AbSciCon 2010 Topic Suggestions

Suggested Topic    Proposed By
Macromolecules for Incipient Metabolism: Topics could include ribozyme mechanism and chemical repertoire; metabolic ribozymes in extant biology (natural and synthetic); RNA and enzyme engineering; synthetic biology; the role of non-natural (non-Terran?) monomers in defining macromolecular bioactivity. Donald Burke
Effects of Asteroid and Comet Impacts on Life Charles Cockell
Astrobiology of Volcanic Environments Charles Cockell
Astrobiology of Hydrothermal Environments Jesus Martinez-Frias
Active SETI: Should We Be Transmitting? The dominant strategy in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has always been to listen for transmissions from other civilizations. Recently, however, proponents of Active SETI have identified scenarios in which even a technologically young civilization such as ours might plausibly initiate multigenerational SETI projects. This session will examine the scientific basis for Active SETI, in which humankind would transmit intentional signals to other civilizations, as well as legal and policy issues about how to represent the diversity of humankind in interstellar messages. Douglas Vakoch, SETI Institute
Interstellar Message Construction: Can We Make Ourselves Understood? When the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) began in 1960, its proponents were optimistic that any message received from another civilization might be readily understood. Since then, proposals have proliferated for interstellar messages based on mathematics, science, logic, images, art, and music. This session examines the latest developments in interstellar message construction, as well as critiques suggesting that such messages may be unintelligible under even the best circumstances. Participants will be drawn from diverse disciplines including astronomy, computer science, mathematics, logic, cognitive science, anthropology, and philosophy of science. The session will also include an update on the draft recommendations of the International Academy of Astronautics’ (IAA) Study Group on Interstellar Message Construction, as well as an opportunity for the astrobiology community to provide input on these recommendations before the IAA issues its final report. Douglas Vakoch, SETI Institute
Calculation of Hydrothermal Systems, Lifetimes and Impact Conditions of Basins on the Moon Juan C. Echaurren
Solar System Formation as a Giant Catastrophe that Caused Origination of Living Matter -- Necessary Conditions and Mechanisms for Synthesis and Reproduction of Nucleic Acids and Protein Bodies: The following problems could be discussed: (1) The life, what is it? (Concept definition.) (2) The planet-formation process features that caused living matter origination. (3) Living matter origination at the Earth: was it accidental or necessary? (4) The celestial bodies of the Solar System at which living matter origination and existence is possible. (5) What substance was primary: nucleic acids or proteins? (6) Realistic mechanisms of living matter origination. (7) What factors caused monochirality of living matter? (8) Reproduction of biological objects: is it chemical of specific biological phenomenon? Victor E. Ostrovskii
Life in Modern Microbialite Systems -- Function and Adaptation: Modern microbialites present unique opportunities to address fundamental astrobiological questions in fields ranging from microbial ecology, evolution, chemical biology, and functional genomics. This session will bring together work from a variety of disciplines using extant stromatolites and microbial mats (lithifying and nonlithifying) as modern analogues for early life on Earth, as well as their potential to assist in the exploration of extant or extinct life outside Earth. All work on these systems will be considered, and in line with the conference theme those working on how various stresses/conditions may affect microbialite communities are particularly encouraged to participate. Brendan Burns
Bioastronautics -- The Effect of Space Conditions on Astronaut Health: This year marks the 40th anniversary of our first steps on the moon, and within two decades it is hoped that human kind will have established a settlement on Mars. Space is a harsh environment and therefore, technological advancements in material science, robotics, power generation, and medical equipment will be required to ensure astronauts survive interplanetary journeys and settlements. This sessions aims to address the issues that astronauts encounter that can affect human health, by investigating the biological and medical effects of space travel on living organisms. Brendan Burns
Astrobiology and the Human Exploration of Mars: The human exploration of Mars offers unique opportunities and unique challenges for the astrobiology community. These opportunities and challenges will be reviewed and discussed. Potential pre-human robotic missions/measurements that may enhance opportunities and reduce challenges will also be considered. Joel S. Levine
Correlated In Situ Micro-Analyses of Ancient Microscopic Organic Particles: This session would invite contributions from new approaches for combined micro-analytical techniques applied to study micro-particles of carbonaceous material from meteorites, sample return missions, and Precambrian sedimentary and igneous rocks. Dominic Papineau
Education in Astrobiology, Overview in K-12 Education William Alexandro Gonzalez Amezquita
Astrobiology in the Field: This session would address the unique contributions and challenges of astrobiology field research, including expeditions in analog environments for Mars, Europa, and other extraterrestrial sites. Linda Billings
Role of Microbes in Sustainable Crop Production (Agriculture/Horticulture) on Planet Earth and Their Possible Future in Sustainable Crop Production on the International Space Station Rishi Mahajan
Modeling Astrobiology: Many of astrobiology’s most pertinent issues ranging from the formation of planets to the origin of life can be examined through computational simulations and advanced data analyses. This session aims to bring together computational researchers representing a breadth of Astrobiological subjects in order to identify common problems and solutions across disciplinary boundaries. Aaron Goldman
Advances in Astrobiological Instrumentation Development: Astrobiology science goals are important in defining the science requirements for many future planetary and astronomical missions. These goals include not only the direct search for evidence of life, but also the characterization of planetary environments to assess past or present habitability. This session aims to bring together astrobiology scientists and engineers to address these requirements and to aid their translation into instruments and instrumentation suites. We invite original contributions that discuss instrument design, development and testing for astrobiologically-relevant space missions, whether they involve remote or in situ analyses. We also welcome presentations that propose new approaches or analytical methods of astrobiological interest from currently deployed instruments or that could be the basis of future instruments, as well as reviews of the current state of instrumentation. Sanjoy Som, Steve Vance, Inge Loes ten Kate, Andrew Steele
50 Years of Exobiology and Astrobiology -- Greatest Hits: To mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of NASA's Exobiology Program, predecessor to and current component of NASA's Astrobiology Program, this session will highlight past accomplishments, present challenges, and future directions in the field of astrobiology. Linda Billings
A Step-By-Step Modular Public Participation Approach for Surviving Catastrophes and Extremes on Earth and Beyond Alex Monchak
Origins of Life and Origins of Mind: Science teaches us that living systems emerged from nonliving matter, and that some of those living systems later became minded. One major obstacle to investigating the possible connections between these two phase-transitions (from nonliving to living, and nonminded to minded) is the fact that unanimous definitions of ‘life’ and ‘mind’ elude philosophers and scientists alike. To what extent would a better understanding of how these phase-transitions were interrelated in Earth’s history inform our future searches for life, and intelligent life, on other planets? Do we have any justification for presuming a similar history of phase-transitions on other planets, and if so, what is it? Dr. Liz Stillwaggon Swan
Radiation, dessication, and cryo-temperature resistant organisms are present on Earth and live in places where we never thought we would find life. They owe their survival to an intricate chemistry formulated by their genomes to prevent double strand breaks of their DNA/RNA and preservation of membranes and delicate structures by applying a unique cellular chemistry. These organisms survive temperatures down to absolute zero and heating well above 100 °C. Organisms may live over 3 km beneath the Earth in extreme pressures. Finding life in places where no one ever imagined has been stretching our understanding of life. Life adopts, endures, and makes its own way to survive. The session offers international researchers an opportunity to report and exchange their findings, ideas, and knowledge for advancing our understanding of the adaptations of life in a hostile space environment. Gunther Kletetschka
Survival, Growth and Evolution of Microorganisms in Model Extraterrestrial Environments Wayne Nicholson
Astrobiological Potential of Large Water-Rich Asteroids and Transneptunian Objects, with Focus on Ceres Julie C. Castillo-Rogez, Lucy A. McFadden, Pamela G. Conrad
Experimental Simulations Relevant to the Origins of Life on Earth Lawrence Wade
Science Results from ASTEP Projects: One major component of ASTEP is to enable science investigations designed to further biological research on Earth in planetary analog environments. This session will provide a forum for NASA ASTEP-funded projects to present their science results and major discoveries. Peter Doran and Pan Conrad
Astrobiology Analog Missions: Analog missions generally refer to an integrated set of mission-related activities undertaken in an analog environment. Analog missions are increasingly becoming an important tool for developing and validating mission concepts, exploration strategies, science operations, and prototype technologies at relatively low risk and low cost. For astrobiology, analog missions can be important in several areas, such as testing hypotheses on the limits to life on Earth, validating biosignature detection techniques and contamination mitigation strategies, or capturing performance requirements for instruments and hardware. Richard Léveillé
Meteoritic Transfer of Microbial Life Christopher E. Carr
Where should we go on Mars to seek signs of life? The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) has recently adopted "Seek the Signs of Life” as its next broad strategy. Landed missions that could fly within the decade are being considered to address this strategy. What geologic environments would best preserve evidence of ancient life? How can we recognize these environments based on current and expected data from Mars? Carlton Allen
Prospects For and Against Life in the Near-Surface Environment of Mars: Mars is an environment challenging for life in many respects. Its harsh environmental conditions with low water availability and high amounts of radiation would make the survival of terrestrial microorganisms near the martian surface an uphill battle, to say the least. Yet, adaptation to these environmental conditions may be possible, in principle, by evolutionary mechanisms having a chance to act long enough on putative martian organisms. In this session we provide a forum to discuss the potential habitability of the near-surface environment of Mars, based on environmental parameters as observed by recent space missions (e.g., Phoenix and Mars rovers), laboratory studies of microbial survival and growth under Mars-like conditions, and the evolutionary ability and success of extremophilic organisms thriving in martian analog environments on Earth. Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Alfonso Davila
Influence of Hydrothermal Systems Generated by Comets (or Asteroids) in the Development of Life in the Solar System Juan C. Echaurren
Stellar Variability and the Habitability of Local Stellar Environments: Areas of interest could include the impact of stellar activity, movement and lifespan of habitable zones, variations in planet-forming and bioessential elements between local stars and different areas of the Galaxy, and the impact of element enrichment, stellar winds and radiation, and supernovae from massive stars on planetary systems forming nearby. Of particular importance is whether the sun is a representative example of local dwarf stars or whether it is peculiar in composition, activity, or other properties. Patrick Young
Changes In Earth Subesh Venugopal
Breakthrough in Astrobiology: A Demonstration of a Technique for Visualising Motional Scenery of Extra-terrestrial Life-Forms Tayo Akiwumi
Using Genome Sequence Data to Infer Properties of Ancestral Organisms: Comparative genomics has opened a new window on early life on this planet. Several approaches fall under the proposed topic: 1) compositional analysis of encoded RNA and protein sequences allow to infer the growth temperature of ancestral organisms. For example, using amino acid compositional analysis, it was suggested that the most common ancestor of the Thermotogales and of the Bacteria were extreme themrophiles, whereas the common ancestor of Archaea and Bacteria appeared to prefer warm, but less extreme temperature. 2) Analysis of the evolution of metabolic pathways through gene transfer and reticulation events. Some of these bioshere shaping transfer events have been well documented (e.g. the origin of acetoclastic methanogenesis in Methanosarcinae); others are commonly held to be true (e.g. the assembly of the electron transport chain in O2 producing photosynthesis; and others are controversial (the evolution of double membrane bacteria from an ancient endosymbiosis). 3) Reconstruction of sequences of particular enzymes can provide clues on the early evolution of the protein biosynthesis machinery; and the synthesis of these ancient enzymes in the laboratory can provide clues on the environmental conditions under which these enzymes functioned. J. Peter Gogarten
Molecular Evolution in Interstellar Space: Understanding molecular evolution of life is one of the holy grails of 21st century biology, and astrobiology. Among most biologists, molecular evolution is considered a terrestrial phenomenon. But astrochemists have already demonstrated that there is a universal prebiotic chemistry, driven by astrophysical conditions. What is the evidence for and dynamic of prebiotic molecular evolution in interstellar space, and what are the implications for astrobiology? Jacob Berkowitz
Water in the Universe: 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the discovery of interstellar water by Charles Townes, et. al. Recent observations indicate the presence of water in the early Universe and its broad distribution and abundance, primarily as ices, in almost every cosmic context, from exoplanet atmospheres to cold molecular clouds and cometary interiors. What are the implications for astrobiology? How does the guidepost phrase "follow the water" apply in the search for life beyond our solar system. Jacob Berkowitz
The Potential Effects of Varying Solar Radiation on the Formation of Life and Its Evolution. (This could be good to help draw a variety of crowds from scientists to scifi fans.) Cameron Robertson
Astrovirology Kenneth Stedman
Origins of genetic apparatus; e.g., especially translation and transcription. George Fox
Past Radioactivity of Moon's Iron Core Therese Schneck
Siderophile Elements in the Moon's Core Therese Schneck
The Evolution of Intelligence in Extreme Conditions: Close examination of the evolution of complex and intelligent life on Earth can help astrobiologists consider possibilities for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. One crucial question concerns the processes underpinning the evolution of intelligence: What kinds of conditions drive the emergence and evolution of intelligence? This session will explore the roles of catastrophe, contingency, and convergence in the evolution of intelligence and the evidence for a relationship between intelligence and unstable conditions in Earth's history. Lori Marino and Kathryn Denning
Bioessential Elements Through Space and Time: This session would invite contributions for research on the abundances, distribution and biogeochemical cycling of known bioessential elements (namely C, N, P, S, Fe, Mo and other trace metals). This research could be centered on life on Earth over the past 4 billion years, or planetary (intra- and/or extrasolar) elemental composition over the 13.7 billion-year history of the universe. Obtaining a better understanding of the distribution of elements that are essential to life as we know it will aid us in narrowing our search for extraterrestrial life. Jennifer Glass, Patrick Young (School of Earth & Space Exploration, Arizona State Univ.)
Organic Synthesis in Hydrothermal Systems: This session will bring together recent works on organic synthesis processes (biotic and abiotic) in hydrothermal systems at a variety of physical and chemical conditions. Contributions from experimental studies, theoretical modeling, field observation, and analytical approaches (isotopes, microscopic studies, etc.) are welcome. The goal is to advance our knowledge of organic compound formation not only on Earth, but also on Mars and other planetary bodies. Qi Fu
Science from Rio Tinto: An extreme acidic environment (space missions tools testing, astrobiology and outreach potential). Several international collaborative campaigns and long term scientific studies have been developed on the extreme acidic environment of Rio Tinto, a 100 km red river with high metal concentration in its water and a pH mean of 2.3 located at South-West of Spain. From CAREX FP7 EC project for collaborative techniques and tools testing for extreme environments studies to the simulation of a Mars surface drilling project (M.A.R.T.E. project) as examples of science, engineering and outreach at the same time. Felipe Gomez
The scope of this session is the past, present and future of Titan. The session will examine Titan as a system with the goal of trying to better understand the chemistry and potential for a prebiotic world. There are many questions to address. How did Titan form? What was the origin of its atmosphere? What is the source of methane and what is the timing of its outgassing to the surface? How much methane is present today in the surface-atmosphere system of Titan? How thick are the deposits of organic materials, where are they in the Titan crust, and what is the extent of their further chemistry beyond stratospheric photochemistry toward complex organics of prebiotic interest? How has organic chemistry evolved over time on the surface of Titan, and is the evolution progressive or cyclic? Are there places and times where oxygenated chemistry is/was promoted? Was Titan's surface much warmer in the past? What are the sources of energy on Titan’s surface that could drive prebiotic chemistry? What role do Titan’s lakes play in the chemistry of Titan’s surface? What are the next appropriate steps in the exploration of Titan in terms of mission design and instrument development? Patricia M. Beauchamp, JPL and Mark Smith, Univ. of Arizona
Planetary Science Decadal Survey Update. This suggestion is on behalf of Steve Squyres, the chair of the decadal survey. He has offered to convene a session reporting on the latest progress of the survey and inviting interactive discussion from the astrobiology community. Pamela Conrad
Learning to read and write; from genomics to synthetic biology. Biology is currently in an intense period of reading genomes. Next generation sequencing technologies have made the sequencing of microbial genomes and transcriptomes fast and inexpensive. Genbank is filling up with new coding and regulatory regions from diverse organisms providing us with a glimpse of the history of life on earth. The extremophiles being sequenced may provide us with a toolkit for the genetic engineering of organisms capable of living in space. Recent advances in synthetic biology (the application of engineering principles to biology) and whole genome synthesis, coupled with the falling cost of ordering long-strand DNA, have led some to predict that we are entering a period where the writing of genomes will flourish. This session will invite contributions from those sequencing life on earth; covering areas such as gene mining, bioinformatics, genomics and phylogenetics. Organisms may include extremophiles, autotrophs and microbial communities in challenging environments. The session will also welcome contributions from those designing or using organisms for future applications in space exploration. John Cumbers and Lynn Rothschild
Diversity in Astrobiology Research and Education: This session highlights the contributions of Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black Colleges, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions to the larger astrobiology community. There are a wide variety of researchers at these institutions who bring different perspectives, opinions, and research to the interdisciplinary and international astrobiology community. Many of these contributions are from scientific and engineering fields, but quite a few of the programs contain a larger outreach component which involve communicating astrobiology to the local community in various ways. This session invites researchers to share their astrobiology experiences and explore topics such as institutional support, student interest, and models for sustaining or expanding opportunities for diversity in the field. Leigh Arino de la Rubia, Todd Gary, Melissa Kirven-Brooks, Judy Butler
M-dwarfs present a near-term target for exoplanet detection and characterization missions. These stars are cooler and less luminous than the Sun, have spectra shifted away from UV radiation and have increased stellar flare activity; all of these differences could have profound implications for orbiting planets. As such, astrobiologists should consider the implications of stellar properties on the habitability of planets and our ability to characterize them. This session therefore welcomes abstracts on how planets around M-dwarfs may have dramatically different dynamical properties, climates, atmospheres, and biota than planets around Sun-like stars, and on how these differences may impact planetary habitability and our ability to characterize the planet. Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman and Victoria S. Meadows
Breaking Chiral Symmetry and the Origin of Homochirality in Life: The breaking of chiral symmetry and the origin of homochirality in prebiotic organic compounds that led to the emergence of life on Earth continues to be one of the central questions in Astrobiology and origins of life research. Life as we know it requires homochirality in the form of left handed amino acids found in proteins and enzymes and right handed sugars found in DNA and RNA that are involved in transcription and translation of the genetic code. Since both left and right handed forms of amino acids and sugars formed by local abiotic synthesis or delivered by exogenous sources would have been available on the prebiotic Earth, it remains a mystery why life selected left handed amino acids and right handed sugars and not the other way around. Circularly polarized light, parity violating energy shifts, selective adsorption onto chiral crystal surfaces, and crystallization are among a few of the ideas that have been proposed for breaking chiral symmetry on the early Earth. This session invites papers that discuss the role of prebiotic chemistry in the origin of biological homochirality and theoretical models and experiments that describe possible mechanisms for chiral symmetry breaking and amplification. Daniel Glavin and Jim Cleaves
Astrobiology and Interdisciplinary Communication: This session will attempt to discuss and analyze communication and collaboration between astrobiologists across disciplines. Because astrobiology is a great example of interdisciplinary research and education, the field also serves as a test bed for how technologies can affect the ways in which scientists communicate. We thus welcome abstracts on the influences of advances in communication such as "web 2.0" and high-definition videoconferencing. Discussion on specific communication efforts such as the astrobiology primers and textbooks, conferences, or outreach activities are also invited. Finally, we seek abstracts that will provide context for our discussion. For example, context could be provided comparing astrobiology to other interdisciplinary fields or by reviewing the history of interdisciplinary communication. Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman
Habitability of Super-Earths: Observational techniques favor the discovery of rocky exoplanets larger than the Earth. These planets have been dubbed "super-Earths", and we would like to know if they can be habitable. However, with no bodies of similar size in our solar system, we can make no direct analogies. Instead we must rely on theoretical modeling to determine if internal, biogeochemical, atmospheric, and formation processes permit habitability. This session will present theoretical models and observational consequences of these processes on massive terrestrial exoplanets which may impact habitability. Rory Barnes, Victoria S. Meadows
Policy and Societal Issues: Dealing with Potential Bumps in the Astrobiology Road Ahead Margaret Race and Kathryn Denning
Superconductivity of Cosmic Ice and Life of the Universe Andre Pospeloff
Stable Isotopes in Astrobiology: From Meteorites to Methanogens. One of the most powerful tools in astrobiology is understanding the isotopic fractionation of multiple elements. This session will explore the latest multidisciplinary advances in stable isotope research relevant to astrobiology. Jennifer Stern and Jamie Elsila
Microbial Life in Ice and its Implications for Astrobiology Missions: Ice is a vault for gases, solutes, and particulates that are processed through a cryosphere. These materials not only provide valuable records of these processes, they are also fuel for life adapted to icy conditions on Earth and possibly elsewhere in our solar system. This session will focus on lessons learned from ice life ecology, its adaptations to cryospheric environments, and constraints on its detection as they may be applied to the search for life beyond Earth. Jennifer Eigenbrode
Habitability of Icy Solar System Bodies: Liquid water can be present in interiors of many icy bodies in the solar system, including Europa, Enceladus, and trans-Neptunian objects. Recent discovery of ammonia and salt particles emitted from Enceladus provides exciting information about past or present aqueous processes. This session will discuss habitability of icy words that includes physical and chemical constraints on temperature, pressure, salinity, water activity, composition, bioessential elements, organic compounds, and energy sources to keep water unfrozen and support metabolism. Mikhail Zolotov, Kevin Hand, Allen McNamara
Astrobiology in a 9-12 Educational Learning Community: John Dewey High School's participation in NASA’s Mars Exploration Student Data Team venture and Distance Learning Network projects provide opportunities for and serve as a conduit to NASA's E/PO programs. This offers access to our diverse population, focusing particular attention to under-represented and under-served groups, in the field of Space Science. Barry Fried and Honora Dash
A set of short, informal lightning talks (5-10 minutes each) on a breadth of astrobiology topics will be presented during this session. Drawing on the collective, immediate interests of AbSciCon attendees, lightning talks will be proposed in real time early in the conference and the session agenda crafted on the fly. A mix of on site and online social networking tools will be used to shape this community-driven session and will persist for ongoing communication after the conference. Shige Abe, Andrew Steele, Mark Friedanbach
Integrating Astrobiology Research There are many areas of funded astrobiology research in which broader collaboration across the astrobiology community would lead to greater scientific insights and productivity. The NASA Astrobiology Institute has recently identified some of these areas and begun developing the collaborations. This session is aimed at extending that process to the entire astrobiology community. Some examples of currently forming collaborations and methods for developing them will be presented, and presentations on other potential collaborative areas will be solicited. Carl Pilcher
Postcards from the Road: Collaborative Tools for Astrobiology Astrobiology research is often conducted with teams of researchers distributed across the globe. This session will focus on the spectrum of technologies and techniques that are available to astrobiologists for communication across distance, including communication from field sites, virtual field trips, innovative use of videoconferencing and online meeting tools, virtual worlds, supercomputing, and social and human factors that affect remote collaboration. A portion of this session will be devoted to short informal "lightning talks" on ways that technology is being used for science, and the session will be open for remote participation through the use of collaborative tools. Wendy Dolci, Marco Boldt, Estelle Dodson
Postcards from the Future: What’s on the horizon for collaborative science technology. Astrobiologists often have a unique view into the future of science and technology. This session will be a look at what is on the horizon in science collaborations based on emerging trends in data visualization, immersive environments, collective intelligence, hyperwall technology, and open science. Estelle Dodson, Wendy Dolci
Astrobiology Lightning Talks: A set of short, informal lightning talks (5-10 minutes each) on a breadth of astrobiology topics will be presented during this session. Drawing on the collective, immediate interests of AbSciCon attendees, lightning talks will be proposed in real time early in the conference and the session agenda crafted on the fly. A mix of on site and online social networking tools will be used to shape this community-driven session and will persist for ongoing communication after the conference. Shige Abe, Andrew Steele, Mark Friedenbach
Free Oxygen: Causes and Consequences: Earth's three major geologic eons (the Archean, Proterozoic, and Phanerozoic) have become nearly synonymous with differing partial pressures of atmospheric oxygen, a waste product of cyanobacteria. Life on Earth has profoundly modified the cycling of elements in the atmosphere, ocean, and surface, and has in turn been influenced by changes in the availability of nutrients. This session seeks to clarify the evolution of the redox state of Earth's surface environments, with an emphasis on the elements and/or molecules required by biota. New geologic data or proxies should allow stronger constraints on free oxygen concentrations in ancient environments, while genomic studies may shed light on the evolutionary consequences of planetary oxidation. Laboratory studies are needed to asses nutrient limitations on organisms of various metabolisms. Biogeochemical modeling will help synthesize self-consistent explanations for the co-evolution of life with nutrient cycles. Unraveling the story of oxygen will require strong interdisciplinary effort and this session encourages abstracts from the entire astrobiological community. Mark Claire and Shawn Domagol-Goldman
Signatures of Chemical Precursors of Biomolecules in Star Forming Regions: We would invite contributions from observers and modelers to address the detection, characterization, and evolution of small organic molecules in dense molecular clouds, cores, and disks. Our goal is to unite current understanding from observational evidence and knowledge of astrophysical conditions from the astronomy community with interests general to the astrobiology community at large. The dialog will help to bring focus to new, pressing issues to be explored with next-generation telescopes. Hsien Shang & Jen Blank
From Non-Enzymatic Catalysis to Metabolism – tracing evolution of catalysis at the origins of life. Understanding complex chemical transformations from simple organic material to molecules of life and their self-organization into the first living systems is at the center of origin of life research. These processes necessarily involved catalysis of chemical reactions and their organization into chemical networks that ultimately led to primitive metabolism, polymerization and self-reproducing systems. Initial catalysis might have been aided by inorganic compounds and surfaces that evolved into enzymes assisted by biopolymers (such as proteins and/or RNA). These enzymes evolved to increase their efficiency, specificity and range of catalytic function. At some stage, sets of catalytic reactions became what we would now recognize as metabolic pathways, cycles and biochemical networks. In the proposed session we intend to discuss models of biochemical evolution in to the context of the origins of life. Examples of questions that we expect to address are: What were prebiotic catalysts and what was their potential? How could inorganic catalysts facilitate the emergence of proto-enzymes? Was prebiotic and biological catalysis coupled and do we see remnants of this coupling in contemporary organisms? What were the earliest proto-enzymes and what functions did they perform? How did proto-enzymes evolve towards higher efficiency and larger diversity? Did abiotic catalytic processes facilitate the emergence and self-organization of biological metabolism? How did protein enzymes couple to the translation machinery to create the contemporary two-polymer system? What were the first steps in assembly of this machinery? Andrew Pohorille, John Peters and Loren Williams
Supernova Contamination of Forming Planetary Systems: How much is normal, and what does it affect? Steve Desch
Nitrogen Cycling in Extreme Environments: In many extreme environments nitrogen (N) is one of the most limiting factors for microbial growth. This limitation can be the result of physical or chemical conditions that restrict either the amount or form of bioavailable N. Access to N can also be affected by co-limitation with respect to micronutrients. Understanding the abiotic and biotic processes that influence N cycling in these environments can help us elucidate how these microbial consortia evolved, predict the response of these communities to environmental catastrophes, and determine where extraterrestrial microbial communities might exist. Katie Alexander and Hilairy Hartnett
Extraterrestrial Organic Chemistry - Biological, Pre-Biological, and Abiological: Carbon's unique chemical properties, its relatively-high cosmic abundance, and the well-established existence of many carbon compounds in extraterrestrial sources all argue for that element's substantial role in astrobiology. This session will be an opportunity for a diverse group of contributors with interests in observational astronomy, laboratory analysis and simulations, theory, and future missions to share their latest results, all united with a common interest in the chemistry of carbon-containing molecules. Although the session's focus will be on organics, certain inorganic materials, such as sulfates and ammonia, may also have influenced carbon chemistry and life's origin, and so relevant contributions related to those substances will be welcome. Reggie Hudson and Marla Moore
Signatures of Earth’s Geologic History in the Genomic Record: Are They There? Metals are essential components of the active sites of metalloproteins in all three domains of life. Geochronological measurements indicate that the availability of many bioessential metals has changed substantially over the Earth’s history, resulting in constraints on their utilization in biology. Presumably, such constraints, either past or present, are recorded in the genomic record of extant organisms. The increasing number of available genome sequences of taxa covering early and late descending lineages on the tree of life coupled with the development of new computational tools for the analysis of genome sequence now makes it possible to query the origin and evolution of metal utilization in biology. This session invites papers that move towards merging the genomic record with the geological record at various scales (i.e., protein structure, phylogenomics, metabolic networks, etc.) with a particular emphasis on trace element utilization, metalloenzyme evolution, and biogeochemistry. Eric Boyd, John Peters, Ariel Anbar, Janet Siefert
Molecular Asymmetry and Life Detection: Molecular asymmetry offers a life-detection approach that has the potential to be unambiguous. This session intends to be broad and cover all topics related to molecular handedness and life detection. Major questions to be addressed are: 1. Would the discovery of an amino acid enantiomeric excess for L or D in organic matter on Mars, Europa, or Enceladus be taken as conclusive evidence for life and for a second genesis? 2. Would the discovery of a chiral excess in some organic molecule that is not amino acids and not a molecule used in Earth biology be taken as conclusive evidence for life and for a second genesis? What possible molecules could this be? 3. Can chiral uptake be used as a reliable life detection method on Mars? If so what chiral molecules should be used? Sugars, Amino acids etc? 4. How would racemization, biological or abiotic, affect such chiral biosignatures and their detection? Henry Sun, Christopher McKay, Paul Davies
After contacting him, I would like to endorse/co-sponsor Dr. Brendan Burns' "Life in Modern Microbialite Systems" proposal, and, if this is topic is accepted as a session, would gladly co-chair this with Dr. Burns. Pieter Visscher