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2014 Annual Science Report

University of Southern California Reporting  |  SEP 2013 – DEC 2014

Executive Summary

Our cross-disciplinary team from the University of Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Desert Research Institute, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and now also Northwestern University is developing and employing field, laboratory, and modeling approaches to detect and characterize microbial life in the subsurface. 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 near-surface 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. On other planets in our solar system, putative extant or extinct life would most likely be found underground. With a focus on near-by planets where landed missions ... Continue reading.

Field Sites
17 Institutions
1 Project Reports
15 Publications
4 Field Sites

Project Reports

  • Life Underground

    Our multi-disciplinary team from USC, Caltech, JPL, DRI, RPI, and now also Northwestern 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, sediment coring, marine vents and seeps, 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 are carrying out in situ life detection, culturing and isolation of heretofore unknown intraterrestrial archaea and bacteria using numerous novel and traditional techniques, and incorporating 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