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2013 Annual Science Report

University of Southern California Reporting  |  SEP 2012 – AUG 2013

Executive Summary

Life Underground

Our crossdisciplinary team from the University of Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Desert Research Institute, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is developing and employing field, laboratory, and modeling approaches to detect and characterize microbial life in the subsurface the intraterrestrials. On Earth, microorganisms appear to inhabit all space that provides the minimum requirements for life. These include the availability of water, carbon, nutrients, and light or chemical energy. While these are generally abundant in surface or nearsurface environments, their mode and distribution in the subsurface are poorly constrained. Nevertheless, it has been shown that archaea and bacteria inhabit deeply buried rocks and sediments where they contribute to biogeochemical cycles. All evidence suggests that these subsurface systems are enormous and diverse. On other planets in our solar system, putative extant or extinct life would most likely be ... Continue reading.

Field Sites
10 Institutions
1 Project Reports
0 Publications
1 Field Site

Project Reports

  • Life Underground

    Our multidisciplinary team from USC, Caltech, JPL, DRI, and RPI is developing and employing field, laboratory, and modeling approaches aimed at detecting and characterizing microbial life in the subsurface—the intraterrestrials. We posit that if life exists, or ever existed, on Mars or other planetary body in our solar system, evidence thereof would most likely be found in the subsurface. This study takes advantage of unique opportunities to explore the subsurface ecosystems on Earth through boreholes, mine shafts, and deeply-sourced springs. Access to the subsurface, both continental and marine, and broad characterization of the rocks, fluids, and microbial inhabitants is central to this study. Our focused research themes require subsurface samples for laboratory and in situ experiments. Specifically, we seek to carry out in situ life detection and characterization experiments, employ numerous novel and traditional techniques to culture heretofore unknown intraterrestrial archaea and bacteria, and incorporate new and existing data into regional and global metabolic energy models.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.3 4.1 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.2