NASA Astrobiology Institute: January 2012

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:

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.