2006 Annual Science Report

Carnegie Institution of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2005 – JUN 2006

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 ... Continue reading.

Field Sites
51 Institutions
7 Project Reports
0 Publications
0 Field Sites

Project Reports

  • Project 7. Astrobiotechnology

    Co-Investigator Steele and colleagues have continued to develop the Modular Assays for Solar System Exploration (MASSE) concept, which uses microfluidic technology to incubate a DNA or protein microarray.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.2 5.3 6.2 7.1
  • Project 5. Life in Extreme Environments

    The behavior of H2O under pressure underlies the work of Co-Investigator Hemley and his colleagues in prebiotic chemistry and high-pressure microbiology. Collaborator Yukihiro Yoshimura documented new transformations in ice by X-ray diffraction and Raman spectroscopy.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 5.1 5.3 6.2
  • Project 3. Prebiotic Chemical and Isotopic Evolution on Earth

    In the past year Doctoral Student David Johnston and Co-I Farquhar determined for the first time the different types of isotopic signatures produced by different sulfur metabolisms. including sulfate-reducing bacteria, sulfite-disproportionating bacteria, and sulfur-disproportionating bacteria. These observations permitted calibration of the first global sulfur isotope models.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 4.1 4.2 7.1
  • Project 2. Extraterrestrial Materials: Origin and Evolution of Organic Matter and Water in the Solar System

    The abundant organic compounds in primitive meteorites and interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) are thought to originate largely in the interstellar medium. However, this material may have been modified in the protoplanetary disk and has been modified to varying extents in the asteroidal parent bodies.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 2.1 3.1
  • Project 4. Prebiotic Molecular Selection and Organization

    Studies in molecular self-organization continued to focus on amphiphilic molecules, which are molecules that possess both hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions. These molecules tend to self-organize spontaneously in an aqueous environment.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4 4.1 7.1
  • Project 1. From Molecular Clouds to Habitable Planetary Systems

    The work this year of Co-Investigator Chambers involved the development of a model for the oligarchic growth stage of planet formation, a key stage that determines many of the final characteristics of a planetary system

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 1.2 2.1 3.1 7.2
  • Project 6. Molecular and Isotopic Biosignatures

    Co-Investigator Steele and Postdoctoral Fellow Marc Fries used the new WiTec Raman imaging system to begin the examination of in situ carbon formation in a variety of samples, including Precambrian rocks and samples from a Mars analog site in Svalbard.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 2.1 3.1 4.1 4.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2