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<span>Research Interests: In the broadest terms, Chris aims to find theories and principles that apply to a wide range of biological scales and hierarchies. Chris generally focuses his work on biological architecture—which may include phenomena ranging from explicit biological morphology to metabolic and genetic network structure—as an intermediate between organism physiology and environmental conditions. Mathematical and physical theories lie at the heart of his methodologies to predict how evolution has shaped architecture and how this, in turn, forms a foundation for reliable predictions of environmental response and interaction. His work spans the scales of genetic information architecture to the morphology of microbial individuals and communities to the regional variation of plant traits and their feedback with climate and available resources. In so doing, he aims to connect these first-order trends to the limitations imposed by environments in order to predict specific evolutionary events and consequences. Several collaborations with experimentalists and theorists have led to models that inform experiments and assimilate empirical data in fields including single-cell experimental biology and forest dynamics.</span><span><span></span></span> +
A computer scientist by training, an evolutionist by historical accident, an academic against better judgement, and a professional wanderer by choice. As a graduate student I spent several years at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), which largely shaped my scientific outlook. After obtaining a Ph.D. in computer science, I worked on many short-term research, computing, and teaching projects all over the world. Currently I am just traveling around a bit, and will be looking for a new adventure sometime soon. Next to my scientific articles, I also regularly publish popular science pieces and travel stories, and post pictures from my hikes. +
D. Eric Smith received the Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1987, and a Ph.D. in Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1993, with a dissertation on problems in string theory and high-temperature superconductivity. From 1993 to 2000 he worked in physical, nonlinear, and statistical acoustics at the Applied Research Labs: U. T. Austin, and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. From 2000 he has worked at the Santa Fe Institute on problems of self-organization in thermal, chemical, and biological systems. A focus of his current work is the statistical mechanics of the transition from the geochemistry of the early earth to the first levels of biological organization, with some emphasis on the emergence of the metabolic network. +
David’s research focuses on the evolutionary history of information processing mechanisms in biology and culture. This includes genetic, neural, linguistic and cultural mechanisms. The research spans multiple levels of organization, seeking analogous patterns and principles in genetics, cell biology, microbiology and in organismal behavior and society. At the cellular level David has been interested in molecular processes, which rely on volatile, error-prone, asynchronous, mechanisms, which can be used as a basis for decision making and patterning. David also investigates how signaling interactions at higher levels, including microbial and organismal, are used to coordinate complex life cycles and social systems, and under what conditions we observe the emergence of proto-grammars. Much of this work is motivated by the search for 'noisy-design' principles in biology and culture emerging through evolutionary dynamics that span hierarchical structures. Research projects includes work on the molecular logic of signaling pathways, the evolution of genome organization (redundancy, multiple encoding, quantization and compression), robust communication over networks, the evolution of distributed forms of biological information processing, dynamical memory systems, the logic of transmissible regulatory networks (such as virus life cycles) and the many ways in which organisms construct their environments (niche construction). Thinking about niche constructing niches provides us with a new perspective on the major evolutionary transitions. Many of these areas are characterized by the need to encode heritable information (genetic, epigenetic, auto-catalytic or linguistic) at distinct levels of biological organization, where selection pressures are often independent or in conflict. Furthermore, components are noisy and degrade and interactions are typically diffusively coupled. At each level David asks how information is acquired, stored, transmitted, replicated, transformed and robustly encoded. The big question that many are asking is what will evolutionary theory look like once it has become integrated with the sciences of adaptive information (information theory and computation), and of course, what will these sciences then look like? Krakauer was previously chair of the faculty and a resident professor and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. A graduate of the University of London, where he went on to earn degrees in biology, and computer science. Dr. Krakauer received his D.Phil. in evolutionary theory from Oxford University in 1995. He remained at Oxford as a postdoctoral research fellow, and two years later was named a Wellcome Research Fellow in mathematical biology and lecturer at Pembroke College. In 1999, he accepted an appointment to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and served as visiting professor of evolution at Princeton University. He moved on to the Santa Fe Institute as a professor three years later and was made faculty chair in 2009. Dr. Krakauer has been a visiting fellow at the Genomics Frontiers Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and a Sage Fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of Santa Barbara. In 2012 Dr. Krakauer was included in the Wired Magazine Smart List as one of 50 people "who will change the World." David Krakauer also served as the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the Co-Director of the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation, and was a Professor of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Dr. Karyn Rogers joined the faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2013 after serving as a Research Scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri, and a Deep Ocean Exploration Institute Postdoctoral Scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Dr. Rogers completed her PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, with previous degrees awarded from Stanford University (M.S. 2001) and Harvard University (A.B. 1996). Dr. Rogers is a member of the New York Center for Astrobiology (NYCA) and the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA). Dr. Rogersâ research focuses on the relationships between microbial communities and environmental conditions in extreme ecosystems, and is broadly applied to understanding the nature of the origin of life on Earth, the potential for life throughout the solar system, and the extent of life in modern extreme environments. To advance our understanding of environmental microbiomes in these systems, Dr. Rogers research program includes field research in early Earth and Mars analog environments as well as laboratory experimental studies of microbial behavior under extreme conditions. Additionally, the group is exploring the viability of abiotic synthesis of biomolecules over a range of early Earth conditions. The driving question in this research is how realistic environmental conditions combine to form habitable niches that can both support the early emergence of life as well as the long-term survival of life in these environments. Dr. Rogersâ fieldwork includes several terrestrial hydrothermal systems including Cerro Negro Volcano, Nicaragua, the Vulcano shallow marine hydrothermal system in Italy, and several modern deep-sea mid-ocean ridge environments. These field endeavors are combined with extensive laboratory analytical and experimental techniques to develop a holistic picture of functional microbial ecosystems. More specifically, laboratory techniques include cultivation of extremophiles under high pressure, high temperature, acidic, and anaerobic conditions; a next-generation genomics approach to determine the functional environmental microbiome in extreme systems; geochemical analyses and modeling of environmental and bioenergetics parameters; and the synthesis of these datasets using novel data analytics.
Dr. Laurie Barge is a research scientist in Astrobiology at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, and is also affiliated with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle, WA and the Oak Crest Institute of Science in Monrovia, CA. Laurie received her B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Villanova University and her Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Southern California. Laurie studies the emergence of life on Earth and ways to search for life elsewhere. Her focus is on how minerals affect chemistry for the emergence of life and habitability on wet rocky planets, including early Earth, Mars, and "ocean worlds" such as Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus. Dr. Barge's research group seeks to understand mineral-driven organic reactions and geochemistry relevant to biological and prebiotic systems. This work includes planetary environment simulations in the lab including making mini vent chimneys, making early Earth and Mars minerals, and simulating the energy in ocean systems using fuel cells. At JPL Laurie is also the Investigation Scientist for the HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. +
Dr. Mary A. Voytek took charge of NASA s Astrobiology Program on September 15, 2008, as Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA HQ. In addition to managing the Core and Strategic Astrobiology Programs, in 2015, Dr. Voytek formed Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), a systems science initiative by NASA, to search for life on exoplanets. Prior to NASA, Dr. Voytek headed the USGS Microbiology and Molecular Ecology Laboratory in the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA. Dr. Voytek s primary research interest is aquatic microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. She has studied environmental controls on microbial transformations of nutrients, xenobiotics, and metals in freshwater and marine systems. She has worked in several extreme environments including Antarctica, the arctic, hypersaline lakes, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and terrestrial deep- subsurface sites. She has served on several advisory groups to Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and NASA, including the Planetary Protection Subcommittee. She has also supported NASA s Astrobiology Program serving as a NASA representative to a number of COSPAR convened studies exploring the potential for life in the universe. She has held positions in several science societies and is currently a board member of the American Geophysical Union. +
Dr. Maurer is interested in the abiogenesis from both the origins-of-life and artificial life perspectives. She builds model cells from amphiphiles, and examines possible life-like properties, such as metabolism or growth and division. Her current projects include: - Changes in populations of model cells when put under environmental pressure. The goal of this work is to examine the ability of cells to survive in the absence of reproduction (prebiotic conditions). This project seeks to model the evolution of cellular containers available on early Earth. - Damage to model cells from ultraviolet light. This seeks to address the ability of cells to survive in the absence of an atmosphere. Comets, meteors, and asteroids are exposed to greater UV radiation. Also certain stars, the distance a planet is from its star, and the atmosphere of the planet can all lead to higher degrees of UV radiation in locations where life may now be forming. - Artificial photosynthesis under prebiotic conditions generating reduced carbon and a proton gradient using transmembrane electron transport. +
Dr. Templeton is a Geomicrobiologist with a special focus on microbe-mineral interactions. At the University of Colorado, Alexis Templeton has established field and laboratory based studies of biomineralization processes in subsurface terrestrial systems in Colorado, the High Arctic and Oman. These projects include mechanistic studies of water/rock interactions, such as the hydration of mafic and ultramafic rocks, and the isolation and characterization of Fe, Mn, S and hydrogen cycling bacteria dependent upon geological energy sources. Prof. Templeton trains students and postdoctoral scholars in the realms of geochemistry, geomicrobiology and astrobiology and supervises the Raman Chemical Imaging laboratory. Prof. Templeton is also the Principal Investigator of the 'Rock-Powered Life' NASA Astrobiology Institute. +
I am interested in molecular evolution and the biochemistry of catalytic RNAs (ribozymes). Research in my lab utilizes powerful in vitro evolution techniques to discover RNA sequences with new or improved functions, for example, in regard to RNA-metal ion interactions. We are particularly keen to use these techniques to test fundamental evolutionary hypotheses, such as the antiquity of recombination. +
In thinking about Geobiology, two facts offer a clear guide. The first is that microbes dominate elemental cycling on modern Earth. The second is the age of Earth. Together, they imply a long co-evolutionary relationship between the geochemistry of earth surface environments and the activity of their microbial inhabitants. Our research in Geobiology is aimed at understanding this relationship over the long arc of Earth's history, and at making that understanding as quantitative as possible. By studying modern microbes in culture or in the natural environment, we can learn in great detail about their metabolisms. In particular, modern microbial metabolisms can produce characteristic chemical or isotopic signatures, sometimes in their biosynthetic products, sometimes in their waste products. This knowledge is then put to task, with the presence of these signatures in geological materials used to infer the appearance and activity of microbes in the deep past. Interpretations of these microbial bio-signatures in the ancient rock record are based on a critical peculiar assumption: their metabolic origin has not changed in a long, long time. This is a funny assumption for a couple of reasons. Microbial metabolisms can evolve on human timescales, as recognized by anyone who has hesitated going to the hospital for fear of a super bug . In deep time, the paradox becomes even more dramatic. There are 5x1030 bacteria and archaea on Earth today. Mean turnover times of natural microbial populations are days to millenia (10-2 to 103 years). Assuming that a similar-sized microbial biosphere has been maintained since 3.5 billion years ago, the number of microbes that have ever lived on Earth is awesome: >1037 to 1042. In broad brush, though not in detail, these numbers can be thought of as the number of individual microbial evolution experiments run by Nature. Even if only a small percentage of these impacted the microbial traits that produce geologically significant bio-signatures, it seems incredible that the characteristic chemical or isotopic products of the relevant metabolisms have remained immune to evolutionary modification. We investigate this paradox in a couple of ways. First, we go out in the field and collect large suites of samples from well-characterized modern and paleo environments, and see if the isotopic and geochemical patterns that we observe are consistent with bio-signatures from microbial cultures in the laboratory. Second, we take modern microbial populations and subject them to experimental evolution in the lab, and see if their adaptive changes have isotopic or geochemical consequences that can inform our interpretations of bio-signatures from the ancient rock record. This work cuts across many disciplines, from molecular biology to geochronology, and is rooted in real-time hypothesis testing, from one outcrop (and one generation) to the next. As a result, it is totally collaborative, highly uncertain, and wicked fun. Although our culturing work currently focuses on cyanobacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria and archea (the alpha and omega of the global carbon cycle) and recent field studies have focused on bizarre biogeochemical changes at the beginning and end of the Proterozoic Eon, our research is, at its root, hypothesis-based. Once a stimulating geobiological question is identified (no hard task given the critical mass of geobio types here at CU Boulder!), we design new field studies, analytical techniques, and laboratory experiments to test it.
Kate received a MSc in chemistry from the University of Warsaw, Poland, studying synthetic organic chemistry. In grad school, she worked with professor Pier Luigi Luisi from University Roma Tre and Jack Szostak from Harvard University. She studied RNA biophysics, small peptide catalysis and liposome dynamics, in an effort to build a chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution. Kate's postdoctoral work in Ed Boyden's Synthetic Neurobiology group at MIT focused on developing novel methods for multiplex control and readout of mammalian cells. Her full first name spells Katarzyna; she goes by Kate for the benefit of friends speaking less consonant-enriched languages. +
Linden is a farmer and scientist, with a passion for soils, chemistry, plants, food, languages, and water. She recently earned her Masters degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Biogeochemistry. She is currently cultivating relationships with communities in northern New Mexico through science and math education, as well as, farming. As a member of the Complexity Explorer Team, she is excited to help share complexity science with the non-traditional students that SFI's online education platform serves! +
Loren Williams was born in Seattle, Washington. He received his B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of Washington where he worked in the laboratory of Martin Gouterman. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Duke University, where he worked the laboratory of Barbara Shaw. He was an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow first at Duke then at Harvard. From 1988 to 1992 he was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow with Alexander Rich in the Department of Biology at MIT. He joined the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech in 1992 where is he currently a professor. Loren received an NSF CAREER Award in 1995, and a Sigma Xi Award for best paper from Georgia Tech in 1996. He received SAIC Student Advisement Award in 2012, the Petit Institute "Above and Beyond" Award in 2012, Georgia Tech's Faculty Award for Academic Outreach in 2013, and the Georgia Tech College of Science Faculty Mentor Award in 2013. He was director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute funded Ribo Evo Center from 2008 to 2015 and is currently Directer of the NASA-funded Center for the Origin of Life. +
Lynn Rothschild is passionate about the origin and evolution of life on Earth or elsewhere, while at the same time pioneering the use of synthetic biology to enable space exploration. Just as travel abroad permits new insights into home, so too the search for life elsewhere allows a more mature scientific, philosophical and ethical perception of life on Earth. She wears several hats as a senior scientist NASA s Ames Research Center and Bio and Bio-Inspired Technologies, Research and Technology Lead for NASA Headquarters Space Technology Mission Directorate, as well as Adjunct Professor at Brown University, and the University of California Santa Cruz. Her research has focused on how life, particularly microbes, has evolved in the context of the physical environment, both here and potentially elsewhere. She founded and ran the first three Astrobiology Science Conferences (AbSciCon), was the founding co-editor of the International Journal of Astrobiology, and is the former director of the Astrobiology Strategic Analysis and Support Office for NASA. Astrobiology research includes examining a protein-based scenario for the origin of life, hunting for the most radiation-resistant organisms, and determining signatures for life on extrasolar planets. More recently Rothschild has brought her creativity to the burgeoning field of synthetic biology, articulating a vision for the future of synthetic biology as an enabling technology for NASA s missions, including human space exploration and astrobiology. Since 2011 she has been the faculty advisor of the award-winning Stanford-Brown iGEM team, which has pioneered the use of synthetic biology to accomplish NASA s missions, particularly focusing on the human settlement of Mars, astrobiology and such innovative technologies as BioWires and making a biodegradable UAS (drone) and a bioballoon. Her lab will be move these plans into space in the form of the PowerCell synthetic biology secondary payload on a DLR satellite, EuCROPIS, scheduled to launch in July 2017. She is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London, The California Academy of Sciences and the Explorer s Club. In 2015, she was awarded the Isaac Asimov Award from the American Humanist Association, and was the recipient of the Horace Mann Award from Brown University, and has been a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) fellow three times, most recently in 2018. She frequently appears on documentaries, tv and radio, and lectures worldwide, including Windsor Castle, Comi Con and the Vatican.
Marcelo I. Guzman is an Associate Professor of Chemistry in the University of Kentucky. In 2013, he received a NSF CAREER award. He holds a Licentiate in Chemistry degree from National University of Tucuman, Argentina (2000). He received undergraduate and graduate research fellowships from the Research Council of the National University of Tucuman (1999 to 2002), to perform research in various projects in the Organic Chemistry Department. In 2001, he was awarded The Argentine Chemical Society award and the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) offered him a fellowship as the top ranked Chemistry graduate. In 2002, he was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) working on Paper and Photograph Conservation in the Sherman Fairchild Center. He earned his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech, 2007) working on ice chemistry with Michael R. Hoffmann. For his postdoctoral experience he joined the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University as an Origins Fellow working with Scot T. Martin. +
Michael Lachmann is a theoretical biologist whose primary interests lie in understanding evolutionary processes and their origins. He received his B.Sc. at the Tel Aviv university in the interdisciplinary program for fostering excellence founded by the late Yehuda Elkana. He received his Ph.D. in Biology at Stanford University, was a postdoctoral fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, and worked at the Max Planck institute for mathematics in the sciences. Between 2004 and 2014 he was a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for evolutionary anthropology in Leipzig working, among others, on the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. Michael's work focused on the interface between evolution and information. He studied how an ant colony could make global decisions based on the information acquired by the single ants, on the connection between the fitness advantage a signal provides and the information it provides, on how costly signals in biology need to be to be believable, and on epigenetic information transfer. He is a Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. +
Michael New was born and raised in New York City, specifically the Bronx and Queens. Tired of the fast-paced urban experience, he decamped to the wilds of New Haven, CT. After four years of experiments aimed at settling the age-old question of whether Pepe's or Sally's made the better pizza ended inconclusively, Yale University banished him from Elm City with a BS in chemistry. Undeterred, he returned home, where he earned a PhD in chemical physics at Columbia University in 1994. In search of the world's worst pastrami sandwich, he then relocated to the left coast, specifically to the People's Republic of Berkeley, where he held post-doctoral positions in the UC Berkeley chemistry department and the UC San Francisco department of pharmaceutical chemistry. He is quick to point out that, due to the presence of deer in his backyard, Berkeley is the most rural place he has ever lived. Following a long-time addiction to Star Trek, Michael joined the civil servant staff of the Exobiology Branch at NASA Ames Research Center in 1998. He was disappointed when he wasn't issued a phaser and a stretchy red shirt. In 2001, Michael agreed, despite the advice of friends and strangers alike, to become the Deputy Branch Chief where he dealt with several major safety and financial crises, in the process learning more than he never wanted to know about the Legionella bacterium and full-cost accounting. Shaken by this compound exposure to bacteria and accounting, and having discovered the worst pastrami sandwich in the world (in a deli in Berkeley who's name must not be spoken aloud) and an unexplainable interest in NASA management, Michael relocated back to the east and became the Astrobiology Discipline Scientist at NASA HQ. +
My interests stem from my basic curiosity to understand matter and energy relationships in biological processes, especially those that may lead to insights into how life started. Current projects seek to investigate hydrogen oxidation and carbon reduction in hydrothermal vent simulation experiments, the sulfur isotope fractionation factors of the enzymes involved in microbial dissimilatory sulfate reduction, and direct interspecies electron transfer as a mechanism of syntrophic metabolic coupling. Other topics include the microbial ecology of hot springs in Japan with relevance to early ocean chemistry, and metal abundance distributions across microbial taxa. +
My long-term research goals are in understanding the causes of biological diversity and complexity. While natural selection is the ultimate cause for both, that level of explanation is not sufficient to understand how the myriad forms of life have come to exist. My research program is essentially a series of studies of increasingly more complicated biological systems. By understanding more simple systems, we then work toward understanding more complicated, and realistic, biological systems. My first projects were with a single species of free-living bacteria, one of the simplest living systems that have biological complexity. Since those first experiments, my work has branched out to include simple eukaryotes, predator-prey interactions, and microbial communities, all of which was possible because of the earlier work. +
My research group develops theoretical approaches and computational models for the study of complex biological networks. We are especially interested in the dynamics and evolution of metabolism, whose complex web of small-molecule transformations underlies fundamental aspects of biological organization, from energy transduction to cell-cell communication. In addition to helping understand how biological systems function and evolve, we seek to apply our methods to the design and optimization of engineered networks for bioenergy and biomedicine applications. +
My research interest has been centered on the evolution of Earth as a platform for the emergence of life and its subsequent evolution in the solar system. I place a particular emphasis on the dynamics of Earth s mantle, because of its parental nature to the continental and oceanic crust, its thermal and chemical interaction with the core, and its potential role in the evolution of the atmosphere and oceans. I enjoy cracking long-standing problems by combining physics, chemistry, applied math, and statistics. My research adopts a holistic, multidisciplinary approach, often involving the development of new observational and theoretical methods along the way. I m a freestyle geophysicist, and my group has worked on a variety of problems, including the evolution of plate tectonics, the dynamics of lithosphere and mantle plumes, chemical geodynamics, the origins of large igneous provinces, global water cycle and the history of ocean volume, and the thermal evolution of Mars, Venus, and exoplanets. The currently ongoing projects span the synergy of experimental rock mechanics and geodynamical modeling, the physics and chemistry of protoplanetary disks, early Earth geodynamics and environments, and the seismic imaging of the deep Earth using USArray. +
Nicolle Zellner's research involves understanding the impact history of the Earth-Moon system. Professor Zellner studies the geochemical and chronological information obtained from lunar impact glasses in order to understand how many impact events the lunar surface has suffered. This information can then be applied to understanding the conditions required for life on Earth and how impact events may have affected its origin and evolution. She is also interested in understanding how biomolecules are transferred among planetary bodies, such as via comet or asteroid impacts, and how their chemistry may change in an impact event. Professor Zellner has been affiliated with the New York Center for Astrobiology, a NASA Astrobiology Institute, with research funding from the American Astronomical Society and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Her lunar research is currently supported by NASA and the NSF, and her impact research is supported by NASA. Both projects have additionally been supported by Albion College faculty development funds. +
Oscillatory chemical reactions, spatial pattern formation, dynamical systems and neurobiology. Many phenomena in living systems involve periodic changes. In recent years, oscillating chemical reactions have blossomed from a curiosity studied by an obscure group of Russians to a major area of scientific research. We study these systems both experimentally and theoretically, from several points of view. We have achieved the first successful design of a new chemical oscillator. We have used our systematic design algorithm to expand the family of chemical oscillators from two accidentally discovered reactions to dozens of deliberately constructed systems. We continue to search for new types of oscillators while probing, both experimentally and computationally, the mechanisms of those that have already been discovered. Chemical oscillators can be "tweaked" to give a variety of related phenomena, many with suggestive connections to biological systems. We study spatial pattern formation, in which an initially homogeneous medium spontaneously gives rise to concentric rings, or spiral patterns resembling those seen in embryonic development or the aggregation of slime molds, and chemical chaos, in which concentrations oscillate deterministically, but in an aperiodic and apparently irreproducible fashion that depends sensitively on the initial conditions. We investigate Turing structures, patterns that arise from the interaction of reaction and diffusion, which have been suggested as a mechanism of spatial pattern formation in phenomena ranging from biological morphogenesis to geological stratification. We are interested in the phenomena that can occur when two or more oscillators are coupled together, either physically, i.e., by diffusion or an electrical connection, or chemically, by having two oscillators share a common chemical species. Such systems can give rise to surprising phenomena, such as "oscillator death," the cessation of oscillation in two coupled oscillating systems, or the converse, "rhythmogenesis," in which coupling two systems at steady state causes them to start oscillating. Coupled chemical oscillators provide simple models for networks of oscillatory neurons. We have begun to apply some of the insights gained in our studies of coupled chemical oscillators to the modeling of small neural networks. More recently, we have begun to study chemomechanical transduction, a phenomenon in which changes in chemical composition are converted into motion, e.g., in the periodic shrinking and swelling of a gel composed of a polymer that contains the catalyst for an oscillatory reaction immersed in a solution containing the reactants of the chemical oscillator.
Professor Sara Walker is an astrobiologist and theoretical physicist interested in the origin of life and how to find life on other worlds. While there are many things to be solved, she is most interested in whether or not there are laws of life - related to how information structures the physical world - that could universally describe life here on Earth and on other planets. Sara's research team aims to develop new theory for living systems, to explain their origins, and to identify them on other worlds. The team studies living processes across many scales: from the microscale interactions of the chemistry happening within cells to the macroscale interactions of societies and planets. At Arizona State University she is Deputy Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Associate Director of the ASU-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems and Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She is also Co-founder of the astrobiology-themed social website SAGANet.org, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Blue Marble Space. She is active in public engagement in science, with appearances at the World Science Festival and on "Through the Wormhole" and NPR's Science Friday. +
Research Interests: Before there was life on earth, molecules already displayed behaviour that resembles life, such as reproduction and evolution. My research focuses on complexity, in prebiotic evolution (origin of life) and in man-made synthetic, biological and chemical systems. I’m mainly working on building and refining computer models that mimic chemical systems. I’m fortunate to collaborate with Sijbren Otto’s research group here in Groningen, so I can use real data from their experiments in my work. Those researchers have created a system of chemical replicators that spontaneously form larger rings. The rings then accumulate into something like small fibres that, in turn, exhibit interesting behaviour. That system is the starting point for my models. I then combine it with insights from evolutionary biology to discover the circumstances that are necessary to initiate chemical evolution. +
Research Interests: Biological homochirality, chiral symmetry breaking, molecular fitness landscapes, prebiotic evolution, and the RNA world as a model system. +
Research Interests: Dr. Carja works to quantitatively understand the evolutionary architecture of intelligent, collective systems, using the tools of dynamical systems, network theory, population genetics, machine learning and statistical inference, and widely available, yet underused, datasets. +
Research Interests: I am an evolutionary biologist broadly interested in the evolution of complex life. My Ph.D. training focused on the evolutionary stability of cooperation in the legume-rhizorium symbiosis. A similar evolutionary tension lies at the heart of all key events in the origin of complex life, termed the ‘Major Transitions in Evolution’: namely, how do new organisms arise and evolve to be more complex without succumbing to within-organism conflict? Studying the early evolution of multicellular organisms has been particularly difficult because these transitions occurred deep in the past, and transitional forms have largely lost to extinction. As a postdoc, I circumvented this constraint by creating a new approach to study the evolution of multicellularity: we evolved it de novo. Since founding my own research group at Georgia Tech in 2014, I have combined this approach with mathematical modeling and synthetic biology to examine how simple clumps of cells evolve to be more complex. Our research has shown how classical constraints in the origin of multicellularity –e.g., the origin of life cycles, multicellular development, cellular differentiation, and cellular interdependence– can be solved by Darwinian evolution. +
Research Interests: I develop mathematical, computational, and conceptual models to study natural selection and the evolution of organismal design. My work makes testable predictions on topics ranging from microbial life history to sociality to cancer. My study of particular topics leads to syntheses of natural selection, robustness in relation to biological design, and the commonly observed patterns that emerge from information flow and scale. +
Research Interests: Inclusive fitness, social coevolution, enzymatic cooperation, and RNA world evolution and kin selection. +
Research Interests: My overarching research goal is to understand how evolution works to generate the remarkable diversity of living organisms around us today. In addition to various theoretical and conceptual interests, I have focused on evolutionary-developmental and molecular phylogenetic research on flowering plants. Additionally, we have begun a new empirical research program on the origins of life-like chemical systems. +
Research Interests: My research interests are focused on the intersection of computer science, ecology, and evolutionary biology. This involves doing ''in silico'' experiments to understand general properties of ecology and evolution, and using principles from biology to solve computational problems. Often these goals intersect. Many of my ''in silico'' experiments are carried out on the Avida Platform. The primary theme uniting my research is that I am fascinated by how evolution shapes and is shaped by ecological communities. This often leads me to ask questions about how evolutionary processes generate and maintain diversity, particularly in the presence of spatial structure. +
Research Interests: The origin and early evolution of life with an emphasis on RNA world theories. Non-coding RNAs as tools in artificial gene regulation and synthetic biology. +
Research Interests: Using a combination of analytical, simulation-based and lab-experimental techniques, we study different biological systems that possess strong niche construction elements, including fire-prone flora with plant traits that enhance flammability, learning organisms that alter the form and frequency of their stimuli, bacteria that produce anti-bacterial toxins, and hosts and pathogens that continually coevolve. Recently, we have focused on how the incorporation of spatial structure can drastically affect the eco-evolutionary dynamics of these and other niche construction systems. We have also started to explore (both theoretically and experimentally) how altruistic forms of niche construction evolve in relation to various forms of population structure. +
Stephen Freeland is an evolutionary biologist whose research focuses upon how and why life on our planet evolved a system of genetic encoding. He received Bachelor s degree in zoology from Oxford University, a Master s degree in Computing and Mathematics from the University of York, UK, and a Ph.D from Cambridge University s Department of Genetics before crossing the Atlantic to pursue a scientific career in the USA. A Human Frontiers Science Program post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University led to a faculty position in bioinformatics at UMBC, where Stephen was tenured in 2007. His subsequent marriage to a member of the US Navy led him to relocate to Hawaii in 2009 where he worked as the project manager for the University of Hawaii node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute the UHNAI supervising a highly interdisciplinary team of scientists who seek to understand how habitable environments are formed within the cosmos. Throughout this period, his research focus has been how and why life on our planet established a system of genetic coding ( the evolution of the genetic code ). In 2013, Stephen returned to UMBC as Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (INDS) where he complements his research interests in astrobiology, with a focus upon the interface of science and religion and (more recently) using the full spectrum of creative arts to visualize and communicate social science, natural science and engineering. +
The Goldman lab studies protein and proteome evolution with a special focus on early cellular life and the emergence of ancient metabolic systems. The evolutionary tree of life coalesces into a single root representing an ancestral population that lived about 3.5 billion years ago. Many features of these ancestors are still buried within the genomes of organisms alive today. Evolution over billions of years has obscured the ancient signature of most of these features, making them difficult to identify. Our lab takes advantage of the tremendous growth in genomic and proteomic data to find these ancient genes and reassemble them into metabolic and physiological systems. Much of this work begins with our database, which brings multiple independent lines of evidence together into a single framework. We develop complex algorithms and use a range of computational biology methods to identify ancient genes and test hypotheses about early evolutionary history. +
The Kacar Lab investigates key questions regarding molecular mechanisms of evolution and the origins of life. We are interested in understanding how the ancestral behaviors of proteins and their host systems change through time. The overall goal of our work is to assess the possible environmental impacts of ancient enzymes on global-scale signatures that record biological activity. What do we aspire to know? -What can the phenotypes of inferred ancient proteins tell us about the origins of critical metabolic pathways? - How can we reconstruct ancient biological functions representing key evolutionary innovations of our planet s past? - Did life in the past function or evolve similarly to life today? How do we travel in time? To answer these questions, we attempt to combine evidence from the Earth's environmental and biological past. We use revenant genes as a proxy to understand critical elements of life s origins and early evolution. We use a new approach that reconstructs ancient DNA using phylogenetics, then we engineer this ancient DNA inside microbial genomes, and finally we reanimate these ancient sequences as revenant genes to produce ancient enzymes with phenotypes that can be studied. Our overarching goal is to use this paleophenotype reconstruction method to interpret ancient biosignatures. +
Tori Hoehler has a background in chemistry and oceanography. He now studies the interaction of microbial communities with their environment, with an emphasis on the habitability of environments beyond Earth and the detectability of any life that may reside there. He is the founding co-director of ARC's Center for Life Detection, a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and a Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow, and recipient of the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement medal. +
Whether we are thinking about the Origin of Life, about the Molecular mechanisms of Viral Pathogenesis, or about RNA-based therapeutics, three kinds of questions underly our work: 1) What can nucleic acids do? 2) How do their sequences and structures relate to their ability to do it? and 3) Can we engineer new biologies by expressing artificial RNAs in cells? Most of the RNA and ssDNA molecules we work with are isolated using the technology of in vitro directed molecular evolution (SELEX, Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment). The SELEX technology recovers rare functional molecules - for almost any function - from exceedingly complex mixtures, allowing us to explore the chemical and biological limits of what RNA and DNA can do. (Click here for a tutorial on SELEX.) +
Zach studies two of the major transitions in the history of life as a scientist in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at UA: the origins of replicating molecules and the origins of the eukaryotic cell. <span>His research into the origins of life is focused on geologic settings that could have promoted the synthesis of complex organic compounds on the early Earth, specifically conditions capable of driving prebiotic oligomer synthesis reactions. Zach and his collaborators at ELSI have uncovered a 'switching network' of compound synthesis driven by the radiolysis of water that selectively produces the key precursors required for abiotic ribonucleotide synthesis:</span> <span>1) Nucleobase precursor and polymer-promoting solvent formamide (Adam et al., 2018)</span> <span>2) Sugar precursors glycolaldehyde, glyceraldehyde and 2-aminooxazole (Yi et al., 2018)</span> <span>3) Polyphosphate precursor monoammonium phosphate (Adam and Lago, in prep.)</span> <span>4) Nucleotide assembly compounds, condensing agents and leaving agents such as cyanamide and cyanogen (Yi et al., 2018; Fahrenbach et al., in prep.; Adam et al., in prep.)</span> Zach also discovered two new sources of microfossils in the 1.4 billion year old Belt Supergroup of Montana. The assemblages include unique specimens of Tappania plana, one of the earliest examples of complex eukaryotes and the first such fossils reported from Laurentia. The quality of preservation, diversity of the assemblages and the accessibility of the units opens new avenues into exploring the morphology and ecology of some of Earth s oldest eukaryotes. Zach continues to study these and other fossils, looking for taxon-specific carbon isotope values and ultrastructural clues as to the affinity or metabolism of these organisms. +