Developing strategies for finding life on other planets and in extreme environments on Earth will be the focus of Penn State's new astrobiology initiative under a five-year grant from NASA's Astrobiology Institute for "Signatures of Life from Earth and Beyond."
Christopher H. House, associate professor of geosciences, will lead an interdisciplinary team to develop methods to detect and characterize life, look for biological signatures in relevant ecosystems in ancient rocks and other places on Earth, and evaluate the potential for biological signatures to exist in extraterrestrial settings. He becomes director of the existing Penn State Astrobiology Research Center and will take the Center in a new direction.
PSARC was established in 1998 under the first set of five-year grants by NASA's Astrobiology Institute. Headed by Hiroshi Ohmoto, professor of geochemistry, the Center received a second five-year grant in 2003. Ohmoto remains part of the PSARC.
"Penn State is the only university that has been continuously funded by NASA's Astrobiology Institute," says House. "In many ways this is a continuation of the first two five-year grants, but in other ways, it is a new proposal, a new direction with new people involved in the research."
NASA announced awards averaging $7 million each for 10 teams nationwide to study the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
The Penn State team will develop and test possible indicators of the existence of life. These will include innovative approaches for analysis of cells and other organic material, for determining if amounts or ratios of metals and isotopes indicate life, and for using DNA to study present and past life.
In their effort to develop ways to search for extraterrestrial life, the researchers will look to extreme locations on Earth including Israel's Dead Sea, Greenland glacier ice and the methane seeps of the Eel River Basin, Ca
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