Research

Link to Current Research summary.

Links to Research Discoveries and Publication List.

Research sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) is guided by the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap, which outlines seven themes, or goals, for furthering our understanding of the origin and evolution of life in the universe, and to inform planning for NASA missions: 1) finding habitable planets, 2) understanding the distribution of life in our Solar System, 3) exploring the conditions needed for the origin of life, 4) studying Earth’s early environments in terms of habitability and a view into other planets early in their lifetimes, 5) determining the environmental limits of life, 6) extrapolating environmental and evolutionary changes that may determine the future of life, and 7) developing a comprehensive array of signatures for life (“biosignatures”) to use in exploring for life in the universe. Each NAI team has different areas of emphasis, and WARC has focused largely on Roadmap Goals 2, 4, and especially 7 (see figure).

Roadmap_Histogram_CAN-6

The relative research effort of WARC in terms of the seven goals of the 2008 NASA Astrobiology Roadmap.

WARC research is a mix of laboratory and field-based projects, currently divided into three themes: 1) exploring new methods for detection of current life on other planets such as Mars, 2) developing biosignatures for ancient life on the early Earth or other planetary bodies such as Mars, and 3) application of the laboratory based signatures for life and ancient environments to the early rock record on Earth. These projects are necessarily iterative, where new results, for example, in the lab inform new studies of ancient rocks, and new results from ancient rocks spur new tests in the laboratory.

Mars_Analog_Sampling

WARC researcher Lorenz Wendt sampling Mars analog environments, Mars Desert Research Station, Utah.

Wisc_Bailey_XRD_Lab_2015_small

Astrobiology graduate student Zhizhang Shen loading a sedimentary carbonate sample for in-situ X-ray diffraction analysis. This work is part of a WARC study on the role of microbes and biomass in dolomite formation.

Nathan_Lab

NAI graduate student Nathan Fortney examining an iron-reducing culture in the epifluorescence microscope. This work is part of a WARC project on microbial iron reduction at Yellowstone.

CJ2_0489

WARC researchers study the 3.4 Ga Apex Chert, Pilbara Craton, Australia, which has been proposed to contain the oldest microfossils. This work is part of a WARC project on studies of early Archean microfossils and organic carbon.

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