Circulation and Organic Synthesis in the Primitive Solar Nebula

    Analytical studies of natural materials such as meteorite components, interplanetary dust particles and presolar grains, and telescopic observations of the solids in comets, protostellar nebulae, giant molecular clouds and the interstellar medium place important chemical and textural constraints on the processing of materials throughout the history of the solar system. Many of these same constraints may also apply to the materials in modern protostellar systems.

  • Progress Report for APL Effort in Goddard Center for Astrobiology

    Theme 4 work at JHU/APL using laser time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF-MS) techniques continues in collaboration with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) team and external partners.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.2 3.1 3.2 7.1
  • Formation of Astrobiologically Important Molecules in Water-Rich Environments

    We installed a new FTIR spectrometer to our experimental apparatus (Fig. 1). The new spectrometer is in perfect condition, allowing us to take spectra of ices at near-IR and middle-IR regions, which are comparable to astronomy observations. We also designed some new parts to improve the experimental apparatus. For example, a new OFHC copper coldhead shield (Fig. 2) was made and installed into the machine. That reduces the mass spectral background significantly. Recently, we are assembling a proton source to simulate the effects of solar wind on low temperature ices