Origin & Evolution of Life: January 2011

From the Swiss Society for Astrophysics and Astronomy 41st Saas-Fee Advanced Course "From Planets to Life" 3-9 April 2011, Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland

This astrobiology course consists of 28 lectures organized in three parts as follow:

- Astrophysical conditions for development of life Prof. Jonathan Lunine (University of Arizona)
- Earth geology and climatology history Prof. James Kasting (Pennsylvania State University)
- Origin and critical steps of life development on Earth

Prof. John Baross (University of Washington) In addition to the formal course, the setting of this event provides ample time for informal discussions during the meals and other social events. are approaching our maximum hosting capacity, however, we can still accommodate for about a dozen additional participants. The regular registration deadline is JANUARY 28th, 2011. After this date the registration fee will raise from CHF450.- to CHF500.-. For more information please visit:

We look forward to seeing you soon, Pierre Dubath, for the organizing committee

[Source: Planetary Science Institute]

The next meeting of the Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life (COEL) will be held March 2-4, 2011 at the Keck Center in Washington, D.C. COEL is the standing committee of the Space Studies Board that organizes and provides oversight of studies on research opportunities and programs on the origin and evolution of life in the universe, including NASA's astrobiology program. As usual, most of the committee's sessions are open to the community.

For more information, see or contact COEL's Senior Program Officer, David H. Smith ( [Source: NAI Newsletter]

In this new podcast produced through the NAI MIT team, journey back in time to learn about Ediacaran Fauna, a diverse group of organisms that lived in the world's oceans about 580 million years ago. We'll meet Dickinsonia rex, a sort of living bathmat without eyes or a mouth, and other strange denizens of the primordial slimebed. Paleontologists Mary Droser and Jim Gehling explain how they're working to reconstruct this ancient ecosystem by studying fossils, and shed light on the enduring evolutionary puzzle of how the first complex life forms arose. Listen to the podcast here: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Date/Time: Monday, February 7, 2011 11:00AM Pacific
Burckhard Seelig (University of Minnesota)

Abstract: Life on Earth today crucially depends on the workings of proteins. Current proteins are highly sophisticated polypeptides that exhibit intricate structures and facilitate a multitude of complex functions. Although the level of protein sophistication can be explained as a result of continuing Darwinian evolution from simpler predecessors, the origin of those early functional proteins is not well understood.

We are interested in studying potential scenarios of the emergence of those first primordial proteins. This presentation will describe an experimental approach to investigate the probability of finding functional proteins in mixtures of naive random peptides. Towards this goal, collections of several trillion different protein mutants are subjected to a procedure of selection and evolution in a test tube to isolate functional proteins. In one example, novel ATP binding proteins were identified that appear to be unrelated to any known ATP binding proteins. In a second study, novel enzymes were generated that can join two pieces of RNA together in a reaction for which no natural enzymes are known.

These results not only allow us to measure the occurrence of function in random protein assemblies but also provide experimental evidence for the possibility of alternative protein worlds. Extant proteins might simply represent a 'frozen accident' in the world of possible proteins. Alternative collections of proteins, even with similar functions, could originate alternative evolutionary paths.

For more information and participation instructions: [Source: NAI Newsletter]