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Arizona State University
07/1998 - 10/2003 (CAN 1)

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Exploring the Living Universe: Origin, Evolution, and Distribution of Life in the Solar System

The Arizona State University Team is conducting research into the cosmochemistry of meteorites, organosynthesis within hydrothermal systems, the origin of early photosynthetic systems, microbial fossilization processes, complex ecosystems of extreme environments, and exploring for habitable environments elsewhere in the Solar System. Below are descriptions of the projects ASU is involved in.

Cosmochemistry of Carbonaceous Meteorites

The goal of this research is to investigate prebiotic organic synthesis and water-rock retention in carbonaceous meteorites. Analyses relating to prebiotic organic synthesis involve derivatives of two amino acids found in the Murchison meteorite, and water-rock interaction research involves isotopic analysis of carbonaceous chondrite carbonates. Recent studies include an analysis of the Tagish Lake carbonaceous chondrite.

Origin and Early Evolution of Photosynthesis

This project is emphasizing four main areas of investigation (1) molecular evolution analysis of photosynthesis genes from a wide range of organisms, (2) whole genome comparative analyses, (3) field and laboratory studies of photosynthetic organisms in iron-rich environments and (4) the search for phototrophs in non-solar environments around hydrothermal vents

Organic Synthesis at High Temperatures

The overall goal of this project is to explore the potential for abiotic synthesis of organic molecules important to the origin of life under geologically realistic conditions of pressure, temperature and chemical composition. Focusing on hydrothermal systems on the early Earth, this research has implications for similar system which may occur on Mars and Europa.

Microbial Fossilization Processes in Extreme Environments

Researchers on this project seek to understand the taphonomic processes that govern the fossilization and long-term preservation of biosignatures in extreme sedimentary environments dominated by microbial life.

Submicroscopic Study of Microbial Fossils in Chert

The purpose of this research is to improve our understanding of microbial biosignatures by developing criteria for biogenicity at the nanometer-scale using new methods of electron microscopy.

Environmental Conditions of Early Earth

In this research project, the ASU Team is exploring the possibility that Archean oceans had substantially higher salinity that modern oceans. Recent studies are also focusing on the climatic temperature of the early Earth at the time of the oldest microfossil record.

Evolution in microbe-based ecosystems: Desert springs as analogues for the early development and stabilization of ecological systems
Field investigations associated with this project are taking place in the Cuatro Ciengas area of Central Mexico. The “extreme” lake/stream environment of this system is appropriate for studying hydrogeochemical influences on ecosystem evolution.

Exploring Mars for Past or Present Life

This research project seeks to promote the astrobiological exploration of Mars through planetary exploration and terrestrial analog studies. Efforts are focused in three major areas: 1) Continued orbital mapping of the Martian surface in the mid-infrared in search of aqueous mineral deposits, 2) Remote sensing analog studies of evaporite basins on the Earth to establish spatial and spectral resolution thresholds for the detection of aqueous minerals from Mars orbit, and 3) Site selection for future landed missions to explore for past or present Martian life.

Exploring for Habitable Environments on Europa

The goal of this research is to understand the potential for past and present habitable environments of Europa. ASU’s focus is on developing a better understanding of the surface and interior structure and in composition of Europa as a basis for assessing the potential for Europan life.

Annual Reports