Archives

January 2008


Astrobiology Science News 31 January 2008

This past summer, NAI participated in organizing a special weekend workshop held at NASA Ames Research Center entitled "The Future of Intelligence in the Cosmos." The workshop brought together internationally renown scientists and thinkers to explore potential scenarios for the evolution of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. The talks were organized into sessions including The Fermi Paradox, Cultural Evolution, The Nature of Intelligence, and Technological Evolution, followed by several breakout sessions. The proceedings are now available for download at: http://event.arc.nasa.gov/main/home/reports/CP2007-214567_Langhoff.pdf

[Source: NAI newsletter]

The SETI Institute is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2008 REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program in Astrobiology. Undergraduate students in fields such as astronomy, biology, geology, chemistry, and physics are invited to apply to spend 10 weeks in the San Francisco Bay area working on a scientific research project in the field of astrobiology. Students receive a stipend, travel, and living expenses. Applications are due by February 1, 2008. For more information, visit http://www.seti.org/reu or contact Cynthia Phillips, phillips@seti.org, 650-810-0230.

Poster can be downloaded from: http://www.seti.org/pdfs/reuposter-2008.pdf

[Source: NAI newsletter]

New Astrobiology Book Published

Chris Impey from the University of Arizona is the author of the new book "The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe." Published by Random House in December, the book has been met with critical acclaim, especially in this review from the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-et-book28dec28,1,1847735.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

[Source: NAI newsletter]

Every semester, NAI sponsors an online course for teachers in astrobiology through the National Teacher Enhancement Network at Montana State University. Teachers login to the course at a time of day that best fits their schedule; it's necessary to connect at least 4 times a week, giving a commitment of 9-12 hours each week to stay current and successfully complete this 3 credit course. This semester's course runs from January 21 - May 2, 2008. For more information, go to: http://btc.montana.edu/courses/aspx/nten.aspx?TheID=162

[Source: NAI newsletter]

Upcoming Summer Astrobiology Workshops for Teachers
Astrobiology Summer Science Experience for Teachers (ASSET)
Application Deadline: February 15th
Workshop Dates: 27 July - 2 August, 2008
Workshop Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Website: http://www.seti.org/asset/

Astrobiology Laboratory Institute for Instructors (ALI'I)
Application Deadline: March 28th
Workshop Dates: 13-18 July, 2008
Workshop Location: Honolulu, HI
Website: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/UHNAI/epo/alii.htm

Earth's History: Interactions between Life and the Environment
Application Deadline: ongoing
Workshops Dates: 22-27 June, 2008
Workshop Location: Penn State University
Website: http://teachscience.psu.edu/earths_history.html

Evolution: How Important Is It to a Good Science Education
Application Deadline: ongoing
Workshops Dates: 13-18 July, 2008
Workshop Location: Penn State University
Website: http://teachscience.psu.edu/evolution.html

[Source: NAI newsletter]

Recently Published Research from the NAI

The following new papers have been published recently by NAI members. These and other recent NAI funded research are presented on the NAI website and collected in the NAI Research Highlights Archive - http://nai.arc.nasa.gov/research/. In this archive, you can link to the papers and any press materials that may have been generated about them.

In recognition of the pioneering role Stanley L. Miller played in our understanding of the origins of life, ISSOL, The International Astrobiology Society, shall present at each triennial meeting a Stanley L. Miller Award for outstanding contributions by a young scientist (under the age of 37) to origins of life research. The award is based on scientific merit without regard to nationality. The recipient will be honored during the awards banquet at the close of each triennial meeting. The next ISSOL meeting will be held in Florence from August 24-29, 2008 (http://www.dbag.unifi.it/issol2008/).

University of Colorado Virtual Seminar

January 30th: "The New Worlds Observer: A Mission to Open Up Detailed Study of Planetary Systems"

NAI will be broadcasting this virtual seminar over the web at 2pm MST on Wednesday, January 30th. Webster Cash from UC Boulder will present. Please contact Marco Boldt for information on how to join. Marco.S.Boldt@nasa.gov

Application Deadline - March 7, 2008

The NAI-MIRS Program provides opportunities for researchers from qualified minority institutions to initiate joint partnerships with researchers in the field of astrobiology. The NAI-MIRS program provides summer sabbaticals, follow-up support, and travel opportunities for faculty and students from minority institutions. The application deadline for summer 2008 is March 7th. For more information, visit http://www.nai-mirs.org. [Source: NAI newsletter]

The NAI is pleased to sponsor travel scholarships for four graduate students (senior level) or postdoctoral fellows (with less than two years of postdoctoral training) to attend the Third International Polar and Alpine Microbiology Conference, to be held in Banff, Alberta, Canada, May 11-15, 2008. See the conference website for more details: http://www.polaralpinemicrobiology.com/. Each award will provide up to $2000 to defray the cost of economy airfare from US or Canadian cities and local travel, registration and up to four nights lodging at the workshop venue (shared room, if at all possible). Travel funds will be awarded on a competitive basis.

Application Deadline - February 15, 2008

The Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology, a partnership between NAI and the American Philosophical Society (APS), is now accepting applications for astrobiological field studies for 2008. Graduate students, postdoctoral students, and junior scientists and scholars are eligible to apply for travel and related expenses, up to $5000. For more information, please see http://www.amphilsoc.org/grants/astrobiology.htm

[Source: NAI newsletter]

Join us for the next NAI Director's Seminar on Monday, February 4th at 11am PST. The seminar, "The Effect of Protoplanetary Disk Dispersal on Planet Formation," will be given by David Hollenbach of NASA Ames Research Center. For information on how to join the seminar, go to: http://nai.arc.nasa.gov/seminars/seminar_detail.cfm?ID=117.

The NAI announces, through the release of this Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN), an opportunity for the submission of team-based proposals for membership in the Institute. Proposals should clearly articulate an innovative, interdisciplinary, astrobiology research program, together with plans to advance the full scope of NAI objectives as defined in the Institute's Mission Statement. The Cooperative Agreement Notice can be accessed at: http://nspires.nasaprs.com

CAN Release Date: January 8, 2008 Notices of Intent Due: February 22, 2008

Proposals Due: April 11, 2008

[Source: NAI newsletter]

Dear Colleague, The National Science Foundation's Assembling the Tree of Life (AToL) solicitation has recently been renewed and updated (see the program solicitation, NSF 08-515; http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf08515). As in the past, the AToL competition will support creative and innovative research to resolve evolutionary relationships for large groups of organisms. The program also supports research on theory and methods and tool development for these large scale phylogenetic investigations. With this letter we wish to draw your attention to several new and/or enhanced areas of interest. Proposals in the following areas are especially encouraged:

Astrobiology Science News 16 January 2008

Astrobiology Science News 15 January 2008

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) has released NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNJ08ZSA001N, entitled "Ground-Based Studies in Space Radiobiology." This NRA solicits ground-based proposals for the Space Radiation Program Element (SRPE) components of the Human Research Program (HRP). Proposals are solicited by the SRPE in the area of Space Radiation Biology utilizing beams of high energy heavy ions simulating space radiation at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL), at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York.

NASA offers Mission PI Training Course

NASA Science Mission Directorate to Sponsor NASA Academy of Program, Project, and Engineering Leadership (APPEL) Mission Principal Investigator Training Course

Beginning in 2008, the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) will be sponsoring a series of offerings of a one-week Mission Principal Investigator (PI) Training Course to help mission PIs lead NASA science missions more effectively.

On January 8, 2008, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is releasing a Cooperative Agreement Notice (NNH08ZDA002C) soliciting new institutional members to the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

NASA intends to release a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN, Cycle-5) soliciting new institutional members to the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). The CAN will be released early in 2008, and proposals will be due approximately 90 days later. NAI CAN Cycle-5 is responsive to the recommendations of the recent NRC study (Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, 2007, http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb/).

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 819-823

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0207

A key challenge in Astrobiology is to comprehend life and its interaction with the environment at a level sufficiently fundamental to embrace the alternative biochemistries that may be encountered in a search for life elsewhere (Baross et al., 2007).

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 1023-1032

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0091

The shallow habitable region of cratonal crust deforms with a strain rate on the order of 1019 s1. This is rapid enough that small seismic events are expected on one-kilometer spatial scales and one-million-year timescales. Rock faulting has the potential to release batches of biological substrate, such as dissolved H2, permitting transient blooms.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 1006-1022

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0156

Europa is a prime target for astrobiology. The presence of a global subsurface liquid water ocean and a composition likely to contain a suite of biogenic elements make it a compelling world in the search for a second origin of life. Critical to these factors, however, may be the availability of energy for biological processes on Europa.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 987-1005

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0075

We examine means for driving hydrothermal activity in extraterrestrial oceans on planets and satellites of less than one Earth mass, with implications for sustaining a low level of biological activity over geological timescales. Assuming ocean planets have olivine-dominated lithospheres, a model for cooling-induced thermal cracking shows how variation in planet size and internal thermal energy may drive variation in the dominant type of hydrothermal system--for example, high or low temperature system or chemically driven system.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 971-986

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0096

Dissolved H2 concentrations up to the mM range and H2 levels up to 9-58% by volume in the free gas phase are reported for groundwaters at sites in the Precambrian shields of Canada and Finland. Along with previously reported dissolved H2 concentrations up to 7.4 mM for groundwaters from the Witwatersrand Basin, South Africa, these findings indicate that deep Precambrian Shield fracture waters contain some of the highest levels of dissolved H2 ever reported and represent a potentially important energy-rich environment for subsurface microbial life. The

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 951-970

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0150


Radiolysis of water may provide a continuous flux of an electron donor (molecular hydrogen) to subsurface microbial communities. We assessed the significance of this process in anoxic marine sediments by comparing calculated radiolytic H2 production rates to estimates of net (organic-fueled) respiration at several Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 201 sites. Radiolytic H2 yield calculations are based on abundances of radioactive elements (uranium, thorium, and potassium), porosity, grain density, and a model of water radiolysis. Net respiration estimates are based on fluxes of dissolved electron acceptors and their products. Comparison of radiolytic H2 yields and respiration at multiple sites suggests that radiolysis gains importance as an electron donor source as net respiration and organic carbon content decrease.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 933-950

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0119

Numerical models are employed to investigate sources of chemical energy for autotrophic microbial metabolism that develop during mixing of oxidized seawater with strongly reduced fluids discharged from ultramafic-hosted hydrothermal systems on the seafloor. Hydrothermal fluids in these systems are highly enriched in H2 and CH4 as a result of alteration of ultramafic rocks (serpentinization) in the subsurface. Based on the availability of chemical energy sources, inferences are made about the likely metabolic diversity, relative abundance, and spatial distribution of microorganisms within ultramafic-hosted systems.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 905-932

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0128

In June 2003, the geochemical composition of geothermal fluids was determined at 9 sites in the Vulcano hydrothermal system, including sediment seeps, geothermal wells, and submarine vents. Compositional data were combined with standard state reaction properties to determine the overall Gibbs free energy (

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 891-904

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0118

The common thread of energy release suggests that diverse microbial metabolic processes can be compared through thermodynamic analyses. The resulting energy and power requirements can provide quantitative constraints on habitability. Because previous thermodynamic analyses have focused on the minimum amount of energy needed for the growth of a microorganism or community, the focus of this study is to gain a fuller understanding of the microbial response to highly habitable conditions.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 873-890

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0127

Formate, a simple organic acid known to support chemotrophic hyperthermophiles, is found in hot springs of varying temperature and pH. However, it is not yet known how metabolic strategies that use formate could contribute to primary productivity in hydrothermal ecosystems. In an effort to provide a quantitative framework for assessing the role of formate metabolism, concentration data for dissolved formate and many other solutes in samples from Yellowstone hot springs were used, together with data for coexisting gas compositions, to evaluate the overall Gibbs energy for many reactions involving formate oxidation or reduction.

Actinides and Life's Origins

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 852-872

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0066

There are growing indications that life began in a radioactive beach environment. A geologic framework for the origin or support of life in a Hadean heavy mineral placer beach has been developed, based on the unique chemical properties of the lower-electronic actinides, which act as nuclear fissile and fertile fuels, radiolytic energy sources, oligomer catalysts, and coordinating ions (along with mineralogically associated lanthanides) for prototypical prebiotic homonuclear and dinuclear metalloenzymes.

Quantitative Habitability

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 839-851

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0137 A framework is proposed for a quantitative approach to studying habitability. Considerations of environmental supply and organismal demand of energy lead to the conclusions that power units are most appropriate and that the units for habitability become watts per organism.

Astrobiology December 2007, 7(6): 824-838

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0095

Habitability can be formulated as a balance between the biological demand for energy and the corresponding potential for meeting that demand by transduction of energy from the environment into biological process. The biological demand for energy is manifest in two requirements, analogous to the voltage and power requirements of an electrical device, which must both be met if life is to be supported.