Geobiology: December 2010

Universite Cadi Ayyad, Ibn Battuta Centre, Marrakech, Morocco

Joint ESA/NASA Workshop and Field Trip
February 7-9, 2011


Charles Cockell (Open University, UK),
Oliver Angerer (ESA),
Mary Voytek (NASA),
Gian Gabriele Ori (IRSPS, Italy and Ibn Battuta Centre, Morocco),
Kamal Taj-Eddine (Universite Cady Ayyad and Ibn Battuta Centre, Morocco)

Geobiology in Space Exploration is a meeting of talks and discussions to understand the full range of the contributions of geobiology to robotic and human space exploration, from life detection to practical applications of geobiology and geomicrobiology. Its purpose is to develop a road map of geobiology for future space missions. It is co-organised by the ESA Topical Team: Geomicrobiology for Space Settlement and Exploration.

Topics to be covered at the meeting include:

1) microbe-mineral interactions, biosignatures and the search for life elsewhere,

2) use of microorganisms in practical applications in space exploration,

3) space missions involving aspects of geobiology.

4) analog sites for the study of other planetary environments.

The meeting will begin midday on Monday 7th and will finish on Wednesday February 9th and will be held at the Universite Cadi Ayyad (Morocco). The meeting will then be followed by a voluntary field trip for interested participants to investigate geomicrobiology and geology from Precambrian to Quaternary in the Atlas Mountains.

The output of this workshop will be a document/paper setting out directions and potential in geobiology applied to space.

Visit for further information.

NASA-Funded Astrobiology Research Discovers Earth Life Built With Arsenic, NASA

"NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth. Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components."

Second Genesis on Earth?, Washington Post

"News of the discovery caused a scientific commotion, including calls to NASA from the White House and Congress asking whether a second line of earthly life has been found."

Astrobiologists: Deadly arsenic breathes life into organisms, Arizona State University

"Evidence that the toxic element arsenic can replace the essential nutrient phosphorus in biomolecules of a naturally occurring bacterium expands the scope of the search for life beyond Earth, according to Arizona State University scientists who are part of a NASA-funded research team reporting findings in the Dec. 2 online Science Express."

Keith's note: Multiple, reliable sources within the Astrobiology community tell me that NASA's Astrobiology announcement tomorrow concerns Arsenic-based biochemistry and the implications for the origin of life on Earth, how it may have happened more than once on our planet, and the implications for life arising elsewhere in the universe. NASA has not found life on any other world.

That said, as a biologist, I have to say that this is exciting stuff. It shows that other biochemistries are possible - more than just "life as we know it" and that the possible places where "life" could exist in the universe are now much more numerous as a result. What other biochemistries are possible? I am certain we'll be hearing much more about this.