Scientists in Astrobiology Awarded 2016 MacArthur Genius Grants
Two scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) who are members of the NASA Astrobiology Program have been honored as 2016 MacArthur Fellows.
Dianne Newman, Microbiologist
Dianne Newman, a professor of geobiology and biology at Caltech, focuses on the metabolisms of microbes that live in the absence of oxygen, looking at how they are able to produce energy and thrive in low-oxygen environments. Her research has included ancient bacteria able to use iron in place of water to photosynthesize, providing a possible explanation for the appearance of banded iron formations (BIFs), as well as re-identifying possible reasons for the biomarker 2-methylhopanes found in ancient rocks. The study of ancient microorganisms connects with her current research on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen able to infect the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis by also surviving under anoxic conditions.
Newman has received funding from the Exobiology branch of the NASA Astrobiology Program and has also been affiliated with past NASA Astrobiology Institute teams at MIT and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Victoria Orphan, Geobiologist
Victoria Orphan, a professor of environmental science and geobiology at Caltech, is recognized for her work studying the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) by microorganisms found in deep sea sediment. By revealing the symbiotic relationship between the seafloor bacteria and single-celled Archaea and how AOM effects the Earth’s ocean chemistry and prevents release of methane into the atmosphere, she has helped to provide clues about the climate and ecology of early Earth.
Orphan is Co-PI of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of Southern California, Life Underground.