September 2011

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has released NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNH11ZTT002N, entitled "Research Opportunities in Space Biology." This NASA Research Announcement (NRA) solicits hypothesis-driven research proposals for both ground-based experiments and flight experiments in Space Biology (SB). All proposals must describe hypothesis-driven experiments that will answer basic questions about how cells, plants and animals respond to changes in gravity. Proposals for ground-based experiments must demonstrate and describe a clear path to hypothesis testing in space flight experiments on the ISS or other appropriate space flight platforms. This NRA also requests proposals for rapid turn-around flight research using plants or Petri dish-based biological systems that will utilize either the Advanced Biological Research System (ABRS) hardware residing on the International Space Station (ISS) or the Biological Research in Canisters - Petri Dish Fixation Unit (BRIC-PDFU) hardware on any of several potential flight platforms (based on science requirements and availability).

In 2011, and for the fourth consecutive year, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was chosen as one of 25 host institutions in the United States for the 2011 ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp (BHSSC). The EMBHSSC is a free, academic program of The Harris Foundation, which takes an active role in shaping education in students entering grade 6,7, or 8. The program is named after Bernard A. Harris, MD, an accomplished NASA astronaut, physician and entrepreneur; Dr. Harris, the first African American to walk in space, plays an active role in the Summer Science Camp program and other programs for underserved youths.

Applications are currently being accepted for the Origin of Life Gordon Research Seminar (GRS). The Origin of Life GRS is a unique forum for graduate students, post-docs, and other scientists with comparable levels of experience and education to present and exchange new data and cutting edge ideas on origin of life research. The meeting will be held January 7th-8th at Hotel Galvez in Galveston TX, immediately preceding the Origin of Life Gordon Research Conference to be held January 8th - 13th at the same location. Participants in the Origin of Life Gordon Research Seminar are encouraged to participate in the associated Origin of Life Gordon Research Conference.

For more information please visit:

Source: NAI newsletter

Locations: New York Center for Astrobiology (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and NASA Ames Research Center

The New York Center for Astrobiology expects to hire two postdoctoral researchers in the areas of observational astronomy and astrochemistry. The successful applicants will join an existing research program that seeks to identify important chemical pathways that lead from simple molecules in the interstellar medium to complex organic molecules in protoplanetary disks around newly-born stars and in primitive solar-system materials. The project represents a collaboration between researchers in the New York Center for Astrobiology (NYCA), based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) in Mountain View, CA, led by Doug Whittet and Yvonne Pendleton, respectively. It is anticipated that one appointee will be based primarily at NYCA, the other primarily at ARC.

The duties of the appointees will be matched to their prior expertise and may include: acquisition and analysis of new astronomical observations at infrared and/or radio wavelengths; research with existing databases such as the Spitzer Heritage Archive; related astrophysical and/or astrochemical modeling; interpretation of results and preparation for publication in the refereed literature. Positions will be for one year initially, with anticipated renewal for a second year dependent on availability of funds.

The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) invites applications for a Postdoctoral Fellowship with interests in the origin of Earth's water to work with the University of Hawai'i's NASA Astrobiology Institute lead team (see The UH lead team maintains an innovative and multi-disciplinary research environment linking astronomical, biological, microbiological, chemical, and geological sciences to investigate the origin, history, distribution and role of water as it relates to life in the universe. The program centers around interactions with an interdisciplinary group of postdoctoral fellows. We have a particular need for an individual interested in the origin of Earth's water, and, by analogy, terrestrial planetary volatiles. The work involves geological field work to sample primitive, deep-mantle-plume materials, preparation of samples of melt inclusions in olivines from Hawaiian and Icelandic basalts for isotopic measurements using the petrographic microscope, scanning electron microscope, and electron microprobe, and measurements of D/H ratios and hydrogen abundances in the melt inclusions using the UH Cameca ims 1280 ion microprobe. The Fellowship is for one year and may be renewable up to a total of 3 years assuming satisfactory progress and continued availability of funds. The fellow will receive a stipend of approximately $5,000 per month, a small relocation allowance and basic research costs.

Applications are now being accepted for the "Sao Paulo Advanced School of Astrobiology - Making Connections (SPASA 2011)", organized by the Department of Astronomy of the Universidade de Sao Paulo and by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, Brazil.

Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Date: December 11 to 20, 2011

Home Page:

Target audience: Undergraduate, graduate students and early career post-docs in biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, earth sciences and related areas.

Objective: Astrobiology is a multidisciplinary field that aims to study the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe, with a broad and multidisciplinary scope, requiring a constant dialogue among different areas. This is a new and very promising scientific research field, with the ambitious goal of seeking answers to some of the most complex scientific questions. The SPASA aims to bring together renowned experts from different countries with students of different fields in a multidisciplinary event that will address some of the general themes of research in astrobiology, as well as more specific topics in the frontier of science that are being developed worldwide. Stimulating the connection between topics and the exchange of knowledge among the participants is the main goal of this event.

Application Period: Until October 1, 2011, through the event website. Contact:

Selected participants from all countries will have travel and accommodation expenses covered by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation.

Source: NAI newsletter

The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at the University of Hawaii (UH) invites applications for the Beatrice Watson Parrent Postdoctoral Fellowship. We seek researchers displaying significant promise in any field of astrophysics or solar physics, including observation, theory, and instrumentation. The term of the fellowship is for up to 3 years, starting around Fall 2012. The IfA has guaranteed access to the entire suite of observational facilities on the summits of Mauna Kea and Haleakala. The IfA is also the lead institution in the Pan-STARRS PS1 wide-field optical telescope, which is carrying out a multiyear synoptic survey mission. More information is available at

The successful candidate will undertake a program of independent research and participate in the academic and scientific life of the IfA. Applicants should demonstrate outstanding promise as a researcher, as reflected by their publications and their letters of recommendation. They should have completed a Ph.D. in astronomy, physics, or equivalent areas by the start date of employment. The Fellow will be provided an annual salary of approximately $64,500, a research budget of $15,000/year, and assistance with relocation expenses to Hawaii. The Fellow will also be able to apply for UH telescope time and have access to the Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope and UKIDSS survey data.

Inquiries: Dr. Fabio Bresolin,, 808-956-8306 (Oahu).

For more information:

Source: NAI newsletter

Interested in helping scientists pinpoint where to look for signs of life on Mars? Now you can, with an exciting new citizen science website called MAPPER ( that was launched in conjunction with the Pavilion Lake Research Project's 2011 field season.

The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP,, which is supported by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, has been investigating the underwater environment of Pavilion and Kelly Lake in British Columbia, Canada with DeepWorker submersible vehicles (Nuytco Ltd, since 2008. Now with MAPPER, you can work side-by-side with NASA scientists to explore the bottom of these lakes from the perspective of a DeepWorker pilot.

The PLRP team makes use of DeepWorker subs to explore and document freshwater carbonate formations known as microbialites that thrive in Pavilion and Kelly Lake. Many scientists believe that a better understanding of how and where these rare microbialite formations develop will lead to deeper insights into where signs of life may be found on Mars and beyond. To investigate microbialite formation in detail, terabytes of video footage and photos of the lake bottom are recorded by PLRP's DeepWorker sub pilots. This data must be analyzed to determine what types of features can be found in different parts of the lake. Ultimately, detailed maps can be generated to help answer questions like "how does microbialite texture and size vary with depth?" and "why do microbialites grow in certain parts of the lake but not in others?". But before these questions can be answered, all the data must be analyzed.

Jupiter, long settled in its position as the fifth planet from our sun, was a rolling stone in its youth. Over the eons, the giant planet roamed toward the center of the solar system and back out again, at one point moving in about as close as Mars is now. The planet's travels profoundly influenced the solar system, changing the nature of the asteroid belt and making Mars smaller than it should have been. These details are based on a new model of the early solar system developed by NAI scientists at the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, and their colleagues. Their paper appears in a recent issue of Nature.

"We refer to Jupiter's path as the Grand Tack, because the big theme in this work is Jupiter migrating toward the sun and then stopping, turning around, and migrating back outward," says the paper's first author, Kevin Walsh of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. "This change in direction is like the course that a sailboat takes when it tacks around a buoy."

According to the new model, Jupiter formed in a region of space about three-and-a-half times as far from the sun as Earth is (3.5 astronomical units). Because a huge amount of gas still swirled around the sun back then, the giant planet got caught in the currents of flowing gas and started to get pulled toward the sun. Jupiter spiraled slowly inward until it settled at a distance of about 1.5 astronomical units--about where Mars is now. (Mars was not there yet.)

For more information:

Source: NAI newsletter

Among the various geochemical proxies for the presence of molecular oxygen in the environment, molecular fossils offer a unique record of oxygen where it was first produced and consumed by biology: in sunlit aquatic habitats. Steroid biosynthesis requires molecular oxygen, making the study of sterane molecular fossils important in reconstructing early environmental conditions. In a new study, NAI-funded scientists and their colleagues present evidence that microaerobic marine environments where steroid biosynthesis was possible could have been widespread and persistent for long periods of time prior to the earliest evidence for atmospheric oxygen. Their study is published in a recent issue of PNAS.

Source: NAI newsletter

Join us for the next NAI Director's Seminar! Please RSVP if your site will be joining.

Date/Time: Monday, September 26, 2011 11:00AM Pacific

Presenter: David Deamer (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Abstract: Although the physical environment that fostered primitive cellular life is still largely unconstrained, we can be reasonably confident that liquid water was required, together with a source of organic compounds and energy to drive polymerization reactions. There must also have been a process by which the compounds were sufficiently concentrated to undergo physical and chemical interactions. We are exploring self-assembly processes and polymerization reactions of organic compounds in natural hydrothermal environments and related laboratory simulations. We have found that macromolecules such as nucleic acids and proteins are readily encapsulated in membranous boundaries during wet-dry cycles such as those that would occur at the edges of hydrothermal springs in volcanic environments. The resulting structures are referred to as protocells, in that they exhibit certain properties of living cells and are models of the kinds of encapsulated macromolecular systems that would have led toward the first forms of cellular life. We have also determined that RNA-like polymers can be synthesized non-enzymatically from ordered arrays of mononucleotides in lipid microenvironments. We are now extending this approach to template-directed synthesis of DNA and RNA in which lipid-assisted polymerization serves as a model of an early stage of evolution toward an RNA World.

For more information and participation instructions:

Source: NAI newsletter

NASA-funded researchers have found more evidence meteorites can carry DNA components created in space.

Scientists have detected the building blocks of DNA in meteorites since the 1960s, but were unsure whether they were created in space or resulted from contamination by terrestrial life. The latest research indicates certain nucleobases -- the building blocks of our genetic material -- reach the Earth on meteorites in greater diversity and quantity than previously thought.

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the chemistry inside asteroids and comets is capable of making building blocks of essential biological molecules. Previously, scientists found amino acids in samples of comet Wild 2 from NASA's Stardust mission and in various carbon-rich meteorites. Amino acids are used to make proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. Proteins are used in everything from structures such as hair to enzymes, which are the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions.

The findings were published in the August 11, 2011 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the new work, scientists analyzed samples of 12 carbon-rich meteorites, nine of which were recovered from Antarctica. The team found adenine and guanine, which are components of DNA nucleobases.

The Astrobiology Student Research Travel Awards offer research-related travel support for undergraduate, graduate students and early postdoctoral fellows. Applicants are encouraged to use these resources to circulate among two or more laboratories supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program (ASTEP, ASTID, Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology and the NAI), 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.

For more information, see

Source: NAI newsletter

The 2012 Gordon Research Conference on Origin of Life will take place at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, TX from January 8-13, 2012. This unique interdisciplinary meeting includes chemists, biologists, geologists, astronomers, physicists as well as scientists in related disciplines interested in the origin, and early evolution of Life on Earth and its possible distribution throughout the universe. The 2012 conference will feature recent and cutting-edge results, and sessions will address attempts to fabricate life or life-like systems in the laboratory, the search for extra-solar Earth like planets, recent developments in our understanding of the early history of Earth, Mars, and Titan, prebiotic and organic chemistry on the early Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, and reconstruction of early life forms and genomes, among other exciting topics.

We encourage young scientists, including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, to attend. Special efforts will be made to promote interactions between invited speakers and junior participants and we expect to be able to provide some financial support to facilitate the latter's participation. Applications for this meeting must be submitted by December 11, 2011. Please apply early, as we expect the meeting to become oversubscribed (full) before this deadline. More information, including afullconferenceprogram,can be found on the conference website:

Description: This NASA Research Announcement (NRA) solicits hypothesis-driven research proposals for both ground-based experiments and flight experiments in Space Biology (SB). This solicitation (NRA NNH11ZTT002N), entitled, "Research Opportunities in Space Biology," will be available on or about September 30, 2011. This solicitation will be found by opening the NASA Research Opportunities homepage at and then linking through the menu listings "Solicitations" to "Open Solicitations."

Utilizing 21st century biological tools (e.g., genetic, proteomic, metabolomic), SB scientists will examine and discover underlying mechanisms of adaptation to changes resulting from the space flight environment (e.g., altered gravity, stress, radiation), and will determine cellular and organismal mechanisms that regulate and sustain growth, metabolism, reproduction and development. NASA intends to sponsor studies that will result in new basic knowledge that will provide a foundation on which other NASA researchers and engineers can build approaches and countermeasures to the problems confronting human exploration of space, or that translate into new biological tools or applications on Earth.

All proposals must describe hypothesis-driven experiments that will answer basic questions about how cells, plants and animals respond to changes in gravity. This NRA will solicit proposals for ground-based SB research using cells, tissues, or whole animals that will enhance our understanding of the effects of gravity on the mammalian musculoskeletal system. Proposals for these ground-based experiments must demonstrate and describe a clear path to hypothesis-testing in space flight experiments on the ISS or other appropriate space flight platforms. This NRA also requests proposals for rapid turn-around flight research using plants or Petri dish-based biological systems that will utilize either the Advanced Biological Research System (ABRS) hardware residing on the International Space Station (ISS) or the Biological Research in Canisters - Petri Dish Fixation Unit (BRIC-PDFU) hardware on any of several potential flight platforms (based on science requirements and availability). Applications for flight experiments must demonstrate, using ground-based and/or previous flight research results, that there is a high likelihood of successful completion of any proposed flight experiment.

Dear Colleague, I write to invite you to attend AbSciCon 2012 and to seek your participation in developing the meeting program. In the long tradition of AbSciCon, the Program Committee will rely on input from the astrobiology community in developing the program. We seek your nominations for session, symposium and workshop topics. Please refer to the meeting web page to nominate a session and to observe important deadlines. The deadline for session nominations is October 15, 2011. The call for abstracts is November 15. The abstract deadline is Jan 31, 2012. For further information, consult the AbSciCon Meeting Web Page:

Loren Williams
Professor & Director, Ribo Evo Center
School of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Georgia Tech
Important AbSciCon 2012 Timepoints

Sept 1, 2011 Call for Session Topics/Organizers
Nov 15, 2011 Call for Abstracts Jan 31, 2012 ABSTRACT DEADLINE
Mar 1, 2012 Conference Program posted
Mar 31, 2012 Pre-registration deadline
April 16-20, 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference 2012

The pool of candidates for the NAI/APS 2011 competition was the largest we have ever experienced. Typically six to seven selections are made annually, however for 2011 twelve young investigators were selected for the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology.

Congratulations go to:

The TDE Focus Group will host a Workshop at the Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri (Galileo's House) in Florence (Italy), on September 12-14. Its main goal will be to discuss the submission of the proposals discussed in the previous Workshop in Madrid to either US or European Funding Opportunities.

Also it will be a good opportunity to exchange information face to face between the members of the Working Group.

We consider this meeting as critical to take advantage of upcoming funding opportunities, so please consider to join us in the wonderful city of Florence !!

Please the organizers would appreciate very much if you could send a notice of intention as soon as possible. You can send it to Javier Martin-Torres ( ).

Javier Martin-Torres
Michael Russell
Eugenio Simoncini

Fossils are essential to our understanding of the history and origins of complex life. New work from NAI's MIT and Penn State teams describes exquisitely preserved microfossils from mid-Neoproterozoic (811-717 million years old) rocks of the Fifteenmile Group, Yukon. These fossils are interpreted as biomineralized plates that covered the surface of a single-celled alga.

Their findings suggest that the minerals used by the ancient marine organisms have changed through time, perhaps linked to changing ocean chemistry. While the relationship of these fossils to modern organisms is difficult to determine, the researchers argue that it's likely that these unique fossils are the plates of an organism most closely related to green algae. Their paper appears online in Geology.

Betty Pierazzo, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), died on Sunday, May 15, at her home in Tucson, Arizona. She was 47. Betty was an expert in the area of impact modeling throughout the solar system as well as an expert on the astrobiological and environmental effects of impacts on Earth and Mars. She had a passion for teaching and was a driving force in the development and expansion of PSI's education and public outreach program. Betty approached both life and work with enthusiasm and joy and was an inspiring colleague, teacher, mentor, and staunch friend.

Memorial sites have been posted at: and

The record of Earth's sulfur cycle preserved in sedimentary rocks is commonly used to track the evolution of microbial sulfur metabolisms and levels of atmospheric oxygen throughout geologic history. Sulfur isotope evidence suggests the Earth's atmospheric oxygen appeared about 2.4 billion years ago, but its level remained rather low until about 650 million years ago.

New studies by NASA Astrobiology Institute scientists have questioned the extent to which the record of the sulfur cycle reflects the oxygenation. The team has demonstrated that a laboratory culture of a marine sulfate-reducing bacterium can produce sulfur isotope signatures beyond the threshold previously used to define the boundaries for different sulfur metabolisms. This finding suggests that oxygenation is not the only mechanism that can explain similar signatures in modern and ancient sediments. The team's paper was published in the July 1 issue of Science.

The Geological Society of London, the recognised UK professional body for geoscientists, awards several medals each year to honor significant contributions to the geological sciences. Please join us in congratulating Bruce Watson of NAI's RPI team who is the 2011 recipient of the Society's Murchison Medal. The Society's Awards for 2011 were presented on 8 June 2011.

The Murchison Medal is given to an individual each year who has made a significant contribution to the science by means of a substantial body of research. The Society regards this medal very highly and it is not normally awarded on the basis of a few good papers. Workers in both 'pure' and 'applied' aspects of the geological sciences are eligible. The Murchison Medal is normally given for contributions to 'hard' rock studies.

For more information:

The InSPIRESS program at the University of Alabama-Huntsville is a spin-off of the highly successful JPL Planetary Science Summer School. InSPIRESS serves both high school and undergraduate students; science mentors are needed for the high school track only.

Since this coming school year's project will be to plan a mission to Titan, the program is seeking Titan scientists to mentor the 22 high school teams who will be participating in InSPIRESS. Following are details on the commitment:

* Two to three sessions with the student teams, about 30 minutes/week for a few weeks. Skype can be used, and/or email exchanges and phone calls. Science mentors are needed for the first two months of school (late August and into September) and then again in January/February with the new semester.

* Mentoring entails discussing a proper Titan science question and how to answer it. If the mentors wish to be more involved, that is most appreciated, but not required. An InSPIRESS Mentor Briefing document is available upon request.

Interested? Please contact

Michael "P.J." Benfield by Friday, August 19 at the latest.

Michael P.J. Benfield, Ph.D.
Deputy Center Director, Center for Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
(256) 824-2976

A case study of last year's Workshop without Walls on "Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life." appears in the July 2011 issue of PLoS Biology. Authors include Betuel Arslan of the Georgia Tech team, Eric Boyd of the Montana State University team, and members of NAI Central.


The NASA Astrobiology Institute conducted two "Workshops Without Walls" during 2010 that enabled global scientific exchange--with no travel required. The second of these was on the topic "Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life." Scientists from diverse disciplines and locations around the world were joined through an integrated suite of collaborative technologies to exchange information on the latest developments in this area of origin of life research. Through social media outlets and popular science blogs, participation in the workshop was broadened to include educators, science writers, and members of the general public. In total, over 560 people from 31 US states and 30 other nations were registered. Among the scientific disciplines represented were geochemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and evolution, and microbial ecology. We present this workshop as a case study in how interdisciplinary collaborative research may be fostered, with substantial public engagement, without sustaining the deleterious environmental and economic impacts of travel.

For more information:

We are pleased to announce the dates for the second workshop on "Titan Through Time: Formation, Evolution and Fate" in 2012, following the very successful first workshop in 2010. The second meeting will have a similar format, with a 2 1/2 science program comprised of themed sessions, and featuring a mixture of invited reviews, and contributed talks and posters.

As in 2010, we welcome scientific reports and attendance from the widest possible cross-section of the scientific community, including both those studying Titan directly, but also those whose research interests have intersections with Titan science in areas such as laboratory chemistry and spectroscopy; modeling of planetary atmospheres, surfaces and interiors; terrestrial analogs and comparative planetology; and the formation and evolution of the solar system.

Further details including the program of invited talks will be publicized in due course. A link to the website (when available) can be booked-marked here:

Hope to see you in 2012.

Conor Nixon, Univerity of Maryland
Ralph Lorenz, Johns Hopkins APL
Co-chairs, science program.

The Planetary Group, Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park has an immediate post-doctoral position opening in infrared spectral data analysis from the Deep Impact prime mission to Tempel 1 (Jul. 2005) and the extended mission's flyby of comet Hartley 2 (EPOXI; Nov. 2010).

Successful applicants will join a team of researchers at UMD working with Deep Impact and EPOXI and a group of planetary scientists whose projects span from dynamical studies to observational programs and who hold major roles in several planetary missions.

Prospective researchers should have a strong background in surface and/or gaseous spectroscopy in addition to knowledge of and experience with small body research and/or remote sensing. Successful applicants are expected to be versatile, have a strong and broad interest in planetary science, and have relevant experience as thesis research or as other post-doctoral activities.

The position is open immediately. Starting dates in late 2011 are preferable. The University of Maryland is an Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer. Women and minority candidates are encouraged to apply.

Full text of the job description and application procedure is on the AAS Job Register:

The next deadline to apply for a NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) fellowship is November 1, 2011.

These competitive one- to three-year appointments advance NASA's missions in space science, earth science, aeronautics, space operations, exploration systems, lunar science, and astrobiology.

Applicants must have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in hand before beginning the fellowship, but may apply while completing the degree requirements. U. S. citizens and foreign nationals who hold Lawful Permanent Resident status or who are eligible for J-1 status as a Research Scholar may apply. An H-1B Visa status is not acceptable because the NPP is not an employment program.

Stipend rates for Postdoctoral Fellows start at $50,000 per year, with moderate supplements for high cost-of-living areas and for certain academic specialties. Funds are available for relocation expenses, up to a specified limit, and health insurance is available through the program. Fellows also receive $8,000 per appointment year to support travel to conferences, meetings, and other activities that directly support their research.

For further information about this opportunity and to apply online, visit:

Questions regarding this opportunity may be submitted by e-mail to

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), part of the Universities Space Research Association, invites applications for a postdoctoral fellowship in the petrology of planetary materials.

The successful candidate will work with Dr. Allan Treiman in NASA-funded efforts, focusing on planetary crusts and magmas, and their volatiles constituents; target materials include lunar highlands rocks, Martian meteorites, and terrestrial analogs. These efforts focus on planetary samples, starting with analyses by optical microscopy and electron microprobe; other instruments are available at nearby Johnson Space Center or with external collaborators. The candidate will be encouraged to design and conduct their own research in planetary science, propose for external funding, participate in grant review panels and analysis groups, and become involved with spacecraft missions.

The successful candidate will have a recent Ph.D. in petrology or geochemistry; experience with planetary materials is helpful, but not required. The position would be for two years, with possible extension to a third year. Review of candidates will begin on November 15, 2011, with a hiring decision as soon as possible thereafter. Further information can be found on our website: http://

The Universities Space Research Association is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

This year's recipient of the prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal is James A. Lake, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a researcher with NASA's Astrobiology Program. The Linnean Society of London awards this medal for major advances in evolutionary biology. Lake received the medal in London on May 25, 2011.

Lake is a collaborator with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's (NAI) NASA Ames Research Center team, which is studying early habitable environments and the evolution of complexity in planetary environments and life. Lake's NAI research focuses on the origins of functional proteins and the early evolution of metabolism.

A member of UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute, Lake is known for his expertise in genomics and bioinformatics, including the origin and evolution of genomes. Among his more recent accomplishments is his discovery of the first exclusively prokaryotic endosymbiosis--the merger of two prokaryotes to form a new, eukaryotic life form. Prokaryotes are single-celled life forms without membrane-bound nuclei, whereas eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound nuclei.

"Dr. Lake's contributions to astrobiology are critical," said Mary A. Voytek, Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters. "He and his collaborators are helping us to accomplish key goals in our Astrobiology Roadmap: understanding the general physical and chemical principles underlying the origins of life, how life and the environment on Earth have co-evolved through geological time, and the evolutionary mechanisms and environmental limits of life."

In recent years, scientists have found evidence that a 'near complete' biological nitrogen cycle existed in the oceans during the late Archean to early Proterozoic (from 2.5 to 2 billion years ago). Modern bacteria use an enzyme called nitrogenase to cycle nitrogen from one form to another. This enzyme is dependent on the presence of metallic elements like iron (Fe), vanadium (V) and, most often, molybdenum (Mo). However, ancient oceans didn't contain much molybdenum. Could Fe-nitrogenase or V-nitrogenase have played a larger role in the archaean oceans than they do today?

To answer this question, a team of researchers at NAI's Montana State University and Arizona State University teams studied the phylogenetic relationships between the proteins that allow nitrogenase to interact with each of the three elements. Their results suggest that the protein (known as Nif protein) actually developed in methanogenic microorganisms, and was then incorporated into bacteria by lateral gene transfer around 1.5-2.2 billion years ago.

Ultimately, if Mo-nitrogenase originated under anoxic conditions in the Archaean, it would have likely happened in an environment where both methanogens and bacteria coexisted, and where molybdenum was present for at least part of the time.

The emergence of enzymes like Mo-nitrogenase was a significant step in the evolution of life, and had powerful repercussions for planet Earth and its biosphere as a whole. This research can help answer important questions about the environmental conditions that were present on the early Earth, and the interactions that occurred between life and the ancient planet.

The results were published in the May edition of the journal Geobiology

The organizing committee for the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) is now soliciting community input for session topics and session organizers. Proposals for session topics must be received by September 30, 2011.

AbSciCon 2012 will be hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology from April 16 - 20, 2012, in Atlanta, GA.

To submit session topics for AbSciCon and for further details on the conference, visit:

Planet Earth is the only example we have of what a habitable planet 'looks' like. Using observations from NASA's Terra, QuikSCAT, and Aura missions, researchers have now developed a 3-D Spectral Earth Model that simulates the appearance of the Earth under a variety of conditions.

Researchers with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) and NASA's EPOXI mission team have shown that the model's predictions are a near-perfect match to actual EPOXI and Aqua observations. It can also accurately simulate the whole-disk image of Earth at different wavelengths.

The data was published in the July issue of the journal Astrobiology, and it will help astrobiologists test methods for characterizing Earth-sized planets around distant stars. Ultimately, accurate simulations of the Earth could help scientists identify habitable, extrasolar worlds.

Researchers supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the NASA Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology program have used computer models to study the potential of organic sulfur compounds to be biosignatures in exoplanetary atmospheres. The results indicate that the most detectable feature involves levels of ethane that are higher than expected based on a target planet's methane concentration. These detection techniques will be particularly useful for finding life on planets similar to the early Earth, that do have life but do not have atmospheric oxygen or ozone, two major biosignature gases. The team suggests that a mission that can detect the ethane and methane in exoplanet atmospheres could find life on such planets, thereby increasing our chances of finding a habitable world outside our solar system.

The study was recently published in the journal Astrobiology and is now available online.

Some asteroids may have been like "molecular factories" cranking out life's ingredients and shipping them to Earth via meteorite impacts. Now it appears that at least one asteroid may have been less like a rigid assembly line and more like a flexible diner that doesn't mind making changes to the menu.

Astrobiologists at NAI's Goddard Space Flight Center and Carnegie Institution of Washington teams studying the carbon-rich Tagish Lake meteorite have discovered that different pieces of it have greatly differing amounts of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and essential ingredients to life as we know it.

In January, 2000, a large meteoroid exploded in the atmosphere over northern British Columbia, Canada, and rained fragments across the frozen surface of Tagish Lake. Because many people witnessed the fireball, pieces were collected within days and kept preserved in their frozen state. This ensured that there was very little contamination from terrestrial life.

"The Tagish Lake meteorite fell on a frozen lake in the middle of winter and was collected in a way to make it the best preserved meteorite in the world," said Dr. Christopher Herd of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, lead author of a paper about the analysis of the meteorite fragments published June 10 in the journal Science.

"The first Tagish Lake samples -- the ones we used in our study that were collected within days of the fall -- are the closest we have to an asteroid sample return mission in terms of cleanliness," adds Dr. Michael Callahan of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., a co-author on the paper.

The next Astrobiology Science Conference will be held in Atlanta, GA from April 16-20, 2012. Sign up to receive conference updates at:

AbSciCon 2012 "Exploring Life: Past and Present, Near and Far" will address our current understanding of life, from processes at the molecular level to those that operate at planetary scales. Studying these aspects of life on Earth provides an essential platform to examine the potential for life within our solar system and beyond.

Teachers trekking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa stop to pose for the camera in a scene from the documentary Inspire Me: Africa.

On May 31, 2011, Brad McLain and Mike Marlow of the University of Colorado, Denver delivered the first Astrobiology Education and Training (AbET) Seminar, entitled StoryTeaching: An Exploration of the Importance of Story & Narrative in Science Learning.


Humans are natural storytellers. We describe our experiences in terms of story. We recount our history in terms of story. We learn new things and construct new understanding through the reframing of old stories and the forging of new ones. We even describe who we are--to ourselves and others--in terms of story. When applied to science learning and science communication, the concept of "story" represents a powerful framework for making STEM relevant, meaningful, and exciting. This talk will explore StoryTeaching as the intersection of two fields of study: (1) Science Identity Construction through Experiential Learning, and (2) the Narrative Study of Lives. We will discuss the formation, maintenance, and maturing of positive science identities in the face of an often science-hostile youth culture, and the significance of personal ownership and integration of STEM into an individual's sense of self though the processes of interpretation and meaning making inherent in story. StoryTeaching is currently a research topic and methodology used at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Resources from the seminar can be downloaded here: