A biological soil crust in Hovenweep National Monument, a region located in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Credit: Nationalparks (Transferred by Nihonjoe)/Wikipedia
“Biological soil crusts” don’t look like much. In fact, people often trample right over these dark, or green-tinted, sometimes raised patches in the desert soil. But these scruffy stretches can house delicate ecosystems as varied and complexly interwoven as that of a lush, tropical rainforest.
Three new papers in the scientific journal Genome Association shed light on the microbes that commonly set up shop in biological soil crusts in Utah’s Moab Desert ...
Overlay of sketch on photograph from above to assist in the identification of the structures on the rock bed surface. Image credit: Noffke (2015). Courtesy of ASTROBIOLOGY, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
A careful study of images taken by the NASA rover Curiosity has revealed intriguing similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and structures shaped by microbes on Earth. The findings suggest, but do not prove, that life may have existed earlier on the Red Planet. The photos were taken as Curiosity drove through the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay.
The study was supported ...
Abstract submissions for the 2015 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) have now closed. For details, visit the AbSciCon 2015 website at: http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2015/
AbSciCon 2015 is the next in a series of conferences organized by researchers within the interdisciplinary field of astrobiology. Scientists from around the world will gather in Chicago, Illinois, from June 15-19, 2015, to report new research findings and plan for astrobiology’s future. The theme of AbSciCon 2015 is “Habitability, Habitable Worlds, and Life.”
Other key dates include:
May 1, 2015 – Program and abstracts available
June 15–19, 2015 – Astrobiology Science Conference ...December 20, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
A species of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) seen in a scanning electrograph image. Credit: NASA
The evolution of multicellular life on Earth happened with a number of key transitions from simple organisms to complex. Could the same transitions happen on other worlds? Frank Rosenzweig, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Montana, is looking into such questions over the next five years with funding from the NASA Astrobiology Institute. His lab studies how life evolves “complex traits,” factors that influence everything from lifespan to biodiversity.
Rosenzweig’s previous NASA funding came from the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program ...
Current apparatus being used for freeze-up experiments. Credit: Johnson et al. 2014
Scientists have confirmed the existence of a process that causes the electrolysis of water, and which has the potential to drive the production of life in 'Snowball Earth’ scenarios and on icy satellites such as Europa and Enceladus.
The process, known as the Workman-Reynolds Effect (WRE), occurs when a dilute aqueous solution of salt rapidly freezes, causing ions in the solution to assume a negative or positive charge at the interface between ice and water.
Chris Reinhard and Noah Planavsky conduct research for the study. Credit: Yale University
New research could explain why it took around a billion years for animal species to flourish on Earth after oxygen levels in the atmosphere began to increase.
Animal life on Earth boomed around 800 million years ago at the end of the Proterozoic period, but scientists have long believed that there was sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere for this increase in animal diversity to occur much earlier. However, new findings published in the journal Science show that oxygen levels were only 0.1% of those we see ...October 30, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Ariel Anbar, Principal Investigator (PI) in the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology (Exo/Evo) element of the NASA Astrobiology Program, has been named President-Elect of the Biogeosciences Leadership at the American Geophysical Union for the 2015-2016 Term.
Anbar is a Professor in Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Earth and Space Exploration. Earlier this year, he was also selected as the first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor at ASU.October 17, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
The researchers dig holes in the snowpack over sea ice to establish vertical snow profiles used for sampling of the snow at different depths. Credit: Niels Kroer
Scientists have traced the evolutionary branches of Arctic bacterial resistance to toxic mercury — an adaptation that appears to have an ancient lineage. Up to 31 percent of bacteria retrieved during an Arctic expedition and grown in lab cultures contain the mercuric reductase gene(merA), a genetic sequence that encodes an enzyme that is capable of breaking down toxic mercury into a more harmless chemical form.
The study, detailed in the journal FEMS Microbiology ...
The young Earth differed markedly from today’s world. Credit: NASA
Geological evidence tells us that ancient Earth probably looked and felt very different from the planet we all recognize today. Billions of years ago, our world was a comparatively harsh place.
Thanks to advances in a niche field called paleobiochemistry, researchers in the last decade have started to “resurrect” ancient proteins. Studying these proteins’ properties is offering us glimpses of what life was like in bygone epochs. A new study published in the journal Proteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics explores how such 'resurrection studies’ can provide evidence to support ...
A light wave can be roughly imagined as a single line that wiggles up and down. If circular polarization occurs, this line rotates as the wave moves. Circular polarization of light when it interacts with dust might help identify molecules relevant to the origins of life. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Dust particles can be found everywhere in space, but what can dust tell us about life’s potential in the Universe? By modeling how light scatters when it interacts with dust particles, researchers supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology are looking at ways of determining whether or ...September 25, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Deadline to submit Session Topics is October 22, 2014
The Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 (AbSciCon2015) Science Organizing Committee is soliciting community input for Session Topics and Session Organizers. Given the wide variety of disciplinary tools and topics to be presented at the conference, the success of AbSciCon 2015 will be built upon the community’s involvement in the organization of topical sessions. Community members are urged to be proactive in proposing sessions, merging similar session topics, and organizing abstracts into selected sessions.
To submit a session topic and to see the list of submissions visit: http://www.hou.usra.edu ...September 3, 2014 / Written by: Julie Fletcher
Venus can be seen as a black dot eclipsing the Sun in this image from 2012. Venus orbits too close to the Sun to the planet to be habitable for life as we know it. Venus experiences a runaway greenhouse and the average surface temperatures are thought to be around 864ºF. Image Credit: NASA/SDO & the AIA, EVE, and HMI teams; Digital Composition: Peter L. Dove
Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the Astrobiology Program have shed new light on the future habitability of Earth. The tools they are using could also tell us about habitability around distant stars ...July 4, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Erik Fischer, a doctoral student in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan, sets up a Mars Atmospheric Chamber in the Space Research Building on June 18, 2014. The chamber simulates the atmospheric conditions of Mars in hopes of producing water through the interaction of salt with the atmospheric conditions simulated by the chamber. The resulting research allows Astrobiologists to postulate about the potential of life on Mars. Credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing
Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have discovered that a salt on Mars could cause liquid water to form when it comes into contact with water ice. The study was inspired by images from NASA’s Phoenix mission, which showed what appeared to be droplets of liquid water on a leg of the lander.
Researchers determined that liquid water could be stable on Mars if it was very salty – a possibility that arose when calcium perchlorate was identified on the martian surface by missions including Phoenix and the Curiosity ...July 3, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
The variability of natural systems makes it difficult to understand how organisms’ genes influence the way they look and behave, and how communities of interacting organisms arise. Using laboratory experimental evolution, this variation can be controlled.
A NASA Astrobiology Program-funded team based at the University of Montana previously showed that a single population of bacteria that was cultured in the presence of a single limiting resource evolved into a stable, three-membered community, wherein one member’s waste products are used by the others as a source of food.
In a new study, the team found that the two new members ...June 27, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
The Bain des Japonais Spring, an intertidal hydrothermal vent on Prony Bay. Note shimmering where fluids are mixing with seawater. Credit: Roy Price
Roy Price first heard about the hydrothermal vents in New Caledonia’s Bay of Prony a decade ago. Being a scuba diver and a geologist, he was fascinated by the pictures of a 38-meter-high calcite “chimney” that had precipitated out of the highly-alkaline vent fluid.
His attraction to this South Pacific site intensified over the years, as it was later revealed that the geochemistry of the hydrothermal fluids discharging in the Bay of Prony resemble that of ...