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2006 Annual Science Report

Astrobiology Roadmap Objective 6.2 Reports Reporting  |  JUL 2005 – JUN 2006

Project Reports

  • Understanding Mars Subsurface Methane Hydrates and Brines and Potentials for Microbial Habitats

    The sub-permafrost zone of Mars is acknowledged as having the greatest potential for habitability because water is readily available. CH4 leakage from the sub-permafrost zone would occur wherever the permafrost zone has been breached by recent fracturing due to impacts or by geothermal heating.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 4.1 4.3 5.3 6.1 6.2
  • 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
  • Project 6. Molecular and Isotopic Biosignatures

    Co-Investigator Steele and Postdoctoral Fellow Marc Fries used the new WiTec Raman imaging system to begin the examination of in situ carbon formation in a variety of samples, including Precambrian rocks and samples from a Mars analog site in Svalbard.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.1 4.1 4.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Indigenous Bacteria of Arctic and Antarctic Permafrost

    Our previous studies resulted in the isolation of several strains of Exiguobacterium and Psychrobacter from Siberian permafrost, suggesting that these species are abundant in this environment.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 5.1 5.3 6.2
  • 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
  • Proteomes of Permafrost Bacteria

    It is crucial to examine the physiological processes of psychrophiles at temperatures below 4°C to facilitate extrapolation of laboratory results to in situ activity

  • Interplanetary Pioneers
  • Microbial Communities and Activities in the Deep Marine Subsurface

    Active archaeal communities. We are beginning to publish the results of our rRNA survey of selected deep subsurface sediments, focusing on active archaeal communities in the subsurface (Biddle et al. 2006, Sørensen and Teske 2006). All previous subsurface community analyses were based on DNA, which included the risk of detecting and analyzing remnant and fossil DNA from inactive or dead cells.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 5.1 5.3 6.1 6.2
  • RNA Activities Relevant to Ribocytes
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 3.1 3.2 3.4 6.2
  • Examination of the Microbial Diversity Found in Ice Cores (Brenchley)
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2
  • The Astrophysical Environment and Planetary and Lunar Habitability

    We worked to characterize the intermittent aspects of stellar radiation fields, namely flares and stellar cosmic rays, and their effects on biosignature detection, habitability, and space exploration.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 4.3 6.1 6.2
  • Microbial and Biogeochemical Characterization of Terrestrial Analogue Sites for Life in the Subsurface of Mars.

    Onstott and McGown collected ground water from boreholes intersection fractures at depths of 890 and 1100 meters below the surface at the Lupin gold mine, Nunavat Territories March 2005 using 0.2 μm borosilicate filters and 0.2 μm hollow-fiber filters and running the borehole water through these filters for 2-3 day

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1
  • Genetic Systems for Psychrobacter

    A major goal of our research team is to identify genes that enable bacteria to inhabit the permafrost environment. To accomplish this, need to develop genetic systems to mutagenize and manipulate the genomes of our permafrost isolates.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 5.1 5.3 6.2
  • Project 5. Life in Extreme Environments

    The behavior of H2O under pressure underlies the work of Co-Investigator Hemley and his colleagues in prebiotic chemistry and high-pressure microbiology. Collaborator Yukihiro Yoshimura documented new transformations in ice by X-ray diffraction and Raman spectroscopy.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 5.1 5.3 6.2
  • The Virtual Planetary Laboratory – The Life Modules

    Field research on the freshwater bacteria of Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico (Siefert). These communities are good proxies for early earth type bacterially-dominated systems. To understand the community dynamics that lead to microbialite (general term for structures produced by microbial precipitation) the metagenomes of two microbialites, from two separate regions of the system were performed using 454 sequencing technology.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 4.1 4.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2
  • Genomes of Permafrost Bacteria: Psychrobacter Isolates
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 5.1 5.3 6.2
  • 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
  • Database of Stellar Spectra to Support Extrasolar Planet Modeling

    We established a database of stellar spectra during the past year to serve as a
    dynamic repository within the VPL website for accurate reference spectra of stars
    that are considered relevant hosts in the search for habitable exoplanets.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.2 4.1 6.2 7.2
  • Exploring Conditions for Habitability in Our Solar System

    Subsurface Habitability on Mars: Armstrong and Sondossi (2005) are exploring the stability of deep subsurface environments (3-6 km) on Mars. Thermal diffusion models indicate that temperature fluctuations at these depths are minor, and provide reasonable environments for sub-surface life, perhaps probed by the recent detection of methane in Mars’ atmosphere.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 4.1 6.2 7.1
  • Detection of Microbial Differentiation Using High-Resolution Molecular Marker
  • Ecology of a Hawaiian Lava Cave Microbial Mat
    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 4.1 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.2
  • Iceland Subglacial Biology Exploration (ISBOX)

    Subglacial lakes are the focus of studies of life in extreme environments because they may resemble habitats on Mars and icy satellites in the outer solar system. ISBOX II succeeded in drilling through 300 meters of glacial ice to sample a subglacial lake beneath the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, in June 2006.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 5.3 6.2 7.1