2012 Annual Science Report
VPL at University of Washington Reporting | SEP 2011 – AUG 2012
Stromatolites in the Desert: Analogs to Other Worlds
In this task biologists go to field sites in Mexico to better understand the environmental effects on growth rates for freshwater stromatolites. Stromatolites are microbial mat communities that have the ability to calcify under certain conditions. They are believed to be an ancient form of life, that may have dominated the planet’s biosphere more than 2 billion years ago. Our work focuses on understanding these communities as a means of characterizing their metabolisms and gas outputs, for use in planetary models of ancient environments.
In January 2012, Siefert traveled to Irapuato, Mexico to work with the Mexican collaborators. Plans for the upcoming experiments and target sequencing efforts applicable to the goals of the project were discussed and fleshed out. This meeting also included work on manuscripts for the upcoming Astrobiology journal and planning for field excursions to CCB. In May, Siefert worked with all collaborators from the VPL team and the ASU Follow the Elements team looking at stoichiometric constraints in the Churince work site. All the bioinformatics and computational researchers met during this trip, coordinating all data input that is being generated, and now have an extensive pipeline for the enormous amounts of sequencing data that ends in a robust suite of analysis foci.
Additionally, collaborative efforts with the local and state government in Coahuila as they opened a molecular biology lab in the Cuatro Ciénegas high school were part of this field trip. This was important as the facilities will be coordinated with the VPL team’s research efforts, especially in long-term monitoring and experimentation when we are not at the site.
In August, the issue from Astrobiology journal was dedicated to the research being performed at Cuatro Ciénegas, Mexico.
This research was also written up in Discovery News: http://news.discovery.com/space/we-may-have-already-colonized-mars-120831.html
PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:Janet Siefert
PROJECT MEMBERS:Robert Blankenship
RELATED OBJECTIVES:Objective 4.1
Earth's early biosphere.
Production of complex life.
Co-evolution of microbial communities
Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments
Effects of environmental changes on microbial ecosystems
Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth