1. Astrobiology Newsletter September 4, 2015


    NEWS

    RECENTLY PUBLISHED RESEARCH

    CAREER, EMPLOYMENT & FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

    UPCOMING DEADLINES IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS


    NEWS


    2014 NAI Annual Science Report Released

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) 2014 Annual Science Report is now available. The report details the accomplishments of NAI members from the September 2013 to December 2014 reporting period, including Team Executive Summaries, research progress and findings, and publication citations focused around compelling questions in astrobiology. Of particular note are several interdisciplinary and integrated science themes that reflect numerous inter-team collaborations. Reports also include field site information, seminars and workshops, education program overviews, and more.

    Browse the 2014 Annual Science Report by NAI Team reports, NAI Central reports, Astrobiology Roadmap Objectives, or by using the search function to explore the NAI’s latest discoveries and developments!

    https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/reports/annual-reports/

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    NAI Welcomes New International Partner, the Japan AstroBiology Consortium (JABC)

    Please join us in welcoming the newest Affiliate International Partner of the NAI, the Japan AstroBiology Consortium (JABC). The Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Japan have partnered to establish the JABC, whose mission is to develop the field of astrobiology, establish a community of researchers in astrobiology, support young researchers, and to be the hub for international relationships. Other organizations in Japan conducting research related to astrobiology are expected to join the JABC in the future.

    For more information, see https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/international-partners/japan-astrobiology-consortium-jabc/.

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    Nathalie Cabrol to Lead Carl Sagan Center at SETI Institute

    Nathalie Cabrol, PI of NAI SETI Team, appointed to lead Carl Sagan Center at SETI Institute. Credit: SETI Institute Nathalie Cabrol, PI of NAI SETI Team, appointed to lead Carl Sagan Center at SETI Institute. Credit: SETI Institute

    Source: [SETI Institute]

    The SETI Institute announces the appointment of Nathalie Cabrol as the lead for its multidisciplinary research programs into the nature and distribution of life beyond Earth. She will head the Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.

    Cabrol, who has been with the Institute since 1998, is an astrobiologist specializing in planetary science, and is deeply involved in efforts to explore and characterize Mars. She also develops exploration strategies for the moons of the outer solar system where the conditions essential for the origin and sustenance of life are present. She is conducting research at Mars analog sites in the Andes, and in particular the adaptation strategies of life in these extreme environments. Cabrol was the spokesperson for the selection of Gusev crater as the landing site for the Spirit Rover, and is a science team member for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission.

    “Over its thirty-year history, the SETI Institute has grown from a group of visionary scientists who search for evidence of technologically advanced civilizations to an organization embracing the full breadth of astrobiology research,” says President and CEO Bill Diamond. “This includes solar system exploration, the discovery of exoplanets, fundamental astrophysics, and both radio and optical SETI experiments.”

    Cabrol has extensively published in academic journals, and is the author of several books on the subjects of planetary science and terrestrial extreme environments. She is the recipient of NASA and other research awards. Cabrol is a Wings Worldquest Carey Fellow and was elected Air and Space Wings Worldquest Woman of Discovery. She is a frequent lecturer in both academic and public settings.

    The full press release is available through the SETI Institute.

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    NAI Scientists Receive Awards and Distinctions

    Geronimo Villanueva receives the Harold C. Urey Prize, Yuk Yung receives the Gerard P. Kuiper Prize, and Andrew Knoll becomes a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. Credits: NASA Goddard/Jose Aponte, Geronimo Villanueva receives the Harold C. Urey Prize, Yuk Yung receives the Gerard P. Kuiper Prize, and Andrew Knoll becomes a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. Credits: NASA Goddard/Jose Aponte, DPS AAS, Royal Society.

    Two NAI Recipients of 2015 AAS Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) Awards
    [Source: Divison for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society]

    Geronimo Villanueva of the NAI NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center team received the Harold C. Urey Prize, which recognizes early career scientists who have made outstanding achievements in planetary science. His work has ranged from instrument design to spectroscopy to observational astronomy to programming and data analysis. Villanueva’s areas of research have included observing and charting the atmosphere of Mars and analyzing and modeling comets. He specializes in the search for organic molecules.

    Yuk Yung of the NAI Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington team was honored with the Gerard P. Kuiper Prize. The award is given to those who have made outstanding contributions to planetary science. Yung is known for forwarding atmospheric photochemistry, global habitability and climate change, radiative transfer, and atmospheric evolution. Considered a founding father of planetary atmospheric chemistry, his models have been applied to results from numerous spacecraft missions including Vikings, Cassini and New Horizons.

    More on the DPS awards can be found at http://dps.aas.org/prizes/2015.

    Andrew Knoll Honored by Royal Society
    [Source: The Royal Society]

    Andrew Knoll of the NAI MIT team was elected to be a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) for excellence in science. Only a few new members are selected by the Royal Society Fellows each year. Knoll received the honor in part for his research in the evolution of Earth’s surface environment in relation to the evolution of life, for pioneering the use of isotopic chemostratigraphy, and for helping to establish the Ediacaran Period, among many other achievements.

    The announcement of the ForMemRS appointment is available at
    https://royalsociety.org/people/fellowship/2015/andrew-knoll/.

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    New NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program Selections

    NASA Postdoctoral Program (http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/) NASA Postdoctoral Program (http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/)

    The NASA Astrobiology Program is pleased to welcome four new Fellows to the NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program (NPP). They are:

    Ashleigh Hood ”Integrated geochemical-petrographic insights on Earth’s oxygenation from Precambrian carbonates”
    Advisor: Noah Planavsky (NAI University of California, Riverside Team, Yale University)

    Nagayasu Nakanishi ”Investigating the early evolution of neuronal signaling mechanisms in animals”
    Advisor: Mark Martindale (Exobiology, University of Florida)

    Stephanie Weldon ”Swapping partners mid-dance: Symbiotic replacement in a tightly integrated intrabacterial, intracellular nested mutualism”
    Advisor: John McCutcheon (NAI University of Montana, Missoula team)

    Kristin Woycheese ”Methane and sulfur isotope biogeochemistry of terrestrial serpentinizing fluid seeps in the Zambales ophiolite complex”
    Advisor: Shuhei Ono (NAI University of Colorado, Boulder team, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

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    Upcoming Astrobiology Seminars

    Don’t miss the latest NAI Director’s Seminars and Early Careers Seminar. You can find more information and attend the upcoming talks remotely through the provided links.

    Searching for Life on Mars with PIXL and the Mars 2020 Rover Mission
    Presenter: Abigail Allwood, Macquarie University
    September 21, 2015, 1PM PDT
    https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/seminars/featured-seminar-channels/nai-directors-seminar-series/2015/9/21/searching-for-life-on-mars-with-pixl-and-the-mars-2020-rover-mission/

    NPP Alumni Seminar: The Synthesis of an Artificial Genetic Polymer: From Small Molecules to Proto-Nucleic Acids
    Presenter: Tammy Campbell, California Polytechnic State University
    October 5, 2015, 1PM PDT
    http://nai.nasa.gov/seminars/featured-seminar-channels/early-career-seminars/2016/3/7/the-synthesis-of-an-artificial-genetic-polymer-from-small-molecules-to-proto-nucleic-acids/:http://nai.nasa.gov/seminars/featured-seminar-channels/early-career-seminars/2016/3/7/the-synthesis-of-an-artificial-genetic-polymer-from-small-molecules-to-proto-nucleic-acids/

    Serpentinization on Mars: Observational Evidence and Theory
    Presenter: Adrian Brown, SETI Institute
    October 26, 2015, 1PM PDT
    https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/seminars/featured-seminar-channels/nai-directors-seminar-series/2015/10/26/serpentinization-on-mars-observational-evidence-and-theory/

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    NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

    This artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle This artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

    NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

    The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

    To read the full press release from NASA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-kepler-mission-discovers-bigger-older-cousin-to-earth

    For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

    A related feature story about other potentially habitable planets is online at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/finding-another-earth

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    RECENTLY PUBLISHED RESEARCH


    How Much Contamination is Okay on the Mars 2020 Rover?

    One sample return prototype would hold a cache of up to 31 samples that could be returned to Earth at a later date. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech One sample return prototype would hold a cache of up to 31 samples that could be returned to Earth at a later date. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    When the Mars 2020 rover arrives on the Red Planet, one of its primary mission goals will be to select and preserve samples that would eventually make it back to Earth for scientific study. Rather than seeking to eliminate contamination of these samples completely, essentially an impossible task, a panel of scientists and engineers met to assess the levels at which significant science could still occur.

    “The whole point of going [to Mars] and returning samples is that we don’t know what’s there and we want to find out,” Alex Sessions, of the California Institute of Technology, told Astrobiology Magazine. “This makes knowing how much contamination is acceptable a rather ambiguous task.”

    Sessions served alongside Roger Summons, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as co-chair of the Organic Contamination Panel for Mars 2020, which met to discuss the issue of Earth-side contamination.

    “We want it [contamination] to be low enough to give us a good shot at seeing what we think could be there, without being overly conservative, which could cause the mission to be so expensive the whole thing gets scrapped.”

    Read the full article here.

    The results of the study were published on the NASA Astrobiology Program website and in the journal Astrobiology. The Organic Contamination Panel was a temporary group chartered and funded by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.

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    ‘Snowball Earth’ Might Have Been Slushy

    Image credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Image credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Imagine a world without liquid water — just solid ice in all directions. It would certainly not be a place that most life forms would like to live.

    And yet our planet has gone through several frozen periods, in which a runaway climate effect led to global, or near global, ice cover. The last of these so-called “Snowball Earth” glaciations ended around 635 million years ago when complex life was just starting to develop. It’s still uncertain if ice blanketed the entire planet, or if some mechanism was able to halt the runaway.

    With support from the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program, a team of scientists has been taking global climate models — the ones most people use to predict where our planet is heading in the future — and modifying them to study where our planet has been in the past.

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    ‘Bathtub Rings’ Suggest Titan’s Dynamic Seas

    Cassini VIMS/RADAR hybrid image of filled and dry lakes south of Titan’s methane sea Ligeia Mare. Blue arrows indicate current lakes, while the white arrows point to evaporates on dry lakes. Credit: N Cassini VIMS/RADAR hybrid image of filled and dry lakes south of Titan’s methane sea Ligeia Mare. Blue arrows indicate current lakes, while the white arrows point to evaporates on dry lakes. Credit: NASA / JPL / UA

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Saturn’s moon, Titan, is the only object in the Solar System other than Earth known to have liquid on its surface. While most of the hydrocarbon lakes are found around the poles, the dry regions near the equator contain signs of evaporated material left behind like rings on a bathtub that, when combined with geological features, suggest that the location of the liquids on the moon has shifted over time.

    Researchers supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) element of the Astrobiology Program have been looking at evaporites on Titan and what they can tell us about the history of liquid at the moon’s surface. Their work was published in the journal Icarus.

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    Pathways for Life’s Origin on the Ocean Floor

    A view of a hydrothermal vent at the Main Endeavour Field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, snapped from the submersible Alvin. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution A view of a hydrothermal vent at the Main Endeavour Field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, snapped from the submersible Alvin. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Astrobiologists have uncovered two reaction pathways at hydrothermal vents that could produce organic compounds relevant to the origin of life on Earth and other worlds. For the origin of life as we know it, organic compounds need to be formed from inorganic precursors. Theories suggest that natural reactions could form these compounds at hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, where warm fluids rich in hydrogen are released.

    In a study supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program, researchers have revealed two reaction pathways that transform carbon-containing molecules into forms that life can use. Contrary to previous theories, the two pathways do not need fluids circulating in the environment. Instead, molecules are formed in small spaces in rocks where the fluids are trapped. The paper, “Pathways for abiotic organic synthesis at submarine hydrothermal fields,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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    Organics Sniffed Out on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

    Historic image of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko half an hour before Philae's first landing. Credits: European Space Agency/Rosetta/Navcam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0. Historic image of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko half an hour before Philae's first landing. Credits: European Space Agency/Rosetta/Navcam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

    While the Rosetta spacecraft orbits the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, the Philae lander, deployed from Rosetta on November 2014, has gathered data on the surface of the comet that indicate the potential existence of prebiotic organics during the early solar system.

    The lander’s Cometary Sampling and Composition (COSAC) evolved-gas analyzer utilized a “sniffing” mode, allowing molecules in the atmosphere to passively enter the instrument and then ionizing and accelerating the molecules for mass spectral interpretation. Through this method, COSAC detected a suite of 16 organic compounds, including several nitrogen-bearing species and four compounds not previously reported on other comets: methyl isocyanate, acetone, propionaldehyde, and acetamide. The detected molecules are building blocks for simple sugars, amino acids, and DNA and RNA, as pointed out by co-author Pascale Ehrenfreund from the NAI Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium.

    The paper, “Organic compounds on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko revealed by COSAC mass spectrometry,” can be found at the Science website.

    The COSAC project was supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the NASA Postdoctoral Program at Goddard Space Flight Center.

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    New Probe Gives Closer Look at Oldest Terrestrial Material

    Cathodoluminescence image of a 400-μm zircon and the 3-D map made by atom-probe tomography of a group of ~10-nm clusters of radiogenic atoms of 207Pb (yellow) and 206Pb (green) from the core of this c Cathodoluminescence image of a 400-μm zircon and the 3-D map made by atom-probe tomography of a group of ~10-nm clusters of radiogenic atoms of 207Pb (yellow) and 206Pb (green) from the core of this crystal. Credit: John Valley, University of Wisconsin.

    A recently designed probe takes the analysis of Hadean-age zircon to the level of a single atom, broadening scientists’ understanding of the ancient mineral and its relation to the history of Earth.

    In his Presidential Address to the Mineralogical Society of America last July, John Valley of the NAI team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote about development of new instruments and a combination of atom-probe tomography (APT) and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). APT magnifies sections of zircon up to a million times smaller than SIMS and identifies the mass and three-dimensional position of individual atoms. Paired with SIMS observations, the atom probe provides a fuller picture of the atomic distribution, age, effects from radiation, and crystallization and thermal history of the zircon. These findings support theories about crust formation and the existence of habitable oceans on a relatively cool Earth earlier than 4.3 billion years ago.

    The full paper, “Nano- and micro-geochronology in Hadean and Archean zircons by atom-probe tomography and SIMS: New tools for old minerals,” is available through the Mineralogical Society of America.

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    Mini-Neptunes Might Host Life Under Right Conditions

    Artist’s impression of Roche lobe overflow in a planet. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Frank Reddy Artist’s impression of Roche lobe overflow in a planet. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Frank Reddy

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Researchers with the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory Team at the University of Washington have described how mini-Neptune planets could become viable for life around M-Dwarf stars.

    M-Dwarfs are cooler than the Sun, meaning any habitable planets around them would have to be much closer to their host star. However, planets in such systems face many hazardous conditions, particularly in the early stages of formation, that could make it difficult for life to take hold.

    The study, published in the journal Astrobiology, indicates that mini-Neptunes could potentially migrate into the habitable zones of M-Dwarf stars and become habitable for life as we know it.

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    Origins of Life in a Drying Puddle

    Georgia Tech graduate student Sheng-Sheng Yu holds a sample that has been subjected to repeated cycles of wet-dry conditions. From amino acids and hydroxy acids, the process results in a mixture of po Georgia Tech graduate student Sheng-Sheng Yu holds a sample that has been subjected to repeated cycles of wet-dry conditions. From amino acids and hydroxy acids, the process results in a mixture of polyesters and peptides containing as many as 14 units. Credit: John Toon, Georgia Tech

    Anyone who’s ever noticed a water puddle drying in the sun has seen an environment that may have driven the type of chemical reactions that scientists believe were critical to the formation of life on the early Earth.

    Research at the Georgia Institute of Technology, reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, demonstrates that important molecules of contemporary life, known as polypeptides, can be formed simply by mixing amino and hydroxy acids—which are believed to have existed together on the early Earth—then subjecting them to cycles of wet and dry conditions.

    This simple process, which could have taken place in a puddle drying out in the sun and then reforming with the next rain, works because chemical bonds formed by one compound make bonds easier to form with the other.

    The research—supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Centers for Chemical Innovation Program and the NASA Astrobiology Program under the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution—supports the theory that life could have begun on dry land, perhaps even in the desert, where cycles of nighttime cooling and dew formation are followed by daytime heating and evaporation.

    Click here to read the full press release.

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    New Method Finds Best Candidates for Telescope Time

    If starlight passing through a planetary atmosphere is blocked by clouds or haze, the resulting spectrum is flat and featureless, and no molecules or potential biomarkers are visible. Credit: Kempton, If starlight passing through a planetary atmosphere is blocked by clouds or haze, the resulting spectrum is flat and featureless, and no molecules or potential biomarkers are visible. Credit: Kempton, E.M.R., 2014, Nature, 513, 493. Used with permission

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    If life exists on planets beyond our Solar System, its presence could be obscured by the haze and clouds in the planet’s atmosphere.

    Even next generation telescopes — such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as well as ground-based telescopes like the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) — will have a hard time penetrating such hazy worlds in search of biomarkers. Astronomers Amit Misra and Victoria Meadows of the University of Washington have developed a new technique to check if a planet has clear skies, which will make it easier for astrobiologists to target the most promising exoplanet candidates for life.

    Their research has been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters and was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute element of the Astrobiology Program at NASA.

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    Antarctic Offers Insights Into Life on Mars

    Operation IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger took this photo of Taylor Valley, one of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica where snow and ice are rare. Credit: NASA Operation IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger took this photo of Taylor Valley, one of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica where snow and ice are rare. Credit: NASA

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    The cold permafrost of Antarctica houses bacteria that thrive at temperatures below freezing, where water is icy and nutrients are few and far between. Oligotrophs, slow-growing organisms that prefer environments where nutrients are scarce, could provide clues as to how life could exist in the permafrost of Mars. In this vein, scientists have been studying the lethargic bacteria from the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, a row of snow-free valleys that represents one of Earth’s most extreme desert environments.

    The research was published in the journal FEMS Microbiology Ecology and was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets program.

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    NASA Researchers Find “Frozen” Recipe for Extraterrestrial Vitamin

    A picture of the aluminum plate with a chemical deposit on it. Credits: Karen Smith/NASA Goddard A picture of the aluminum plate with a chemical deposit on it. Credits: Karen Smith/NASA Goddard

    Vitamin B3 could have been made on icy dust grains in space, and later delivered to Earth by meteorites and comets, according to new laboratory experiments by a team of NASA-funded researchers. Vitamin B3, also known as niacin or nicotinic acid, is used to build NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is essential to metabolism and probably ancient in origin. The result supports a theory that the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of biologically important molecules produced in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.

    This work was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) via the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA), and the NASA Cosmochemistry Program. The study was published in Chemical Communications.

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    Barnacles Explain Life at the Extreme

    Stalked barnacles from the vent fields at the Kawio Barat volcano, Western Pacific. Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010 Stalked barnacles from the vent fields at the Kawio Barat volcano, Western Pacific. Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Barnacles — a type of marine crustacean — are highly adaptable animals. Unlike many other groups that prefer quieter waters, they like areas with a lot of activity, are hardy against dry spells that sometimes occur in tidal zones, and can even persist in waters that are becoming more acidic due to human pollution.

    Our solar system is full of icy moons – for example, Jupiter’s Europa or Saturn’s Enceladus — that likely have global oceans under their crusts. Finding out how species on Earth exist in harsh environments could help scientists understand ways life might colonize the Outer Solar System.

    “If the ecosystems there function in a similar way to the ones we have on Earth, we would expect similar processes,” said Santiago Herrera, a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the University of Toronto in Canada.
    At the time he did his research on barnacles, he was obtaining his joint doctorate in biological oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The outcome of Herrera’s barnacle research was published in January 2015 in the journal Molecular Ecology, titled “Evolutionary and biogeographical patterns of barnacles from deep-sea hydrothermal vents.”

    Herrera’s research centered on how barnacles distribute themselves in time and space. Part of his interest was driven by the effects humans may have on these marine creatures through pollution, deep-sea mining and disruption of climate patterns. But Herrera and his team was also interested in how barnacles distribute themselves in deep-sea vents, such as those found in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

    Vents are considered a proxy of the extreme conditions that might comprise an extraterrestrial habitat. Because vents often contain energy and chemicals spewing from beneath the surface, they can act as a catalyst for organisms seeking life.

    To gain more information about how the barnacles are distributed, Herrera’s team examined roughly 20 years of samples from different expeditions. All told, they had more than 100 specimens collected from several dozen vent fields worldwide.

    The work was partially funded by the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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    Solar Events Unlikely Triggers for Birth Defects on Earth

    Air showers ensuing from very-high-energy cosmic rays can enter Earth’s atmosphere from multiple directions. Credit: Simon Swordy/NASA Air showers ensuing from very-high-energy cosmic rays can enter Earth’s atmosphere from multiple directions. Credit: Simon Swordy/NASA

    Previously, studies have found that airplane crews at high altitude are exposed to potentially harmful levels of radiation from cosmic rays. But could these cosmic rays pose hazards even at sea level?

    A new NASA-funded investigation has found radiation from solar events is too weak to cause worry at ground level. Results have just been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research and are hailed as one of three “Editor’s Choice” publications for the first quarter of 2015 by Space Weather.

    The study was supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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    A Biological Source of Iron in BIFs

    Rocks at Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Minnesota, show banding caused by layers of different minerals in a sample 2.7 billion years old. Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison, http://news.wisc Rocks at Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Minnesota, show banding caused by layers of different minerals in a sample 2.7 billion years old. Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison, http://news.wisc.edu/23863

    A new study identifies sources of iron found in Banded Iron Formations (or BIFs) that were formed 2.5 billion years ago. The BIFs are sedimentary deposits formed at the bottom of Precambrian oceans on Earth, and contain distinctive layers of material. BIFs are reddish in color due to the iron they contain, and these deposits are a major source of iron used by humankind today.

    Previously, much of the iron in BIFs was thought to come from mineral-rich water released by hydrothermal vents. The new study indicates two sources of iron in BIFs from Western Australia. The first source is hydrothermal systems on the ocean floor. The second source is iron metabolized by microorganisms living along the continental shelves. The researchers suggest that a large amount of continental iron was released into the ancient ocean through microbial iron reduction. The study shows that iron in BIFs resulted from the interplay between biological and abiologic processes.

    The paper, “Biologically recycled continental iron is a major component in banded iron formations,” was published in the journal PNAS. The study was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

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    Icy Material on Pluto and Charon

    As New Horizons closes in on Pluto and Charon, it may be able to detect signs that one or both objects boast icy plumes, either now or in their past. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Phy As New Horizons closes in on Pluto and Charon, it may be able to detect signs that one or both objects boast icy plumes, either now or in their past. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    A new study of objects in the outer reaches of the solar system suggests that bodies like Pluto and Charon have the potential to support eruptions of icy material. The research indicates that if cryo-volcanism has occurred on Pluto, Charon’s surface could retain evidence of such events.

    The research was published online in the journal Icarus, and was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute team at Arizona State University.

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    CAREER, EMPLOYMENT, & FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES


    Postdoctoral Associate in Astrobiology at MIT

    There is an opportunity for a Postdoctoral Associate in Astrobiology, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), to work on research that will focus on analytical studies of organic matter in astrochemical analog materials such as meteorites and ices in order to identify amphiphiles. The position, which is associated with the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life will require collaborating closely with researchers at NASA Ames and NASA GSFC, as well as relevant MIT faculty, research staff, and postdoctoral associates in the geobiology and astrobiology community.

    Job Requirements: a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, organic geochemistry, or analytical organic chemistry. Experience in the use of GCMS, LCMS, and pyrolysis techniques is essential. For all the information and to apply, visit: http://careers.peopleclick.com/careerscp/client_mit/external/jobDetails.do?functionName=getJobDetail&jobPostId=5601&localeCode=en-us

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    Postdoctoral Position funded by ERC Consolidator Grant in La Laguna, Tenerife/Spain

    Application Open Until Filled

    ERC Consolidator Grant project PALEOCHAR is offering a 3-year postdoc position at Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife (Spain) for an experienced organic geochemist to carry out biomarker research on sediment from Neanderthal fireplaces. The project will involve a combination of organic geochemical techniques including GC-MS, GC-IRMS and PY-GCMS. This opportunity will remain open until the position is filled.

    For more information and to apply, please contact Carolina Mallol at cmallol@ull.es.

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    Volunteers Needed to Review Planetary Science Division ROSES Proposals

    The Planetary Science Division is now seeking volunteers to serve as reviewers for proposals from the following ROSES-2015 programs:
    ROSES 2015 C.19 Hayabusa2 Participating Scientist Program
    ROSES 2015 C.14 Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research
    ROSES 2015 C.9 the Mars Data Analysis Program
    ROSES 2015 C.3 Solar System Workings

    To increase the pool of un-conflicted reviewers we are seeking subject matter experts to serve as mail-in reviewers of proposals and/or in-person reviewers to engage in discussions at a face-to-face panel meeting. New researchers (including post doctoral fellows) are welcome to apply as they provide fresh insight from people close to the most current research.

    More information is available at: http://science.nasa.gov/researchers/volunteer-review-panels/

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    Postdoctoral Position in Environmental & Biomolecular Systems at the Institute of Environmental Health, Oregon Health & Science University

    Application Open Until Filled

    We seek postdoctoral (Ph.D.) candidates with multidisciplinary training in microbial biochemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, microbiology, (bio)geochemistry, environmental/aquatic chemistry or related fields and expertise with metals. Experience with bacterial culture, protein purification and analytical techniques such as ICP-MS, MIMS, x-ray absorption spectroscopy, electrochemical methods and/or UVVis spectroscopy is desired.

    As part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Alternative Earths Research Center at the University of California, Riverside, the successful candidate will study the biogeochemistry of enzymatic manganese oxide formation and fractionation of stable isotopes under different environmental conditions. The candidate should have experience and desire to work as part of a multidisciplinary team. The duties include research and publication; training, mentoring, and assisting students, postdocs, staff, etc.; care and maintenance of laboratory equipment and facilities; assisting with project reporting and development; participating in outreach activities; and serving as a liaison with the administration, other faculty and research groups. Some extended travel (including international travel) may be required.

    The candidate will join a unique, diverse, and highly interdisciplinary department in the Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems (EBS), Institute of Environmental Health. This position is located in Portland, Oregon at OHSU’s Marquam Hill Campus. This description is not intended to be all-inclusive and the incumbent will likely have additional responsibilities as required.

    To Apply: Please apply online at http://www.ohsu.edu/hr for position IRC48653 by submitting a cover letter describing your research experience and future goals, curriculum vitae, a potential start date, and contact information for suggested references. The position is available immediately.

    For questions, contact: Bradley M. Tebo, Ph.D. at tebob@ohsu.edu.

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    NASA Spaceward Bound India 2016

    Spaceward Bound, a NASA Ames initiative, is an opportunity for astrogeologists and astrobiologists to work with students in remote, off Earth analogous environments to conduct field experiments and engage in scientific discussions with participating students and science educators. Scientists from NASA’s astrobiology community are teaming up with their counterparts in Australia and India to visit Ladakh, India in August 2016 to conduct experiments in a range of research areas. Ladakh is a cold, high altitude (3000-6000m asl) desert environment that offers permafrost regions, saline and palaeolakes, and hot springs that have been shown to harbor extremophilic microbial communities. It is also a young and active geological region that exhibits topological processes which hold clues about Martian terrain history. Interested researchers/ students can contact the team with ideas/suggestions towards planned experiments at spacewardbound@astrobiologyindia.in. Follow the Spaceward Bound India team’s updates on their website, Facebook page and twitter account as they continue to refine their planned experiments, engage in webinars and prepare for the first pilot joint venture astrobiological field expedition in India! Exciting times ahead!

    Website: http://spacewardbound.astrobiologyindia.in/
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SBIndia2016
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/SB_India2016

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    Postdoctoral Position in Astrobiology in the WiscSIMS Lab at the University of Wisconsin -Madison

    Position Open Until Filled

    WiscSIMS Laboratory, http://www.geology.wisc.edu/facilities/wiscsims

    This position is sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Research will be in the early evidence and environments for life and will include in situ analysis, by ion microprobe, of sulfur 3- and 4-isotope ratios in Archean pyrite, and C, S, Si, and O isotope ratios in associated minerals and organic matter. One area of emphasis will be 3.4 to 3.5 Ga cherts from the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia. Interest in collaborative interdisciplinary research is required. Experience with astrobiology, Precambrian geology, stable isotope geochemistry, SIMS, SEM, EPMA, or mass-spectrometry is desirable.

    Submit by e-mail a cover letter, reprints of papers, and a CV with the contact information of 3 or more potential references to John Valley, at valley@geology.wisc.edu. UW-Madison is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

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    6th Annual Planetary Science Short Course

    When: September 8-14, 2015

    The Center for Planetary Science and Exploration http://cpsx.uwo.ca and the NSERC CREATE program “Technologies and Techniques for Earth and Space Exploration” http://create.uwo.ca are pleased to announce the 6th annual Planetary Science Short Course, which will run September 8th to 14th. Topics to be covered include origin of the solar system and planet formation; planetary interiors; planetary surfaces; astromaterials, planetary atmospheres; astrobiology, and exoplanets.

    Details on the course can be found here: http://cpsx.uwo.ca/study/study-1/graduate-courses/2015-ps-short-course

    This course will run at the University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada and is suitable for senior undergraduate and graduate students. Questions? Please contact cpsx@uwo.ca.

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    GSA Planetary Science Division’s Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award

    Application Deadline: September 11, 2015

    The Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award is for undergraduate or graduate students, of any nationality, working in any country, in the disciplines of geology, geophysics, geochemistry, astronomy, or biology. The award, which will include $2500, is to be applied for the study of impact craters, either on Earth or on the other solid bodies in the solar system. Areas of study may include but shall not necessarily be limited to impact cratering processes; the bodies (asteroidal or cometary) that make the impacts; or the geological, chemical, or biological results of impact cratering.

    Details about the award as well as an application form for interested students can be found at http://www.lpi.usra.edu/science/kring/Awards/Shoemaker_Award/.

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    Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life Postdoctoral Fellowship

    Application Deadline: September 18, 2015

    The Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life (SCOL) supports creative, innovative research on topics such as the astrophysical and planetary context of the origins of life, the development of prebiotic chemistry, the assembly of the first cells, the advent of Darwinian evolution and the earliest signs of life on the young Earth.

    With this program, SCOL seeks to support early-career researchers at an important inflection point in origins of life research resulting from an influx of new talent, new instrumentation, a growing global community of researchers and growth of the 'systems’ approach that connects disciplines, technologies and institutions.

    Candidates should have received their Ph.D. or equivalent degree within five years of the fellowship’s start date. Appointments last for three years, contingent upon annual progress report assessment. See full eligibility requirements here.

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    Stony Brook University Seeks Director for the Alda Center for Communicating Science

    Application Deadline: September 18, 2015

    Stony Brook University seeks an experienced, energetic leader to provide strategic direction, leadership and management for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. The Alda Center, a rapidly growing multidisciplinary center established in 2009 within Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, is widely recognized as a national leader in efforts to help current and future scientists, engineers and health professionals learn to communicate more effectively with people outside their own field, including with the general public, students, funders, policymakers, the press, and colleagues in other disciplines. The position comes with a term academic appointment.

    Required Qualifications (Evidenced by an attached resume): An advanced degree in a science, health, engineering, communications or related discipline In lieu of the Master’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree and two years of directly related full time experience may be considered. Five years of full-time relevant strategic development, leadership, and management experience in media, not-for-profit, academic or mission-driven organizations. Record of publicly recognized oral and written communication, such as invited keynote addresses; invited reviews of books or other articles in influential publications, widely-followed blogs; invited participation on public panels; high-profile media appearances; awards and prizes reflecting effective communication. Commitment to advancing science communication and public engagement with science, as demonstrated by such activities as teaching and lecturing on the subject, employment or membership in relevant organizations, published work about the topic, including presence on social media platforms; public presentations.

    Preferred Qualifications: Doctoral degree in a science, health, engineering, or communications discipline. Additional years of full-time relevant strategic development, leadership, and management experience in media, not-for-profit, academic or mission-driven organizations. Demonstrated success in building and maintaining coalitions or collaborative enterprises. Demonstrated success in raising funds from such sources as private foundations, individual philanthropists, and government grant-making agencies. Experience interacting with diverse groups, such as students, policymakers, the media, scientists in other disciplines, and members of the public. Experience interacting with people of diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Demonstrated success in teaching university courses.

    Primary Purpose/Brief Description of Duties: The overall purpose of the position is to direct the strategic development of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, including the execution of the Center’s goals and activities, supervision of the faculty and staff while representing the Center with a variety of internal and external stakeholders.
    – Strategic Direction for the goals and activities of the Center
    – Supervision of faculty and staff
    – Represent the Center to internal and external stakeholders
    – Fundraising
    – Teaching
    – Other duties or projects as assigned as appropriate to rank and departmental mission

    For more information and to apply online, go to the https://stonybrooku.taleo.net/careersection/2/jobdetail.ftl?job=1501574

    To learn more about the Alda Center, go to: http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org/

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    Vatican Observatory Foundation 2nd Annual Faith and Astronomy Workshop in Tucson, AZ

    Application Deadline: September 30

    Following their wonderful success last year, The Vatican Observatory Foundation will hold a second annual workshop in Faith and Astronomy in Tucson the week of January 11-15, 2016. Participants will get to hear talks from leading astronomers, do hands-on experiments, visit research sites in the Tucson area, and share with each other the challenges and joys of teaching parishioners about the many ways the Church has supported science and especially astronomy.

    More details can be found at http://www.vofoundation.org/ and at the blog site, The Catholic Astronomer (http://www.vofoundation.org/blog/faith-astronomy-workshop-applications-open/)

    To apply for the workshop online, visit: https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/VaticanObservatoryFoundation/fawapplication.html

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    NASA Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Awards

    Application Deadline: October 1, 2015

    The Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Awards offer research-related travel support for undergraduate, graduate students, postdocs, and junior scientists. Applicants are encouraged to use these resources to circulate among two or more laboratories supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program (Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology, the NAI, Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research, MatiSSE, PICASSO and the Habitable Worlds), however any travel that is critical for the applicant’s research will be considered. Travelers must be formally affiliated with a U.S. institution. Requests are limited to $5,000.

    To be considered for an Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award, please submit the following material to Melissa Kirven-Brooks at Melissa.Kirven-Brooks@nasa.gov
    – the team(s) and researchers you plan to visit
    – the approximate dates of travel
    – a brief description of the research you plan to conduct at the hosting laboratory (include, for example, any technique you expect to learn, or equipment you will need to use) and how the collaboration is relevant to your research
    – a budget describing what funds are required
    – letters of recommendation from your faculty advisor and from the researcher(s) you plan to visit

    For more information, go to https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/nasa-astrobiology-early-career-collaboration-award/.

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    Postdoctoral Fellowships in Interdisciplinary Research Relating to Origins of Life

    2nd Application Deadline: October 1, 2015

    The ELSI Origins Network (EON) announces the availability of post-doctoral research fellowships for research related to the Origins of Life. Ten two-year positions will be funded, to take place within the period 2016-2018.

    Successful candidates will split their time between the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) in Tokyo and another institution of the candidate’s choice, anywhere in the world. The fellowship will pay a salary for two years, which covers the time spent at both locations, as well as a generous research budget. The positions will start on or before 1st April 2016.

    EON is an interdisciplinary international network which seeks to foster dialogue and collaboration within the Origins of Life community to articulate and answer fundamental questions about the nature and the reasons for the existence of life on Earth, and possibly elsewhere in the Universe. Its goal is to bring together leading-edge research in all areas of the physical, mathematical, computational, and life sciences that bears on the emergence of life. ELSI is chartered as a Japanese World Premier International Research Center, to study the origin of Earth-like planets and the origin of life as inter-related phenomena. ELSI is located at the Ookayama campus of Tokyo Institute of Technology.

    EON-supported research addresses three overarching questions:
    1. How did life emerge on Earth?
    2. How common is life in the universe?
    3. What fundamental principles explain the emergence of life?

    Due to the split-time nature of these fellowships, the application process requires the applicant to choose a supervisor and host institution outside ELSI who will support the proposal. EON is designed to promote collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, and host institutions in all fields are welcome.

    The goal of the fellowships is cross-fertilization between specialists in Origin of Life research around the world, with a central collaborative hub at ELSI. EON aims to build a research community in which postdoctoral fellows benefit from facilities not only at ELSI but also among the centers throughout the network.

    The second deadline on 1st October will fill remaining places. Please check our web site http://eon.elsi.jp/ for more details, including the application procedure.

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    2016 Exploration Postdoctoral Fellowships at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University

    Application Deadline: October 31, 2015

    The School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at Arizona State University invites applications for the position of Exploration Postdoctoral Fellow. The fellowship provides opportunities for outstanding early-career scientists and engineers emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration. Research areas within SESE encompass astrobiology, astrophysics and cosmology, earth and planetary sciences, instrumentation and systems engineering, and science education.

    Incoming Fellows will receive an annual stipend of $61,000 with health benefits, plus $9,000 per year in discretionary research funds. A relocation allowance of up to $2,500 will be provided. Appointments will be for up to three years and shall commence on or around July 1, 2016.

    A full description of the application process is available at: http://sese.asu.edu/ExplorationPostdocFellowships.

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    2016 Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) in Astrophysics on Water in the Solar System and Beyond

    Application Deadline: October 31, 2015

    The Vatican Observatory will be holding its 2016 Summer School from May 29 to June 24. During the course of the session, students will present a short paper on their research or the research of their home institution. Field trips to visit sites of historical interest to astronomy will be included.

    Water plays an important role in the origin and chemical development of comets, asteroids, icy moons, and planets including our own Earth. It is also a necessary ingredient for life as we know it. Recent space missions, remote sensing, and laboratory research have led to considerable growth in our understanding of the role of water in the solar system and in cosmochemistry. Expert faculty will direct a comprehensive four-week course of lectures, presentations, and hands-on projects in the beautiful setting of the Papal villas outside Rome. It will be an unforgettable experience!

    No formal course credits will be given, but certification of satisfactory completion of the course will be supplied.

    For more information, visit http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana/en/summer-schools—voss-/voss2016.html

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    NASA Postdoctoral Program Opportunities in Astrobiology

    Proposal Deadline: November 1, 2015

    The NASA Postdoctoral Program will be accepting applications to the Astrobiology program opportunities on November 1. The NPP provides opportunities for Ph.D. scientists and engineers to perform research on problems largely of their own choosing, yet compatible with the research interests of the NASA Astrobiology Program. For more information see https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/nasa-astrobiology-postdoctoral-fellowship-program/.

    To apply, go to http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/.

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    California Academy of Sciences “Cluster Hiring” Ph.D.-level Scientists

    Application Deadline: November 1, 2015

    The California Academy of Sciences seeks to fill several endowed positions with Ph.D.-level scientists who do outstanding biodiversity/ecological science, focus on broader science communication & engagement, care about increasing diversity in science, connect their work to real world sustainability outcomes, and want to change the world.

    The Academy is especially seeking experts in coral reef biology, tropical rain forests, the ecology of California, and the impacts of global change on biodiversity, as well as candidates with interests in marine mammals and amphibian decline. They seek candidates with skills in “big data”, modeling, GIS, visualization, genomics, and innovative methods for field- and collections-based research. Candidates who connect their work to larger sustainability challenges are of special interest. Candidates must also show leadership in science communication and engagement, as well as an interest in increasing diversity in science.

    Visit http://calacademy.snaphire.com/jobdetails?ajid=vNXB8 for all the details and application instructions.

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    Cyanobacterial Evolution Postdoc Position at the Fournier Lab at MIT

    Application Deadline: December 15, 2015

    The Fournier Lab within the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences department at MIT is seeking qualified candidates for the position of Postdoctoral Associate for a 1-year appointment with possible extension, to begin in the Fall of 2015. Our group studies the co-evolution of microbes and planetary processes over geological timescales, investigating major questions in planetary history from a genomic perspective. Ongoing projects include microbial phylogenetics and phylometabolomics, calibration of microbial molecular clocks, horizontal gene transfer, ancestral sequence reconstruction, and genomic paleontology. Highly motivated, independent researchers with strong backgrounds in microbiology, phylogenetics, statistics, and computational biology/computer science are encouraged to apply.

    A full time postdoctoral position to research cyanobacterial evolution (advised by T. Bosak, M. Polz and G. Fournier, MIT). The project aims to improve the sampling of the cyanobacterial phylum and the understanding of its evolution through:

    1. Sequencing and annotation of the genomes of > 60 undersampled, but geologically and environmentally relevant cyanobacterial taxa;

    2. Reconstruction of major genomic events (gene additions, duplications and losses) in cyanobacterial history;

    3. Correlation of these data with major events in Earth history and correlation of events in the evolution of cyanobacteria and other organismal groups which may lack a fossil record.

    The project is funded by the Simons Early Career Investigator grants in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution. Candidates with expertise in bioinformatics and/or microbial ecology and evolution are encouraged to apply.

    CVs and three letters of recommendation should be sent to tbosak@mit.edu.

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    UPCOMING DEADLINES IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS


    September 6 – Registration Deadline for the Astrobiology and Planetary Atmospheres 2015 http://www.eso.org/sci/meetings/2015/AstroBio2015/registration/registration-open.html
    September 11 – Application Deadline for the Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award http://www.lpi.usra.edu/science/kring/Awards/Shoemaker_Award/
    September 15 – Registration Deadline for the International Meeting: Missions to Habitable Worlds http://life-origins2015.csfk.mta.hu/registration.html
    September 18 – Deadline for the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life 2016 Postdoctoral Fellowships https://www.simonsfoundation.org/funding/funding-opportunities/life-sciences/simons-collaboration-on-the-origins-of-life-2016-postdoctoral-fellowship/?utm_source=Life+Sciences+Announcements&utm_campai
    September 18 – Abstract Submission Deadline for the K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon) http://lcogt.net/k2scicon-abstract-submission/
    September 18 – Early Registration Deadline for the K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon) http://lcogt.net/k2scicon-registration/
    September 25 – Early Registration Deadline for the Paneth Kolloquium: First 10 Million Years of the Solar System http://www.paneth.eu/PanethKolloquium/Registration_%26_Abstracts.html
    September 28 – Registration Deadline for the Geological Society of America (GSA) 2015 Annual Meeting http://www.geosociety.org/meetings/
    October 5 – Astrobiology Graduates in Europe (AbGradE) Mission Design Workshop http://www.eana-net.eu/AbGradE/abgrade2015.html
    October 6 – Registration Deadline for the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) Meeting http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/leag2015/registration/
    October 6 – Registration Deadline for the 2nd International Planetary Caves Conference http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/2ndcaves2015/

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