Virus Focus Group


Ken Stedman, Co-Chair
Portland State University
Portland, Oregon

The purpose of the NAI Virus Focus Group is to provide a forum for researchers from many disciplines, both within the NAI and the broader science community, to define and address fundamental questions in astrovirology, review the current state of knowledge in this area, and formulate new areas of research to advance our understanding of how viruses may have influenced the origin and evolution of life here on Earth, and perhaps elsewhere in the Solar System.


Berliner Aaron J., Mochizuki Tomohiro, and Stedman Kenneth M. Astrovirology: Viruses at Large in the Universe. Astrobiology. January 2018, ahead of print.

Viruses can coat themselves in silica glass to protect themselves, like donning a suit of armor. This finding has implications for the search for life on other planets such as Mars.
Laidler, J., Shugart, J., Cady, S., Bahjat, K., Stedman, K. “Reversible Inactivation and Desiccation Tolerance of Silicified Viruses.” J. Virol. 10.1128/JVL.02825-13.

Kenneth Stedman, Baruch S. Blumberg. Astrobiology. 2005, 5(4): 441-443.
doi:10.1089/ast.2005.5.441. The NASA Astrobiology Institute Virus Focus
Group Workshop and Field Trip to Mono and Mammoth Lakes, CA, June 22–24,
2004 Link

A report of the NAI Virus Focus Group Field Trip to Mono and Mammoth Lakes, California June 22-25, 2004 Link

Related Links

Viruses Relevant to Space Exploration: Marist College Scientist Infected
with Curiosity Link

Virus Hunters Link

NAI Director’s Seminar: Quo vadis Astrovirology? presented by Ken Stedman (Portland State University) October 25, 2010


ViFoG/Astrovirology Meeting at AbSciCon 2019

At the AbSciCon 2019 conference GaryTrubl, Kathy Bywaters, Ken Stedman, and Penny Boston held an Astrovirologymeeting. The goals of this meeting were to plan an Astrovirology workshop without walls this fall, hear from the ‘virus-interested’ community on what they want to see at the workshop, and network. The meeting was a success with ~30 attendees encompassing undergraduate and graduate students, teachers, postdocs, professors, and research scientists. We established the workshop would be held this September over two half days in order to have availability for international involvement (the final dates and time are TBA). Some of the topics the group wanted to hear about at the workshop were: the origin of viruses and their involvement in the evolution of life, defining a virus, different approaches to characterize viruses (e.g. metagenomics), virus ecology in different biomes, viruses as biosignatures and life detection, and synthetic biology.


Virus Focus Group Meeting Report:

AbSciCon15 – Chicago, Illinois 15 June 2015.

15 budding astrovirologists found their way to the Boulevard B room at the AbSciCon15 meeting in Chicago on June 15, 2015. After introductions and a brief presentation of the history and mission of the Virus Focus Group (ViFoG) by chair Ken Stedman, Portland State University, there was a lively discussion of what direction the Virus Focus Group should go.

Most of the participants, more than ½ of them students, did not even know that a ViFoG Website existed. All were added to the list of members at the meeting. It was also suggested that the website be updated. In addition to discussion and information, it was suggested that tools for Astrobiology and contacts be publicized on the website. Aaron Berliner from Autodesk volunteered to help with website updating.

A white paper or review article was suggested. Ken is working on one of these for Astrobiology, the journal for this coming summer.

Given the history of workshops and field trips by the ViFoG, Penny Boston, New Mexico Tech suggested a future workshop and field trip based on cave virology to great interest. Penny also suggested a pre-meeting workshop at a future Astrobiology meeting, possibly before the next AbSciCon, Virology for Astrobiologists or something similar. There was also discussion of trying to connect the ViFoG with human space flight and medical viruses that are critical to understand for space flight, particularly longer missions.

The current and new members of the ViFoG are also greatly appreciative of the support which they have had from NAI-central, particularly Melissa Kirven-Brooks.


Ken Stedman, co-chair of the ViFoG, attended the Viruses of Microbes meeting, held from June 21 – 25, 2010 at the Institute Pasteur in Paris, France Report