Navigation Links
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign awarded 5-year grant from NASA

Champaign, Ill., September 7, 2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been selected as one of five new research teams joining the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) to study the origin and evolution of life, on a five-year grant totaling approximately $8 million.

Nigel Goldenfeld, Swanlund Professor of Physics and leader of the Biocomplexity research theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), will serve as the principal investigator. The goal is to characterize the fundamental principles governing the origin and evolution of life anywhere in the universe. This multidisciplinary effort to define and characterize "universal biology" will include the fields of microbiology, geobiology, computational chemistry, genomics, and physics.

Nigel Goldenfeld explains: "So what is universal biology? Looking at a modern computer, say a smartphone, compared to the first room-sized computers it's hard to believe they are the same machine. Yet they are all examples of universal computation. What now are the analogous general principles for living, evolving organisms? Beyond speculation, can we actually test out theories with real data? Modern genomics provide the data and tools to examine carefully the evolutionary relationships between parts of the cell. And even further, theory gives us a clear hypothesis to test: namely that early life was a commune, and indeed had to have been, based on general universal biology considerations related to the detailed structure of the genetic code."

The Illinois team will use genomics to explore deep evolutionary time, looking for signatures of early collective states of life. The group will also perform laboratory work to study in detail how individual cells sense, respond and adapt to changing environments. Lastly, the project will look for signatures of the major transitions that life must make as evolution changes character from being communal to the modern era where there are traceable individual organismal lineages. "It is important to develop the field of universal biology, because we may never find traces of life on other planets. But if we understand that life is generic, maybe even an expected outcome of the laws of physics, then we'll know for sure that we are not alone," Goldenfeld says.

Co-investigators on the research team include Elbert Branscomb, Isaac Cann, Lee DeVille, Bruce Fouke, Rod Mackie, Gary Olsen, Zan Luthey-Schulten, Charles Werth, Rachel Whitaker, and Carl Woese from Illinois, Scott Dawson from the University of California, Davis, and Philip Hastings and Susan Rosenberg from Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston.

The research will be based in the university's Institute for Genomic Biology. "This bold research program fits perfectly at the IGB, which was established to help faculty compete for the large grants that are necessary to address grand challenges with a team-based multidisciplinary approach," says Gene Robinson, Director of the IGB. "The NASA award reflects the creativity and vision of the faculty in the Biocomplexity research theme, the IGB, and the campus as a whole."

In addition to the research, novel educational activities related to the field of astrobiology will take place. These will include not only formal education in astrobiology at the undergraduate level, but also a massively online open course as part of the university's initiative in this arena. Other public outreach will include a partnership with a science program at the middle school science level, the development of short web-based videos on astrobiology concepts and findings called "AstroFlix", and a new astrobiology course for lifelong learners in the community.

Goldenfeld concludes "We want to help answer not only the basic questions of 'How does life begin and evolve?' and 'Is there life beyond Earth?' but also 'Why does life exist at all?' The NASA Astrobiology Institute is the most far-sighted attempt to address foundational questions that everyone asks at some time in their life. We are thrilled to participate with them in perhaps the most important questions in all of science."


Contact: Nicholas Vasi
Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related biology news :

1. University of Alberta medical scientists first in the world to look at structure of vital molecule
2. University spin-out company shares in £7.9 million marine energy funding boost
3. Rice University researchers optimize photoluminescent probes to study DNA and more
4. University of Tennessee Space Institute researchers make clinical trials a virtual reality
5. University of Leicester takes delivery of unique eye imaging equipment
6. University of Tennessee Team receives NSF support to study toxic water in China
7. George Washington University Computational Biology Director solves 200-year-old oceanic mystery
8. University of Minnesota engineering researchers discover new non-invasive method for diagnosing epilepsy
9. Prestigious Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene journals join Oxford University Press
10. MDA supports Duchenne muscular dystrophy research by University of Nevada School of Medicine
11. University of Minnesota receives $13.1 million in DOE funding for 2 new nationwide centers
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign awarded  5-year grant from NASA
(Date:10/29/2015)...  Connected health pioneer, Joseph C. Kvedar , ... health and wellness, and the business opportunities that arise ... Internet of Healthy Things . Long before health ... Dr. Kvedar, vice president, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, was ... care from the hospital or doctor,s office into the ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... YORK , Oct. 29, 2015 ... technology, announced a partnership with 2XU, a global ... to deliver a smart hat with advanced bio-sensing ... and other athletes to monitor key biometrics to ... the strategic partnership, the two companies will bring together ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... 27, 2015 Munich, Germany ... Mapping technology (ASGM) automatically maps data from mobile eye ... , so that they can be quantitatively analyzed ... Munich, Germany , October 28-29, 2015. SMI,s ... from mobile eye tracking videos created with SMI,s ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ: ... the remaining 11,000 post-share consolidation (or 1,100,000 pre-share ... "Series B Warrants") subject to the previously disclosed ... 23, 2015, which will result in the issuance ... to the issuance of such shares, there will ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... QC , Nov. 24, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - ProMetic ... "Corporation") announced today that Mr. Pierre Laurin , President ... corporate presentation at the upcoming Piper Jaffray 27 th ... Palace Hotel, on December 1-2, 2015. st ... available for one-on-one meetings throughout the day. The presentation will ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... Whitehouse Laboratories is pleased to announce that it has completed construction on a new ... USP 61, USP 62 and USP 51 testing specific to raw materials and will ... performed by one supplier. Management has formally announced that the facility will ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... ... November 23, 2015 , ... Shimadzu ... of its Nexera UC Unified Chromatography system. The award from R&D magazine recognizes ... products of the year in the analytical and testing category. R&D Magazine chose ...
Breaking Biology Technology: