Pennsylvania State University
07/1998 - 10/2003 (CAN 1)

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The Penn State Astrobiology Research Center

The major goal of the research being conducted at the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center (PSARC) is to increase our understanding of the connection between the changes in the environment of the early Earth and the changes in the biota on Earth, especially during the period between 4.5 billion to 500 million years ago. Here we are mainly concerned with the origin of life and the evolution and extinction of important organisms, including archaea, oxygen-producing cyanobacteria, eukaryotes, and early animals. The term “environment” refers specifically to the chemistry of the atmosphere (especially the concentrations of oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane), the chemical and thermal structure of the ocean (especially its redox state), and climate. The above research goal is being pursued by multidisciplinary research, including theoretical modeling of pre-biotic atmospheric chemistry, laboratory experiments to synthesize organic compounds, analyses of the structures and roles of metallo enzymes in archaea, molecular genetic analyses of major organisms, and geochemical and paleontological investigations of a variety of Precambrian rocks. The results of this research will greatly enhance our ability to predict the future of life on Earth and to identify the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. The following outline summarizes the specific projects being conducted at the PARC.

  • Environment of prebiotic Earth and the origin of life
    • Experimental Approach
    • Prebiotic chemistry of hydrogen cyanide
  • Biochemistry of Archea and Bacteria
    • Enzymes of ancient metabolic pathways
    • Biochemistry of psychrophilic organisms
  • Microbe-mineral interactions
  • GEOPULSE: Gene Expression of Observations for Planetary Life Study
  • Timescale for the evolution of life on Earth: Molecular evolution approach
  • Evolution of atmospheric O2, climate, and the terrestrial biosphere
  • Causes and consequences of the diversification and extinction of metazoans
    • Neoproteroozoic variations
    • Paleontological approach

Annual Reports