2004 Annual Science Report

Carnegie Institution of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2003 – JUN 2004

Executive Summary

The NAI team led by the Carnegie Institution of Washington is studying the evolution of organic compounds from prebiotic molecular synthesis and organization to cellular evolution and diversification. Our program attempts to integrate the sweeping narrative of life’s history through a combination of bottom-up and top-down studies. On the one hand, we study processes related to chemical and physical evolution in plausible prebiotic environments — the interstellar medium, circumstellar disks, extrasolar planetary systems, the primitive Earth, and other Solar System objects. Complementary to these bottom-up investigations of life’s origin, we carry out field and experimental top-down efforts to document the nature of microbial life at extreme conditions and the characterization of organic matter in ancient fossils. Both types of efforts inform our development of biotechnological approaches to life detection on other worlds.

Our team’s research activities focuses on life’s chemical and physical evolution, from the ...

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31 Institutions
7 Project Reports
0 Publications
0 Field Sites

Project Reports

  • Astrobiotechnology

    The development of new technology to carry out in situ experiments to address astrobiological questions is an important goal of NAI, underscored this year by the formation of an Astrobiotechnology Focus Group.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.1 3.2 4.2 7.1
  • Life in Extreme Environments

    Our team is interested in examining (1) the diverse mechanisms utilized by life to survive extremes of temperature, pressure, salinity and nutrient limitation, (2) the response of life to fundamental changes in the properties water, and (3) how the unique biochemistry associated with extremes can be used for life detection.

  • Prebiotic Chemical and Isotopic Evolution on Earth

    Sulfur fractionated by enzymatic catalysis has been harvested in the laboratory from living cultures of sulfur-metabolizing microbes and analyzed for 32S-33S-34S.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 4.1 6.1 7.1
  • From Molecular Clouds to Habitable Planetary Systems

    Co-I Weinberger pursued studies of young stars to assess the number with circumstellar disks as a function of age and to measure detailed properties of extant disks. Using the Keck Observatory, she searched for disks around stars of age 10 to 100 Million years (Myr) using sensitive 12- and 18-µm photometry.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1
  • Extraterrestrial Materials: Origin and Evolution of Organic Matter and Water in the Solar System

    Interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) are typically several microns in diameter and contain carbon and other materials with structure on a scale of tens- to hundreds-of-nanometers across

  • Prebiotic Molecular Selection and Organization

    Life emerged on Earth as a geochemical process, the consequence of ancient interactions among rocks, water, and gases.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4 7.1
  • Biosignatures and Abiosignatures

    Rare samples from the Upper Oligocene Enspel Formation in Germany have previously been shown to contain exceptionally well-preserved bacterial fossils.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.2 4.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 7.1 7.2