2001 Annual Science Report

Pennsylvania State University Reporting  |  JUL 2000 – JUN 2001

Executive Summary

Executive Summary – PSU (dm)

The Penn State Astrobiology Research Center (PSARC) is composed of 16 Full Members (PI and Co-I’s) who are full-time faculty members of The Pennsylvania State University (Arthur, Brantley, Brenchley, Ferry, Freeman, Hedges, House, Kasting, Kump, Minard, Nei, Ohmoto, Patzkowsky), the University of Pittsburgh (Capo, Stewart), or the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Schoonen), plus their research staff (post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, technicians), and administrative staff. During the third year with NAI, a large number of people have been involved in the research activities of the PSARC, including 8 Research Associates, 27 graduate students, 12 undergraduate students, 2 technicians, 1 Administrative Assistant, and 2 IT assistants. We also have 26 active Associate Members who are collaborating with the Full Members, as well as many other researchers with our Co-Investigators. Currently, we also have 4 Associate Members who are in Education and Public Outreach, supporting PSARC activities.

The main goal of research at PSARC has been to increase our understanding of the connection (interplay) between the environment and the biota on Earth, especially during the early stage of evolution. Attainment of this goal will greatly enhance our ability to predict and identify life elsewhere in the solar system. The above goal has been pursued primarily from multidisciplinary and multidimensional research focused on the following topics:

1. Environment of prebiotic Earth and the origin of life
a. Experimental Approach (Schoonen, Kasting, Minard)
b. Prebiotic chemistry of hydrogen cyanide (Minard)
1. Biochemistry of Archea and Bacteria
a. Enzymes of ancient metabolic pathways (Ferry)
b. Biochemistry of psychrophilic organisms (Brenchley)
1. Microbe-mineral interactions (Brantley)
2. GEOPULSE: Gene Expression of Observations for Planetary Life Study (House, Ferry, Freeman, Brantley)
3. Timescale for the evolution of life on Earth: Molecular evolution approach (Hedges and Nei)
4. Evolution of atmospheric O2, climate, and the terrestrial biosphere (Kump, Kasting, Ohmoto, Capo, and Stewart)
5. Causes and consequences of the diversification and extinction of metazoans
a. Neoproteroozoic variations (Arthur)
b. Paleontological approach (Patzkowsky)

Excellent progress has been made in all phases of our research projects. A total of 48 papers related to NAI, excluding those in press, were published by the PSARC members during thius yeas. The PSARC members also gave more than 82 presentations at various international/national scientific meetings.