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  1. Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls


    NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS)  and Astrobiology Program host the Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls Image credit: None
    NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) and Astrobiology Program host the Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls

    The workshop takes place July 27-29 in Seattle, WA. Watch the live broadcast beginning July 27 at 8:30AM PDT.

    Hosted by the NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) and Astrobiology Program, the Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop brings together the astrobiology, exoplanet, and mission concept communities to review, discuss, debate, and advance the science of biosignatures.

    This highly interactive workshop will include plenary talks to set the stage for small group discussions that focus on addressing key science questions identified by the Science Organizing Committee. More information and the event schedule are available at: http://nai.nasa.gov/calendar/workshop-without-walls-exoplanet-biosignatures ...

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  1. 2016 Astrobiology Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program Fellows


    The NASA Astrobiology Program is pleased to announce the selection of three faculty members from Minority Serving Institutions who will participate in the 2016 Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program.

    Dr. Guillermo Nery, University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo
    Hosts – Laurie Barge and Michael Russell, JPL
    “A Proposal for Developing and Applying a Habitability Index for Europa’s Ice-Covered Ocean“

    Dr. Hemayat Ullah, Howard University
    Host – Dr. Shiladitya DasSarma, University of Maryland School of Medicine
    “Co-evolution of Retinal pigments with Chlorophyll: Does the spectroscopic complementarity signal one of the oldest metabolic capabilities on Earth?“

    Dr. Rakesh Mogul, California State Polytechnic University ...

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  1. Recipients of NASA Early Career Collaboration Awards


    We are pleased to announce the selections for the April 2016 Early Career Collaboration Award.

    Steffen Bueseccher, Arizona State University
    Daniel will collaborate with Hiroshi Imanaka (NASA Ames Research Center), “Deciphering the Role of Abiotic N2O formation on atmospheric N2O in the Archaean and implications on the faint young Sun paradox.”

    Ben Galeota-Sprung, University of Pennsylvania
    Ben will travel to University of Pittsburgh to collaborate with Vaughn Cooper to examine how mutation rates evolve over time.

    Daniel Gregory, University of California, Riverside
    Daniel will visit Steve Romaniello and Aleisha Johnson at Arizona State University to examine ...

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  1. Joint NASA-NSF Ideas Lab on the Origins of Life Update


    Image credit: None

    As announced previously, the Astrobiology Program of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is joining with the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) and the Directorate of Geosciences (GEO) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to sponsor an “Ideas Lab” activity on the Origin of Life.

    The dates of the Ideas Lab Workshop are September 18-23, 2016. The workshop will take place at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, MD. Additional information about the venue and meeting logistics will be provided to the selected participants.

    Scientific Background
    Most theories of the origin and early evolution of life focus on one ...

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  1. 41st COSPAR Scientific Assembly Cancelled


    COSPAR 2016, originally scheduled for July 30 to August 7, has been cancelled. Lennard Fisk issued the following message:

    Dear COSPAR Associates,

    The most recent events in Istanbul, involving a coup from a faction of the national army against the Turkish government on 15 July, require us to cancel the 41st COSPAR Assembly. This is a difficult and sad decision, taken in consultation with the Executive Director of the COSPAR Secretariat and in consideration of the advice spontaneously expressed by several Bureau and Council members as well as COSPAR officers and Main Scientific event Organizers. It also reflects the sense ...

    Source: [Committee on Space Research]

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  1. 2016 Selections for the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology


    Map of locations explored by past and present Lewis and Clark Fund recipients. Blue Xs mark 2016 field research destinations. Image credit: None
    Map of locations explored by past and present Lewis and Clark Fund recipients. Blue Xs mark 2016 field research destinations.

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute and the American Philosophical Society are pleased to announce the selections for the 2016 Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology. These graduate students, postdocs, and early-career scientists listed below will embark on field studies in astrobiology at destinations from Chile to Iceland and New Mexico to Japan.

    Joany Babilonia
    University of Florida
    Project: Unraveling the Global Microbiome Core of Stromatolites
    Location: Ruidera Pool, Spain

    Megan Bedell
    University of Chicago
    Project: Exploring the Formation of Rocky Worlds with the Solar Twin Planet Search
    Location: HARPS Spectrograph, Chile

    Sarah Black
    University of Colorado ...

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  1. Ancient Supernovae Were Close Enough to Buffet Biology on Earth with Radiation Dose, Researcher Says


    Image source: NASA Image credit: None
    Image source: NASA

    Research published in April provided “slam dunk” evidence of two prehistoric supernovae exploding about 300 light years from Earth. Now, a follow-up investigation based on computer modeling shows those supernovae likely exposed biology on our planet to a long-lasting gust of cosmic radiation, which also affected the atmosphere.

    “I was surprised to see as much effect as there was,” said Adrian Melott, professor of physics at the University of Kansas, who co-authored the new paper appearing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a peer-reviewed express scientific journal that allows astrophysicists to rapidly publish short notices of significant original research.

    “I was ...

    Source: [University of Kansas]

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  1. A Corrected Genome Sequence for Bacillus pumilus strain SAFR-032


    Artist impression of a strand of DNA. Image credit: None
    Artist impression of a strand of DNA. Authors of the PLOSOne article from left to right: Victor Stepanov (University of Houston), Madhan Tirumalai (U of H), Saied Montazari (U of H), Aleksandra Checinska (NASA JPL), Kasthuri Venkateswaran (NASA JPL), and George E Fox (U of H) Image credit: Madhan Tirumalai
    Authors of the PLOSOne article from left to right: Victor Stepanov (University of Houston), Madhan Tirumalai (U of H), Saied Montazari (U of H), Aleksandra Checinska (NASA JPL), Kasthuri Venkateswaran (NASA JPL), and George E Fox (U of H)

    Source: [PLOS One]

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  1. Honing in on the Great Oxygenation Event


    Researchers looked for a particular sulfur isotope pattern called mass-independent fraction of sulfur isotopes (S-MIF) to determine when oxygen first appeared in the Earth’s atmosphere. Photo source: MIT. Image credit: None
    Researchers looked for a particular sulfur isotope pattern called mass-independent fraction of sulfur isotopes (S-MIF) to determine when oxygen first appeared in the Earth’s atmosphere. Photo source: MIT.

    Scientist at MIT have identified the date of the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) on Earth, a period of climate change when oxygen became permanently abundant in our atmosphere and provided a step towards the development of complex life on our planet.

    The research, published in Science Advances, posits the rapid oxygenation of Earth at 2.33 billion years ago, plus or minus 7 million years—the most narrowed down estimate to date. These numbers were found by analyzing shifts in the sulfur isotope pattern of pyrite in sediment cores from South Africa. MIT News released a story detailing the research ...

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  1. Underground Life Powered by Electrons


    Scanning electron microscopy showing attachment of Delftia sp. WE1-13 on carbon cloth fibers, and in vivo fluorescent image of Delftia sp. WE1-13 cells attached to an electrode during electrochemical analysis. Image source: Y. Jangir and M.Y. El-Naggar (USC). Image credit: None
    Scanning electron microscopy showing attachment of Delftia sp. WE1-13 on carbon cloth fibers, and in vivo fluorescent image of Delftia sp. WE1-13 cells attached to an electrode during electrochemical analysis. Image source: Y. Jangir and M.Y. El-Naggar (USC).

    Scientists from the University of Southern California Life Underground team are taking a close look at microorganisms that have developed unique strategies for surviving below the Earth’s surface in oxygen-poor but mineral-rich environments.

    In the research paper “Isolation and characterization of electrochemically active subsurface Delftia and Azonexus species,” published in Frontiers of Microbiology, the scientists analyze microbes within a fractured-rock aquifer in Death Valley, CA, using electrodes to draw out and isolate types that gain energy through a process called extracellular electron transfer (EET).

    The study is part of growing research on microorganisms able to “live off of electricity ...

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  1. Fourth Library of Congress Astrobiology Chair Announced


    Luis Campos named fourth Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair. Photo credits: University of New Mexico/Library of Congress. Image credit:
    Luis Campos named fourth Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair. Photo credits: University of New Mexico/Library of Congress.

    Luis Campos has been selected as the fourth Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center.

    Campos is a senior fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, where he also teaches the history of science. His writings include “Radium and the Secret of Life,” and he is co-editor of “Making Mutations: Objects, Practices, Contexts.”

    His yearlong residency at the Kluge Center begins October 1. Campos will focus on the intersection between astrobiology and synthetic biology, examining the ...

    Source: [Library of Congress]

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  1. Where Is the Habitable Zone for M-Dwarf Stars?


    While we know that yellow dwarf stars like our sun are capable of supporting life, there’s another star type that is a prime hunting ground for potentially habitable exoplanets.

    M-dwarf stars are extremely common in the Universe and a typical one is relatively small and dim, making it easy for astronomers to detect a passing planet. If orbiting planets huddle close enough to an M-dwarf, in theory they could fall within the habitable zone where surface liquid water, and thus life, is possible.

    Artist’s impression of a M dwarf star surrounded by planets. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
    Artist’s impression of a M dwarf star surrounded by planets.

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. Europa's Ocean May Have an Earthlike Chemical Balance


    Image credit: None

    The ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa could have the necessary balance of chemical energy for life, even if the moon lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity, finds a new study.

    Europa is strongly believed to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath its icy shell. Whether the Jovian moon has the raw materials and chemical energy in the right proportions to support biology is a topic of intense scientific interest. The answer may hinge on whether Europa has environments where chemicals are matched in the right proportions to power biological processes. Life on Earth exploits such niches.

    In the ...

    Source: [American Geophysical Union]

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  1. A Possible Solution to the “Faint Young Sun Paradox” in Primordial Asteroid Impacts


    SwRI scientists created a new model for impact-generated outgassing on the early Earth. A large impact creates a transient high temperature atmosphere. Within a thousand years, the atmosphere condenses, while deep-seated, impact-generated melt spreads across the surface. The model shows how pools of lava could release gases and create a greenhouse effect that warmed the planet.  Image credit: Simone Marchi (SwRI), Benjamin Black (City College of New York)
    SwRI scientists created a new model for impact-generated outgassing on the early Earth. A large impact creates a transient high temperature atmosphere. Within a thousand years, the atmosphere condenses, while deep-seated, impact-generated melt spreads across the surface. The model shows how pools of lava could release gases and create a greenhouse effect that warmed the planet.

    In the first billion years of Earth’s history, the planet was bombarded by primordial asteroids, while a faint Sun provided much less heat. A Southwest Research Institute-led team posits that this tumultuous beginning may have ultimately fostered life on Earth, particularly in terms of sustaining liquid water.

    “The early impacts caused temporary, localized destruction and hostile conditions for life. But at the same time, they had a long-term beneficial effect in stabilizing surface temperatures and delivering key elements for life as we know it,” said Dr. Simone Marchi, a senior research scientist at SwRI’s Planetary Science Directorate in ...

    Source: [Southwest Research Institute]

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  1. Watching ‘Jumping Genes’ in Action


    A bacterial colony showing individual cells undergoing transposable element events, resulting in blue fluorescence. Images are shown at (a) t = 0, (b) t = 40 min, and (c) t = 60 min, with arrows indicating newly occurring events in each image. Image courtesy of T.E. Kuhlman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reproduced with permission from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Image credit: None
    A bacterial colony showing individual cells undergoing transposable element events, resulting in blue fluorescence. Images are shown at (a) t = 0, (b) t = 40 min, and (c) t = 60 min, with arrows indicating newly occurring events in each image. Image courtesy of T.E. Kuhlman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reproduced with permission from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

    “Jumping genes” are ubiquitous. Every domain of life hosts these sequences of DNA that can “jump” from one position to another along a chromosome; in fact, nearly half the human genome is made up of jumping genes. Depending on their specific excision and insertion points, jumping genes can interrupt or trigger gene expression, driving genetic mutation and contributing to cell diversification. Since their discovery in the 1940s, researchers have been able to study the behavior of these jumping genes, generally known as transposons or transposable elements (TE), primarily through indirect methods that infer individual activity from bulk results. However, such ...

    Source: [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]

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