Researchers are studying how environmental context can help determine whether oxygen (O2) detected in extrasolar planetary observations is more likely to have a biological source
Nigel Goldenfeld (left) and Chi Xue (right) have developed a model that reveals an 'arms race' between bacteria and viruses that may help to solve the diversity paradox. Source: UIUC
A remarkable biodiversity exists on Earth. When many species are competing for the same finite resource, a theory called competitive exclusion suggests one species will outperform the others and drive them to extinction, limiting biodiversity. But this isn’t what we observe in nature – a phenomenon known as the diversity paradox.
Chi Xue, graduate student in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC), and Nigel Goldenfeld, Swanlund professor in physics at UIUC and PI of the NASA Astrobiology Institute based at UIUC, have developed a stochastic model that accounts for multiple factors observed in ecosystems, including competition among species and simultaneous predation on the competing species. Their results reveal a coevolutionary microbial ‘arms race’ that may yield a possible solution to the diversity paradox.
The paper, “Coevolution Maintains Diversity in the Stochastic ‘Kill the Winner’ Model” is published in Physics Review Letters.
A press release is available through the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Source: [Physics Review Letters (via UIUC)]January 31, 2018 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
On January 16, 2018, Dr. Jim Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, joined the NASA Astrobiology Institute to present the latest happenings in NASA Planetary Science, providing an overview of upcoming missions and activities related to astrobiology.
A recording of the seminar is available to watch.
Source: [NAI Seminars and Workshops]January 26, 2018 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
Composite image sources: Creative Commons, NASA.
In a recent paper published in Astrobiology, Kenneth Stedman, professor of biology at Portland State University and Chair of the Astrobiology Virus Focus Group supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and his colleagues point to the significance of viruses in the evolution of life on Earth, making a case for studying viruses in space and the role viruses might play as biomarkers in the search for life beyond our planet.
“Astrovirology: Viruses at Large in the Universe” provides a comprehensive review of virology and the state of astrovirology, and aims to inspire stronger integration of virus research in the future of astrobiology.
A press release is available through Portland State University.
Source: [Astrobiology (via PSU)]January 23, 2018 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
SIMS analysis of Primaevifilum amoenum, an Apex chert microfossil found in Western Australia, is interpreted to be a methane-consuming γ-Proteobacterium. Source: J.W. Schopf, UCLA.
J. William Schopf, professor of paleobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with scientists at UCLA and the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teamed up with John Valley, professor of geoscience at UW-Madison and member of NAI’s UW-Madison team, to analyze eleven species of microscopic fossils first discovered in Western Australia in 1993. Their analysis revealed a diversity of microbes that place the possible emergence of life on Earth at around 4 billion years ago—earlier than previously assumed.
The study, “SIMS analyses of the oldest known assemblage of microfossils document their taxon-correlated carbon isotope compositions” is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: [PNAS (via UCLA and UW-Madison)]January 18, 2018 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
The deadlines for these funding opportunities for travel, research, and collaboration in astrobiology are approaching!
Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon) 2018 – February 5, 2018
The Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology – February 15, 2018
NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program Fellowship – March 1, 2018
NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award – April 1, 2018
NASA Astrobiology Faculty Diversity Program (formerly the MIRS Program) – April 15, 2018January 11, 2018 / Written by: Miki Huynh
The 6th ELSI International Symposium: Building Bridges from Earth to Life: From Chemical Mechanism to Ancient Biology at the Tokyo Institute of Technology takes place January 9th-11th, 9AM-5PM (Japan Standard Time).
The 6th ELSI International Symposium, Building Bridges from Earth to Life: From Chemical Mechanism to Ancient Biology, begins January 9th at 9AM JST.
The webcast of the event streams live at SAGANet. To participate in the conference remotely, go to http://saganet.org/page/saganlive.January 08, 2018 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
Artist's concept of an ice-covered planet in a distant solar system, resembling what early Earth may have looked like it the right mix of microbial metabolisms and volcanic processes hadn’t warmed the climate. Source: European southern observatory (EXO) via Wikimedia Commons
Kazumi Ozaki, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Georgia Tech, with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Alternative Earths team and Chris Reinhard, a member the NASA Astrobiology Institute team at Georgia Tech, have designed an innovative model linking microbial ecosystems, volcanism, photochemistry, and atmospheric escape to enable rapid analysis of probabilities of different climate states.Their work reveals the importance of early photosynthetic life for warming Earth-like planets around dim stars.
“We think this represents a wonderful example of what understanding the early Earth brings to the broader issue of planetary habitability and atmospheric signs of life,” says Reinhard.
The paper, “Effects of primitive photosynthesis on Earth’s early climate system,” is published in Nature Geosciences.
A press release is also available at New Scientist.January 02, 2018 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
NASA proudly presents its latest podcast: Gravity Assist. Dr. Jim Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, hosts the weekly program where he chats with notable planetary scientists about our Solar System, its origin, and its evolution. The first episode debuted November 15, 2017.
Source: [NASA]December 21, 2017 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
In a new article published in Astrobiology, Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute and PI for the NASA Astrobiology Institute team at SETI, puts forth a proposition about possible past life on Mars. She suggests that just as environmental change and biological evolution are linked in a process known as coevolution on Earth, so too would have been the case on Mars, if indeed life existed there at one time. In addition, because of the unique environmental conditions on Mars—notably the collapse of its atmosphere—life would have evolved differently on Mars than it did on Earth.
Source: [SETI]December 19, 2017 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) intends to release an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for Discovery Program missions by February 2019. The Discovery Program conducts Principal Investigator (PI)-led space science investigations in SMD’s planetary programs under a not-to-exceed cost cap. It is anticipated that no more than three Discovery investigations will be selected for 9-month, $3M (RY) Phase A concept studies through this AO. At the conclusion of these concept studies, it is planned that at least one Discovery investigation will be selected to continue into Phase B and subsequent mission phases. Multiple missions may be selected if their total cost remains below the cost cap. There will be no Missions of Opportunity (MO) solicited as part of this AO nor through an accompanying Program Element Appendix to the SALMON-3 AO.
Source: [NASA Science Mission Directorate]December 15, 2017 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
Assorted microfossils from the Ediacaran Khesen Formation, Mongolia. Each fossil is on the order of 200 microns maximum dimension. Source: Yale University
A Yale-led research team has discovered a cache of embryo-like microfossils in northern Mongolia that may shed light on questions about the long-ago shift from microbes to animals on Earth. Called the Khesen Formation, the site is one of the most significant for early Earth fossils since the discovery of the Doushantuo Formation in southern China nearly 20 years ago. The Dousantuo Formation is 600 million years old; the Khesen Formation is younger, at about 540 million years old.
“Understanding how and when animals evolved has proved very difficult for paleontologists. The discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved fossil assemblage with animal embryo-like fossils gives us a new window onto a critical transition in life’s history,” said Yale graduate student Ross Anderson, first author of a study in the journal Geology.
Read the full press release by Jim Shelton at YaleNews.
Source: [Yale]December 14, 2017 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
Close-up view of layered sedimentary rocks representative of those used in this study. Each layer records a snapshot of the Earth system over millions to billions of years. Credit: Georgia Tech / Yale - Reinhard / Planavsky
For researchers pursuing the primordial history of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, a new study might sour some “Eureka!” moments. A contemporary tool used to trace oxygen by examining ancient rock strata can produce false positives, according to the study, and the wayward results can mask as exhilarating discoveries.
Common molecules called ligands can bias the results of a popular chemical tracer called the chromium (Cr) isotope system, which is used to test sedimentary rock layers for clues about atmospheric oxygen levels during the epoch when the rock formed. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have demonstrated in the lab that many ligands could have created a signal very similar to that of molecular oxygen.
“There are some geographical locations and ancient situations where measurable signals could have been generated that had nothing to do with how much oxygen was around,” said Chris Reinhard, one of the study’s lead authors. Though the new research may impact how some recent findings are assessed, that doesn’t mean the tool isn’t useful overall.
Yuanzhi Tang and Reinhard, both assistant professors of biogeochemistry in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, published their team’s results in a study on November 17, 2017, in the journal Nature Communications.
Source: [Georgia Tech]December 12, 2017 / Written by: Georgia Tech
Saturn’s moon Enceladus has an ocean beneath the ice, and at the interface between the ocean and the rocky core, hydrothermal vents could be breeding grounds for prebiotic chemistry. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.
Laboratory experiments on Earth can now simulate the conditions under which life might emerge on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as well as other icy alien worlds, according to new research published in the September 2017 issue of the journal Astrobiology.
Since there is life virtually wherever there is water on Earth, researchers looking for alien life often focus on planets in the habitable zones of stars, which are the regions around stars where it is warm enough for worlds to possess water on their surfaces. However, in the past few decades, scientists have increasingly found evidence for oceans – and, potentially, life – hidden under the icy crusts of places such as Jupiter’s moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, and Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan.
Source: [Astrobio.net]December 08, 2017 / Written by: Charles Q. Choi
AbGradCon 2018 takes place June 4-8, 2018, preceded by a Proposal Writing Retreat on June 1-4. Source: AbGradCon.
The application period for the Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon) 2018 is now open! Abstract submission closes Monday, February 5, 2018.
AbGradCon 2018 will be held at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta from Monday, June 4th to Friday, June 8th, with a Proposal Writing Retreat (PWR) taking place from June 1st to June 4th. Applicants for AbGradCon will be able to apply for PWR at the same time as they submit their AbGradCon application. AbGradCon has funds to support a limited number of participants, with the ability to accommodate more individuals if participants are able to provide some or ...
Source: [AbGradCon]December 01, 2017 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
We are pleased to announce the selections for the October 2017 Early Career Collaboration Award (ECCA).November 27, 2017 / Posted by: Miki Huynh
- July 24 - Seminar: "Ask an Astrobiologist Featuring Dr. Jennifer Glass"
- July 30 - Early Registration Deadline for Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets III
- July 30 - Early Registration Deadline for Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets: From Stars to Surfaces (CCTP-3)
- August 1 - Abstract Submission Deadline for AGU 2018 Session P046: “The New Mars Underground”: Science and Exploration of a New Deep Frontier
- August 1 - Abstract Submission Deadline for AGU 2018 Fall Meeting
- August 1 - Abstract Submission Deadline for AGU 2018 Session B092: Understanding the Biogeochemistry of Nitrogen Inputs and Outputs from Molecular to Global Scales
- August 1 - Abstract Submission Deadline for 9th Planetary Crater Consortium Meeting
- August 1 - Registration Deadline for Experimental Analysis of the Outer Solar System Workshop
- August 1 - Abstract Submission Deadline for AGU 2018 Session P044: Super-Earth Detection, Characterization and Modeling - How Habitable Are They?
- August 1 - Abstract Submission Deadline for AGU 2018 Session P049: The Interiors of Jupiter and Saturn in the Era of Juno and Cassini
- August 1 - Application Deadline: AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science
- August 1 - Application Deadline: NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Opportunity at NASA Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory
- August 13 - Registration Deadline for Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets III
- August 13 - Registration Deadline for Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets: From Stars to Surfaces (CCTP-3)
- August 14 - Abstract Submission Deadline for Geological Society of America (GSA) 2018 Meeting
- August 15 - Application Deadline for European Planetary Science Congress 2018
- August 17 - Application Deadline: Postdoctoral Scholar Position Available in Evolutionary and Isotopic Enzymology
- August 24 - Application Deadline: ROSES-18 Amendment 13: C.23 ICEE 2 Step-2 Proposals