Conferences and Meetings: March 2012

The 2012 Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference (AbGradCon) will be held on August 27 - 30, 2012, preceded by the Research Focus Group splinter, August 24-26. The science program for the conference will be held at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), with an outreach event at the University of Southern California (USC), and a field-trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The conference will consist of three days of scientific sessions, two evenings of public outreach and education activities, and a one day field trip to JPL. Approximately 100 participants consisting of graduate students and early career postdocs are expected from both the US and abroad. The talks and poster sessions will draw on the success of past AbGradCons as a venue for early career astrobiologists to expand their horizons by forming collaborations and sharing their work and ideas with their contemporaries.

By incorporating organized outreach events, we will highlight the importance of education and communication within our field and provide a venue for public involvement with the astrobiology community. The JPL tour is a unique aspect of this year's meeting, and comes at an especially exciting time for the lab, just after the Curiosity rover's (MSL) landing at Mars. At JPL participants will view active laboratories and mission development relevant to astrobiology.

For more information, please visit our website: or email

The 2012 MRO/CRISM Data Users Workshop will be held in association with the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, The Woodlands, Texas. The workshop will be held in the Shenandoah Room, at 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM, on Sunday March 18, 2012 (the Sunday afternoon of LPSC week).

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) has been in operation since late 2006 and has acquired over 20,000 high spatial and spectral resolution targeted observations of the Martian surface. The 2009 CRISM Data Users' Workshop introduced the data set to the community, described data products in detail, and trained attendees on using CRISM-specific software to analyze the data.

At this second workshop, CRISM team members will review significant updates to PDS-delivered CRISM data products including updated radiometric calibration of both visible and near-infrared (VNIR) and infrared (IR) images, and implementation of a data filtering procedure that addresses systematic and stochastic instrument noise. In addition, a new family of highly derived CRISM data products - the Map Projected Targeted Reduced Data Record (MTRDR) product set - will be described in detail, and the utility of this product suite for scientific investigations will be demonstrated. The MTRDR product set represents a major advance in the accessibility of CRISM-derived spectral information and is expected to become the CRISM data product of preference for a large portion of the scientific community.

All attendees are requested to register for this event, and due to available space, attendance will be limited to the first 50 registrants. To register, please visit the workshop registration site at:

The NAI Origin of Life Focus Group will host monthly online seminars featuring talks by one established researcher and one early career researcher on topics that are both central to the origin of life and interesting to the broader scientific community. Please join us for this inaugural seminar and spread the word to your friends and colleagues.

Date/Time: Tuesday, March 6th, at 11-12:30pm Pacific Time

Featuring two presentations:

Steven Benner (Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Distinguished Fellow) "Understanding the Chemistry Behind Origins"

Sara Imari Walker (Beyond Center @ Arizona State University, NASA Astrobiology Program Postdoctoral Fellow)

"Not Understanding the Physics of Origins"

Participation Instructions

The slides and audio/video for this meeting will be presented using Adobe Connect. To join the meeting, connect to:

Date/Time: Monday, March 5, 2012 11:00 AM Pacific

Presenter: Michael Hecht (Princeton University)

Abstract: The entire collection of genes and proteins in all the living systems on earth comprises a minuscule fraction of sequence space. From the enormous diversity of possible gene and protein sequences, billions of years of evolution selected only a very small collection of "molecular parts" that sustain living organisms (only ~4,000 genes in E. coli and ~20,000 in humans.) These considerations might lead to an assumption that the sequences that enable life are unusual or special. Is this true? Or can sequences designed from scratch sustain the growth of living cells?

To address these questions, we designed and constructed a collection containing millions of artificial proteins (a model 'proteome') encoded by a library of synthetic genes (an artificial 'genome'). Structural studies show that many (perhaps most) of our novel proteins fold into stable 3-dimensional structures. Next, we used genetic selections to demonstrate that several of these novel proteins provide biochemical functions that are essential for the growth of E. coli. Thus, artificial sequences, which never before existed on earth, possess activities that sustain life.

This initial foray into artificial genomics suggests (i) the molecular toolkit for life need not be limited to genes and proteins that already exist on earth; (ii) the construction of artificial genomes composed of non-natural sequences is within reach; and (iii) it may be possible to devise synthetic organisms that are sustained by de novo designed proteins encoded by novel genomes.

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