January 2012

Artist Karen Jacobsen interprets her scientific illustrations in the Beyond the Edge of the Sea exhibit, on display at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Beyond the Edge of the Sea is a breath-taking exhibit consisting of hand-drawn scientific illustrations from hydrothermal vents experienced first hand by scientist Cindy Van Dover and artist Karen Jacobsen. Making its debut in Madison, WI recently, the exhibit was joined by these two collaborators and local residents reaped the benefits. After the opening reception, Van Dover and Jacobsen joined 350 middle school girls at the Expanding Your Horizons conference, an experience designed to give young women the chance to meet professional women in science. The girls used microscopes to explore and sketch microorganisms found in local lake water. Jacobsen went on to meet with art classes at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the Madison Area Technical College where she spoke about and demonstrated science illustration techniques.

The 2nd International Workshop on "Microbial Life under Extreme Energy Limitation" will take place at Aarhus University May 6-9 2012. The workshop is intended to bring together scientists and graduate students from diverse disciplines of microbiology, biochemistry, biogeochemistry, and bioenergetic theory with the goal of developing our understanding of the energetic limits to microbial life. This has relevance for the deep biosphere, planetary biology, and microbial ecology in general.

The workshop will comprise invited lectures, contributed talks, an unlimited number of posters, and discussion sessions. Applications to participate are invited before March 1, 2012 in the form of a submitted abstract. The workshop is limited to 80 participants. Priority will be given to participants and abstracts of most relevance to the workshop, taking into account the importance of diversity among disciplines.

For more information:

Join John Delano for a new astrobiology talk from TEDx Albany entitled, Is Anyone Else Out There? A survey of astrobiology research topics masterfully conveyed as a "story of us," the talk ranges from the manufacture of organic molecules in space to extrasolar planets, to hyperthermophilichemolithoautotrophs!

Dr. Delano is a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University at Albany (State University of New York), and is the Associate Director of the NAI's New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of 60 scientific publications, and has served on many advisory panels for NASA.

To view the talk:

Date: 22 - 28 July, 2012
Location: Krakow, Poland
Hosted by one of the oldest and prominent universities in Europe, Jagiellonian University, the meeting will welcome hundreds of researchers, educators, and students from around the world, all of whom are immersed in some aspect of symbiosis. Held every three years and organized by the International Symbiosis Society, the Congress is one of the most unique gatherings of life science research specialists in the world.

As symbiotic systems encompass and even dominate many phyla and most domains and kingdoms, it is a venue wherein an expert in coral-dinoflagellates will exchange ideas, results, methods, and perspectives with a mycorrhizae or lichen specialist. Those in the vast field of insect symbioses interact with those in the legume-nitrogen fixing realm. In this sense, the term "symbiosis," applies very well to the Congress experience, as extended exchanges, long-term relationships, and new lineages of thought emerge from this diverse human community.

The Deep Life Directorate of the Deep Carbon Observatory (sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) will investigate the microbiology of the rock-hosted subsurface biosphere. Microbial communities contained within rock-hosted subsurface environments may be important conduits for the exchange of carbon and energy between the deep Earth and the biosphere- yet surprisingly little is known of their extent, their identities, or their activities. The research specifically addresses microbial carbon transformations in environments influenced by high hydrogen fluxes and abiogenic production of organic molecules. The research team consists of 17 scientists from 7 countries and contains both field and laboratory components. The Directorate seeks candidates for multiple Postdoctoral positions to work within this cooperative framework.

We need you in Houston! Sign up today to participate in FameLab Astrobiology at the Lunar and Planetary Institute on January 13th. FameLab is a science communication competition that focuses on building your skills with workshops on good communication practices. The workshop in Houston will be led by the Co-Directors of the National Association for Interpretation. Competitors will present a three-minute piece on their research or an astrobiology-related topic of their choosing. Those topping the competition in Houston will go on to the final at AbSciCon in April...the winner there will go on to the FameLab International final in the UK in June. Lodging and $500 in travel support are available--sign up today at Contact with any questions.

Arthropod expansion in morphological disparity following the Cambrian Explosion of Bilateria, as demonstrated by the Burgess Shale trilobite Olenoides and stem-Chelicerate Sidneyia. Image Credit: Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of Douglas Erwin.

A team of researchers including members of NAI's MIT team have married fossil records with molecular clock studies to reveal a new interpretation of the Cambrian explosion. Collectively these data allow an understanding of the environmental potential, genetic and developmental possibility, and ecological opportunity that existed before and during the Cambrian. The study compares the times of origin of major animal groups (from the molecular clock) with the times of their first appearance in the fossil record. The team shows that the major animal groups first diverged during the Cryogenian, roughly 300 million years prior to their appearance in the fossil record, and acquired the key components of their developmental toolkits early in their history. After a long lag, the groups' major ecological successes are reflected in the records of the Ediacaran and Cambrian. Their paper appears in the current issue of Science.

Scientists from NAI's New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have used the oldest minerals on Earth to reconstruct the atmospheric conditions present on Earth very soon after its birth. The findings, which appear in the December 1, 2011 issue of Nature, are the first direct evidence of what the ancient atmosphere of the planet was like soon after its formation and directly challenge years of research on the type of atmosphere out of which life arose on the planet.

The scientists show that the atmosphere of Earth just 500 million years after its creation was not a methane-filled wasteland as previously proposed, but instead was much closer to the conditions of our current atmosphere. The findings, in a paper titled "The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth's atmosphere," have implications for our understanding of how and when life began on this planet and could begin elsewhere in the universe.

For more information:

The Canadian Astrobiology Training Program (CATP) is the first Canadian cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral training program in Astrobiology and is a NSERC-funded Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (CREATE) (2009-2015) located at McGill University, McMaster University, University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto, and the University of Winnipeg. CATP by its very nature will be accomplished through collaborative and integrative research approaches containing elements of geology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, microbiology, and robotics. CATP trainees (~70 graduate & undergraduate students, PDFs over the next 5 years) will be exposed to innovative research and training approaches, combining fieldwork at unique Canadian analogue sites, including those in the high Arctic, with laboratory work at cutting edge analytical facilities at participating university, government, and industry partners.

The Conference on Life Detection in Extraterrestrial Samples will be held February 13-15, 2012, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, California.

Purpose and Scope

The return of samples from Mars was the highest-priority flagship in the U.S. Planetary Decadal Survey. It is also a key element in the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Robotic Exploration Preparatory Program to prepare Europe's contribution to the international exploration of Mars. Part of planning for a Mars sample return mission includes planning for what will happen to the samples after they have returned to Earth. One of the major scientific questions that will be asked in the analysis of returned martian samples is whether they contain indications of past or present martian life. In addition, international guidelines and agency policies dictate that Mars samples must be subjected to a program of life detection and biohazard analysis before they can be released from strict containment, to protect the environment of the Earth. A better understanding of current and possible investigation strategies and capabilities, including controls and measurements related to life detection in returned martian samples, is important to address both these concerns.

An understanding of planned or possible life detection strategies and measurements has major implications for several decisions related to requirements for the 2018 sampling rover, including strategies and requirements for avoiding contamination of the samples, and sample size needed to carry out the returned sample measurements.

Life detection strategies and capabilities are relevant to a range of scientific activities beyond Mars sample return, including origin of life investigations of both terrestrial and planetary materials. The search for fossils and remnants of early life on Earth benefits greatly from a variety of analytical techniques, and can inform efforts to detect life in planetary materials. Strategies and technologies for life detection can effectively be applied to meteorite studies, addressing questions regarding the organic constituents present in the early solar system as well as possibly shedding light on reports of possible life in meteorites that remain highly controversial.

For more information:

Harvard University is launching a research project to study living systems within its Harvard Origins of Life Initiative and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. The work will be done under the direction of Dr. Juan Perez-Mercader, PI for this project, and brings together approaches for modeling life by using a combined transdisciplinary approach involving Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer Science and Engineering. We invite applications for a number of Research Associate and Postdoctoral positions in the areas of Origin of Life, Information Theory, Synthetic/Artificial Life, Physics and Chemistry of Out-of-Equilibrium Phenomena and Chemical Engineering.

Anyone who has taken high school biology has likely come into contact with a ciliate. The much-studied paramecium is one of 7,000 species of ciliates, a vast group of microorganisms that share a common morphology: single-celled blobs covered in tiny hairs, or cilia. These cilia -- Greek for "eyelash" -- are used to propel a microbe through water and catch prey.

Today these hairy microbes are ubiquitous in marine environments. However, it's unclear how long ciliates have inhabited Earth: After they die, members of most species simply disintegrate in their watery environs, leaving behind no fossilized remains.

Now, geologists at NAI's MIT Team and Harvard University have unearthed rare, flask-shaped microfossils dating back 635 to 715 million years, representing the oldest known ciliates in the fossil record. The remains are more than 100 million years older than any previously identified ciliate fossils, and the researchers say the discovery suggests early life on Earth may have been more complex than previously thought. What's more, they say such prehistoric microbes may have helped trigger multicellular life, and the evolution of the first animals.

"These massive changes in biology and chemistry during this time led to the evolution of animals," says Tanja Bosak, the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Assistant Professor in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. "We don't know how fast these changes occurred, and now we are finding evidence of an increase in complexity."

Bosak and her colleagues have published the study in the October 21, 2011 issue of the journal Geology.

For more information:

This year's joint Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) / American Meteorological Society (AMS) Congress to be held in Montreal from May 29 to June 1, 2012 will feature a session entitled Planetary and Exo-Planetary Atmospheres, Surface Interactions and Astrobiology. This new session, held for the first time this year, seeks to bring together research in atmospheres beyond our own and the processes which affect their composition and dynamics from researchers across Canada and the World. For more information, please consult the links below or contact John Moores at .

Abstracts may be submitted no later than February 17, 2012 at the website of the Montreal Congress:

A more complete description of the session can be found here: web.htm#_Planetary_and_Exo-Planetary

To: Astrophysics and Exoplanetary Science Community
From: Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
Date: January 2012
Subject: Call for Nominations to the Executive Committee of the Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG)

Dear Colleagues:

The Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate is pleased to issue this open call for nominations to serve on the Executive Committee of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group, or ExoPAG. In the coming months, NASA anticipates making four new appointments to the ExoPAG Executive Committee, to replace four current members who will be rotating off the committee after the semi-annual ExoPAG meeting in January (ExoPAG 5; information at Appointments will be for a period of 3 years.

Based on studies of rock cores, a team of geoscientists that include members of NAI's Penn State Team have determined that oxygen did not appear in Earth's atmosphere in a single event. Instead, atmospheric oxygen came about in a long series of starts and stops.

The research was conducted using samples collected in the summer of 2007 during the Fennoscandia Arctic Russia - Drilling Early Earth Project (FAR DEEP). Scientists drilled a series of shallow, two-inch diameter cores and overlapped them to create a record of the Proterozoic Eon--2,500 million to 542 million years ago.

"We've always thought that oxygen came into the atmosphere really quickly during an event," said Lee Kump, a geoscientist at Penn State University. "We are no longer looking for an event. Now we're looking for when and why oxygen became a stable part of the Earth's atmosphere."

The research was published in the December 1, 2011 issue of Science Express under lead author Lee Kump.

Study challenges existence of arsenic-based life, Nature

"A group of scientists, led by microbiologist Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, have posted data on Redfield's blog that, she says, present a "clear refutation" of key findings from the paper. But after Redfield and others raised numerous concerns, many of which were published as technical comments in Science, Redfield put the results to the test, documenting her progress on her blog to advance the cause of open science ... Redfield and her collaborators hope to submit their work to Science by the end of the month. She says that if Science refuses to publish the work because it has been discussed on blogs, it will become an important test case for open science."

- Arsenic, Astrobiology, NASA, and the Media, earlier post
- NASA Researchers Start To Backtrack on Earlier Claims, earlier post
- Snarky NASA SMD Response to Snarky Public Astrobiology Discussion, earlier post
- Weird Arsenic-Eating Microbes Discovered? Yes. Finding E.T.? No, earlier post
- Arsenic-Based Life Found on Earth, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology News: Arsenic Biochemistry Anyone? (Update), earlier post

NASA is accepting applications from science and engineering post-docs, recent PhDs, and doctoral students for its 24th Annual Planetary Science Summer School, which will hold two separate sessions this summer (18-22 June and 16-20 July) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. During the program and pre-session webinars, student teams will carry out the equivalent of an early mission concept study, prepare a proposal authorization review presentation, present it to a review board, and receive feedback.

By the end of the session, students will have a clearer understanding of the life cycle of a space mission; relationships between mission design, cost, and schedule; and the tradeoffs necessary to stay within cost and schedule while preserving the quality of science. Applications are due March 28, 2012. Partial financial support is available for a limited number of individuals. Further information is available at:

The international community is invited to participate in our academic activities of inspiration in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), that take place in Colombia and the USA. These activities will be held on the following dates in 2012: March 26 to April 8, June 11 to June 24, June 25 to July 8, October 1 to October 14, November 26 to December 9. For more information on costs and how to apply in this link: or email

Harvard University is launching a research project to study living systems within its Harvard Origins of Life Initiative and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. The work will be done under the direction of Dr. Juan Perez-Mercader, PI for this project, and brings together approaches for modeling life by using a combined transdisciplinary approach involving Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer Science and Engineering. We invite applications for a number of Research Associate and Postdoctoral positions in the areas of Origin of Life, Information Theory, Synthetic/Artificial Life, Physics and Chemistry of Out-of-Equilibrium Phenomena and Chemical Engineering.

It is anticipated that the Research Associate positions will be for at least 3 years with continuation contingent upon strong performance. Each of the Postdoctoral positions is awarded for one year with an option to renew for a second year dependent upon strong performance. All positions are available immediately.

Life's origin and existence in the universe are among the most profound riddles ever facing science. ILASOL is an Israeli scientific society devoted to these issues. ILASOL's yearly meeting gathers physicists, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, philosophers and researchers of other disciplines present works related to life's origin and astrobiology. Presentations are peer-reviewed in order to guarantee high scientific level, while enabling a friendly forum for novel and unorthodox ideas to be aired and assessed.

The 25th meeting took place during December 2011, and had a rich program which can be found at our web site: The astrobiology session focused on the search of exo-planets (planets around other stars), in particular on the recent results from the Kepler mission and their implication for finding extra-terrestrial life, as well as the recent finding of comets with earthly water isotope ratio. Scientists, students and laypersons are welcomed to become ILASOL members (no charge), submit works and become involved in all our activities.

The W.M. Keck Research Laboratory in Astrochemistry located at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is a state-of-the-art international user facility established with the support of the W.M. Keck Foundation and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. We invite collaborative proposals catalyzing multidisciplinary research in the fields of astrochemistry, planetary sciences, astrobiology, material sciences, and reaction dynamics. Inquiries and proposals shall be sent to Ralf I. Kaiser or to Brant M. Jones ""; novel research directions are supported and encouraged.

Please visit our web site for further information.

The summer school "Water, Ice and the Origin of Life in the Universe", which will be held in Iceland from 2 to 15 July 2012, aims to give participants a thorough high-level introduction into the role of water in the evolution of life in the cosmos, starting from formation of water molecules in space and ending with the evolution of the first organisms. It will bring together students and researchers from a multitude of different science branches, making it a truly multidisciplinary event. The event will be organized by the Nordic Astrobiology Network together with the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Field studies on the colonization of lava fields and glaciers will complement the lectures. The program of the summer school includes:

* lectures by internationally leading scientists covering a broad range of subjects in astrobiology
* investigation of colonization of volcanic rocks and glaciers with in-situ life detection techniques
* excursions to geologically and biologically interesting sites (lava caves, new lava fields)
* 2 poster sessions for students and early career scientists
* participant-led discussions about hot topics

The event is intended for graduate students and early career scientists (up to 5 years after their first Ph. D. in a related field) in fields related to astrobiology. Undergraduate students can also apply, and will be accepted under exceptional circumstances. The event is open to applicants from all nationalities.

Detailed information about the summer school and the application procedure (deadline 31 January 2012) can be found at .

Successful applicants accepted by the Scientific Committee as participants will receive free lodging, meals and excursions, but will have to organize financial means for their travel to and from Iceland themselves. Course credit awards (ECTS points) for undergraduate and Ph. D. students will be applied for by the course organizers.

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress is accepting applications and nominations for the new Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

Applications and nominations must be postmarked by Monday, February 13, 2012. For guidelines and forms, visit . Candidates should apply directly using the online form. Nominations should be submitted in writing to

The astrobiology chair is a new distinguished senior research position in residence at the Library's Kluge Center for a period of up to 12 months. This is an appointment made by the Librarian of Congress on the recommendation of a selection committee, which considers both applications and nominations. For the Library's announcement of the chair, visit .

Using the collections and services at the Library of Congress, the chair holder conducts research at the intersection between the science of astrobiology and its humanistic aspects, particularly its societal implications. The astrobiology scholar receives a stipend of $13,500 per month. The tenure is expected to begin in October 2012.

The deadline for the 2012 MIRS Program is March 15, 2012.

The AB Program Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) program, administered by the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation, provides funded opportunities for researchers from minority institutions to initiate partnerships with researchers in the field of astrobiology. Past MIRS Scholars have worked with researchers at UCLA, NASA Ames, the University of Hawaii, JPL, the University of Wisconsin, NASA Goddard, and Portland State University.

For more information:

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is pleased to announce selections for research awards resulting from its 2011 Director's Discretionary Fund competition. The selections cover a wide range of research topics, from an examination of microbial succession on islands of floating pumice to defining the habitable zone's outer edge by combining climate evolution models with models of orbital and obliquity evolution.

Discretionary resources in the fiscal year 2012 NAI budget are extraordinarily limited. Since these are the funds from which we make 2011 DDF awards, we have been limited to a small fraction of the total award amounts of past years. Approximately $250K is allocated for the seven selected investigations described in the link below.

Selections were based on external reviews, with selection priority given to proposals that

* integrate the research of and realize synergies among the current NAI teams;

* expand the scope of NAI research (and the NAI community) in innovative ways, accepting some risk in return for high pay-off potential;

* respond in a timely way to new scientific results or programmatic opportunities;

* develop connections between astrobiology research and other NASA science programs, particularly NASA's Earth Science Program;

* directly support flight programs, particularly through instrument development;

* use funding particularly effectively, for example through leveraging or building on past investments; and/or

* support early career investigators

For more information and a list of selected research projects:

A front page article and supplemental material were published by the American Geophysical Union in the Nov. 15, 2011 issue of EOS on "Ocean Deoxygenation, Past, Present, and Future." The article was the product of an NAI-sponsored workshop held at NASA's Ames Research Center in early 2010. The workshop brought together experts in modern and ancient ocean science to identify and develop synergies between studies of global climate change in the distant past and the present. The full workshop report is also available.

Application Deadline: February 1, 2012

The American Philosophical Society and the NASA Astrobiology Institute have partnered to promote the continued exploration of the world around us through a program of research grants in support of astrobiological field studies undertaken by graduate students, postdoctoral students, and junior scientists and scholars.

The Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology supports field studies in any area of interest to astrobiology by graduate students, postdocs, and early-career scientists and scholars who are affiliated with U.S. institutions. Grants may be used for travel and related expenses, including field equipment, up to $5,000. Applications will be reviewed by a committee that includes members of the NAI, the APS, and the wider science community as needed. Recipients will be designated as Lewis and Clark Field Scholars in Astrobiology.

Additional information, including the application forms and instructions, is available at the APS's Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology website:

Volcanic-hydrothermal flow channels offer a chemically unique environment, which at first glance appears hostile to life. It is defined by cracks in the crust of the earth, through which water flows, laden with volcanic gases are contacting a diversity of minerals. And yet - it is precisely this extreme environment, where the two mechanisms could have emerged, which are at the root of all life: The multiplication of biomolecules (reproduction) and the emergence of new biomolecules on the basis of previously formed biomolecules (evolution).

At the outset of this concatenation of reactions that led eventually to the formation of cellular forms of life there are only a few amino acids, which are formed from volcanic gases by mineral catalysis. Akin to a domino stone that triggers a whole avalanche, these first biomolecules stimulate not only their own further synthesis but also the production of wholly new biomolecules. "In this manner life begins by necessity in accordance with pre-established laws of chemistry and in a pre-determined direction", declares Guenter Waechtershaeuser, honorary professor for evolutionary biochemistry at the University of Regensburg. He developed the mechanism of a self-generating metabolism - theoretically, alas, an experimental demonstration has been lacking so far.

The SETI Institute is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2012 REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program in Astrobiology and Planetary Science. 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 or planetary science. Students receive a stipend, travel, and living expenses. Applications are due by February 1, 2012.

For more information, visit or contact Cynthia Phillips,, 650-810-0230.

Evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, a long-time member of the astrobiology community, died at her home on November 22. She was 73.

Margulis was brilliant, passionate, dedicated, and insatiably curious, about science, education, and life. A superb communicator as well as an outstanding scientist, she participated in hands-on teaching activities at levels from middle to graduate school, served as a faculty mentor at Boston University for years, gave much of her time to public speaking, and authored numerous books about science for scientific and public audiences, many with her son Dorion. She has been, and will remain, an inspiration to many women and men who have had the privilege of knowing her. She is irreplaceable, and the astrobiology community will miss her very much.

Always a pioneer, Margulis was the first female principal investigator of NASA's Exobiology Program (predecessor of Astrobiology), initially receiving funding for her research in microbial evolution and organelle heredity in the early 1970s. In 1980, Margulis established a Planetary Biology Internship (PBI) program, which the Exobiology/Astrobiology program has supported since its inception. Through the PBI program, which enables graduate students to work in the laboratories of scientists at NASA facilities and of NASA-supported scientists at universities, Margulis herself mentored many students who are now productive members of the astrobiology community. In 2010, Margulis served as a keynote speaker at a NASA symposium to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA's Exobiology/astrobiology program. (A video record of this talk is available at:

Date/Time: Monday, January 30, 2011 11:00AM Pacific

Presenter: Paul Davies (Arizona State University)

Abstract: Cancer is widespread among eukaryotes, and can be successfully tackled only by understanding its place in the story of life itself - especially the evolution of multi-cellularity. In this seminar I will propose a new theory of cancer, drawing on insights from astrobiology. The central hypothesis is that cancer is an organized pre-programmed process driven by a cassette of highly conserved, deeply-evolved ancient genes - genes that are active in early-stage embryo development, and which become inappropriately re-awakened in the adult form. In effect, cancer tumors are atavisms, recapitulating an ancient life form - "Metazoa 1.0" - dating back to the dawn of multi-cellularity. This hypothesis differs fundamentally from the popular notion that cancers are deregulated rogue cells running amok, and explains cancer's well-known robustness and resilience. It also offers a well-defined target for therapy.

For more information and participation instructions visit: . Participation requires only an Internet connection and a browser.

Ph.D. opportunities are available in the molecular geomicrobiology of the deep biosphere in the lab of Matt Schrenk at East Carolina University (North Carolina, USA). The research involves the characterization of high pH (>10), hydrogen and methane-rich ecosystems associated with the serpentinization of ultramafic rocks from the deep Earth and involves multi-disciplinary, international research projects in Canada, Italy, and California. These projects focus on advancing our understanding of the ecology and evolution of microbial communities in the deep biosphere using both molecular and culture-based approaches. Research combines bioinformatics analyses of (meta-) genomic and transcriptomic data with field work and laboratory characterization of novel extremophiles. Applicants with a background in Biology, Earth Sciences, Oceanography, or related disciplines are encouraged to apply.

Applications for the Ph.D. program in Biology at ECU are due April 1, 2012 ( Please contact Matt Schrenk ( for further information.

AbSciCon will be held April 16-20, 2012, in Atlanta, GA. I want to point out that there is a planetary cave session for those interested. The cave session is topic #5 under Extreme Environments.

Information to submit abstracts can be found at:

Abstracts are due: 31 Jan 2012.

5.Session Family: Extreme Environments
Session Title: "Planetary Caves - Implications for Astrobiology,
Climate, Detection and Exploration"
Short title (for abstract submission): "Planetary Caves"

Description: The focus of this session is to promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas between planetary and terrestrial scientists interested in cave exploration and research across the solar system. Extraterrestrial caves provide access to the subsurface without the need for drilling and are potential habitats for previous or present life. In recognition of the broad scope, interdisciplinary nature, and strong international interest in this topic, the participation of any interested scientist with relevant theoretical, experimental, or field experience is strongly encouraged.

Organizer: Timothy Titus,

We demonstrate that habitable Earth-type planets and moons can exist in the Kepler-16 system by investigating their orbital stability in the standard and extended habitable zone (HZ). We find that Earth-type planets in S-type orbits are possible within the standard HZ in direct vicinity of Kepler-16b, thus constituting habitable exomoons. However, Earth-mass planets cannot exist in P-type orbits around the two stellar components within the standard HZ. Yet, P-type Earth-mass planets can exist superior to the giant planet in the extended HZ pertaining to considerably enhanced back-warming in the planetary atmosphere if facilitated. We briefly discuss the potential detectability of such habitable Earth-type moons and planets positioned in S-type and P-type orbits, respectively.

Billy Quarles, Zdzislaw E. Musielak, Manfred Cuntz (Submitted on 11 Jan 2012)

Comments: 11 pages, 2 figures, 1 table; submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1201.2302v1 [astro-ph.EP]
Submission history
From: Manfred Cuntz [view email]
[v1] Wed, 11 Jan 2012 14:11:06 GMT (69kb)

In the chemistry of the living world, a pair of nucleic acids--DNA and RNA--reign supreme. As carrier molecules of the genetic code, they provide all organisms with a mechanism for faithfully reproducing themselves as well as generating the myriad proteins vital to living systems.

Yet according to John Chaput, a researcher at the Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics, at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute(R), it may not always have been so.

Chaput and other researchers studying the first tentative flickering of life on earth have investigated various alternatives to familiar genetic molecules. These chemical candidates are attractive to those seeking to unlock the still-elusive secret of how the first life began, as primitive molecular forms may have more readily emerged during the planet's prebiotic era. One approach to identifying molecules that may have acted as genetic precursors to RNA and DNA is to examine other nucleic acids that differ slightly in their chemical composition, yet still possess critical properties of self-assembly and replication as well as the ability to fold into shapes useful for biological function.

According to Chaput, one interesting contender for the role of early genetic carrier is a molecule known as TNA, whose arrival on the primordial scene may have predated its more familiar kin. A nucleic acid similar in form to both DNA and RNA, TNA differs in the sugar component of its structure, using threose rather than deoxyribose (as in DNA) or ribose (as in RNA) to compose its backbone.

In an article released online today in the journal Nature Chemistry, Chaput and his group describe the Darwinian evolution of functional TNA molecules from a large pool of random sequences. This is the first case where such methods have been applied to molecules other than DNA and RNA, or very close structural analogues thereof. Chaput says "the most important finding to come from this work is that TNA can fold into complex shapes that can bind to a desired target with high affinity and specificity". This feature suggests that in the future it may be possible to evolve TNA enzymes with functions required to sustain early life forms.

The changes to the publication requirements of new names for algae, fungi and plants accepted at the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourne in July 2011 initiated several important challenges to scientists, publishers and information specialists. To address practical questions arising from the Congress decisions, the open access journal PhytoKeys will publish a series of seven exemplar papers, one each day for the first week of 2012, starting from the 1st of January. The completed journal issue will be printed as an additional, though not mandatory, form of archiving on the 7th of January 2012.

"Electronic-only publishing in botany means that publishers do not need to produce printed versions of their journals to verify that a new name has been effectively published", said Dr Sandra Knapp from the Natural History Museum London, deputy editor of PhytoKeys and one of the authors of the first electronic-only description of a new African species of Solanum (the genus name for tomatoes and many other important plant species), published on the 1st of January 2012. "This important change, however, needs to be supported by strong, responsible practices by both publishers and authors, one of the most important being the proper archiving of the published paper" added Dr Knapp, "It is important to reiterate that these new rules do not mean new names can be published anywhere online; authors and publishers must work together."

"Beyond the mandatory deposition in trusted international electronic archives, such as the open access archive of the National Library of Medicine of the United States, the best possible guarantee for a proper preservation of the published information is open access. This allows an unlimited number of copies to be freely downloaded and stored in different institutional and private archives throughout the world, as well as being available to researchers, particularly in developing countries, who otherwise would not have access to many scientific serials", commented Dr Matt von Konrat from the Field Museum of Chicago, author of a new species of liverwort (closest living descendants of the earliest plants to grow on land) from New Zealand, to be published electronically on the 2nd of January 2012.

August 27-31, 2012, Beijing

Conference website:

We are pleased to announce that the abstract submission period has now opened, and we are accepting abstracts for oral and poster presentations. Please visit the abstract submission site at:

Abstract deadline for contributed talks: March 31, 2012

Abstract deadline for posters: July 31, 2012

Note that the early registration deadline is February 29, 2012.

For question and more information contact Nader Haghighipour

The SETI Institute is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2012 REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program in Astrobiology and Planetary Science. 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 or planetary science. Students receive a stipend, travel, and living expenses. Applications are due by February 1, 2012. For more information, visit or contact Cynthia Phillips,, 650-810-0230.