December 2009

January 7-8, 2010 (Thursday 1:00-5:15pm and Friday 8:30am-12:00noon)
Marriott Wardman Park, Washington DC

Scientists interested in exoplanet exploration from space-based platforms are encouraged to attend the upcoming meeting of the Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG). You can review the agenda from the Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) website listed below. Note that you do not need to register for the AAS in order to attend; it's at the same location, but is a separate meeting.

Taellberg, Sweden - June 14-18, 2010.
Registration Deadline: May 1, 2010
Abstract submission Deadline: February 28, 2010

Conference Poster:

In 2010, AbGradCon, the foremost astrobiology meeting for early-career researchers, will be held in Europe for the first time in its history. Graduate students and early-career postdocs from all over the world will come together to present their research in an informal environment, to learn of the latest developments in astrobiology, to network, and to forge new collaborations. The meeting will comprise oral and poster presentations, half-day workshops and a one-day field trip to geologically instructive sites in the astrobiologically interesting Siljan impact crater. Attendees are encouraged from the very wide range of subjects pertinent to astrobiology. Financial assistance will be available to invited attendees.

Further information is available at the conference website:

[source: NAI Newsletter]

NASA astrobiologists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of RNA, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidines exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life. The study appears in the September issue of Astrobiology.

"We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space," said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth."

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Daniel Glavin has been selected by the international Meteoritical Society as the recipient of the 2010 Nier Prize. The prestigious Nier Prize is awarded to young scientists performing valuable research in fields related to meteoritics and planetary science.

Dr. Glavin was presented with the prize for his work on extraterrestrial organic chemistry. By examining carbonaceous meteorites, Glavin and his team have made important contributions toward understanding why life uses only left-handed versions of amino acids. Molecules delivered to Earth in meteorites may have played a role in life's eventual bias toward molecules of a specific orientation. The work was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For more information:

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Eric Boyd of the Montana State University Astrobiology Biogeocatalysis Research Center (MSUABRC) recently led an expedition to Robertson Glacier to examine the microbiology and geochemistry of subglacial environments as it applies to Mars exploration. The field expedition also involved researchers John Peters, director of MSUABRC, Mark Skidmore (MSU), and Matt Urschel (MSU); Everett Shock and Jeff Havig of the Arizona State University Follow the Elements team, and Kevin Hand of the Jet Propulsion Lab Icy Worlds team.

The NAI Research Scholarship Program offers research-related travel support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Applicants are encouraged to use these resources to circulate among two or more NAI Teams, or participating institutions of the NAI, however any travel that is critical for the applicant's research will be considered. There are two award cycles per year with deadlines of April 1 and October 1.

The NAI has selected the following students and postdoctoral fellows for awards in this cycle:

Mark Claire, University of Washington
Travel to Penn State University for collaboration with Jim Kasting
Advisors: Vikki Meadows, Jim Kasting

Noah Planavsky, University of California, Riverside
Travel to Northwestern Ontario in Spring 2010
Graduate Advisor: Tim Lyons

Dominic Papineau, Carnegie Institution of Washington
Travel to University of Hawaii to work with Gary Huss
Advisor: Marilyn Fogel

Meredith Perry, Pennsylvania State University
Travel to the Mojave Desert to examine Precambrian stromatolites
Advisor: Jane Dmochowski

For more information:

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Established in 2006, the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) is the focal point for earth and space science and engineering at Arizona State University, one of the largest and fastest growing institutions of higher learning in the United States. An essential part of the SESE mission is an effective integration of disciplines such as astrophysics, biogeochemistry, geology, geophysics, hydrology and engineering for scientific exploration.

The Planets, Life, and the Universe Astrobiology Lecture Series is supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Space Studies Initiative and the Department of Biology of The Johns Hopkins University.

Upcoming Lectures:

Jamie Elsila Cook (GSFC/Goddard Center for Astrobiology), "Cometary Amino Acids from the STARDUST Mission" Dec 4, 2009, 12:00p - 2:30pm EST

Stephen Mojzsis (University of Colorado), "Habitability of the Hadean Earth" Jan 8, 2010, 12:00pm - 2:30pm EST

More information and webcast information is available at

Researchers from the Carnegie Institution of Washington and their colleagues have published a paper entitled "The Carnegie Astrometric Planet Search Program," in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The paper describes an astrometric search for gas giant planets and brown dwarfs orbiting nearby low-mass dwarf stars, using the 2.5 m du Pont Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Loren Williams, "Where Did Protein Come From?"

Date/Time: Tuesday December 8, 2009 2:30PM Pacific

Speaker: Loren Williams (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Abstract: Ribosomes are RNA-based macromolecular machines responsible for the synthesis of all proteins in all living organisms. Ribosomes are the most ancient of life's macromolecules and are our most direct link to the deep evolutionary past, beyond the base of the phyologenetic tree. The recent availability of high resolution 3D structures of ribosomes provides us with new methods of detection and inference. We will discuss methods for resurrection and biochemical characterization of aboriginal ribosomes.

For more information and participation instructions:

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Appearing in the Nov. 27, 2009, issue (Vol. 284, No. 48) of JBC: A key question in the origin of biological molecules like RNA and DNA is how they first came together billions of years ago from simple precursors. Now, in a study appearing in this week's JBC, researchers in Italy have reconstructed one of the earliest evolutionary steps yet: generating long chains of RNA from individual subunits using nothing but warm water.

Many researchers believe that RNA was one of the first biological molecules present, before DNA and proteins; however, there has been little success in recreating the formation on RNA from simple "prebiotic" molecules that likely were present on primordial earth billions of years ago.
Now, Ernesto Di Mauro and colleagues found that ancient molecules called cyclic nucleotides can merge together in water and form polymers over 100 nucleotides long in water ranging from 40-90 *C -similar to water temperatures on ancient Earth.