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NASA Astrobiology Roadmap and New Discoveries in Journal Astrobiology Drive Search for Extraterrestrial Life
New Rochelle, NY, October 15, 2008 – The latest version of NASA’s Astrobiology Roadmap and exciting reports on new strategies for detecting biosignatures in Earth rocks highlight the diverse content of the August 2008 (Volume 8, Number 4) issue of Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Several key papers in the issue are available free online at www.liebertpub.com/ast
The latest version of NASA’s Astrobiology Roadmap, a comprehensive document intended to guide and integrate research and technology development across groups from academia, government, and private institutions, is highlighted in this issue. The Roadmap defines research objectives aimed at answering three main questions: how does life begin and evolve; does life exist elsewhere in the universe; and what is the future of life on Earth and beyond?
“Understanding how microbial biosignatures form in modern environments will contribute to a better understanding of how they can be applied to the study of extraterrestrial rocks,” says journal Editor, Sherry L. Cady, PhD, Associate Professor of Geology, Portland State University.
In the paper “Silicifying Biofilm Exopolymers on a Hot-Spring Microstromatolite: Templating Nanometer-Thick Laminae,” Kim Handley, Sue Turner, Kathleen Campbell, and Bruce Mountain, from the University of Manchester (U.K.), the University of Auckland, and the Wairkei Research Centre (Taupo), New Zealand, present findings on the mineralization of exopolymeric substances (EPS), which are components of microbial biofilms.
The complexities encountered when using the iron isotope record to search for biosignatures in geological materials are illustrated in a report entitled, “Stable Iron Isotopes and Microbial Mediation in Red Pigmentation of the Rosso Ammonitico (Mid-Late Jurassic, Verona Area, Italy).” Authors Alain Préat, Jeroen de Jong, Bernard Mamet, and Nadine Mattielli, from the Université libre de Bruxelles (Brussels, Belgium), describe the first detailed iron isotope study performed in Phanerozoic limestone.
Challenges faced when working with samples similar in size to material that will be cached for a future Mars Sample Return mission are described in the report entitled, “Discovery of a New Chert-Permineralized Microbiota in the Proterozoic Buxa Formation of the Ranjit Window, Sikkim, Northeast India, and its Astrobiological Implications.” Authors J. William Schopf, Vinod Tewari, and Anatoliy Kudryavtsev demonstrate how morphological remains of microorganisms can be found even in minute amounts of rock from an ancient paleobiological repository.