Famous Astrobiologist you should know.

Identifying the top three astrobiologists was difficult, as many researchers have made significant contributions to the field. Here are my top three big names who have made significant contributions to the field and are widely recognized for their work:

  1. Carl Sagan was an astronomer, cosmologist, and astrobiologist known for his popular science writing and work on the search for extraterrestrial life. He was the co-author of the book “Intelligent Life in the Universe,” considered a classic in astrobiology.
  2. Lynn Margulis was a microbiologist and evolutionary theorist. She is known for her work on the endosymbiotic theory, which proposes that the eukaryotic cell, the type of cell that makes up most “evolved” life on Earth, evolved through the integration of multiple simpler cells. For example, a tiny energy-harvesting bacteria could have entered another bacteria for protection while giving its host bacteria the ability to harness energy. Over time, this energy-harvesting bacteria became the organalle, mitocondria.
  3. Christopher McKay is an astrobiologist who has significantly contributed to our understanding of the potential for life on other planets. He has researched Mars’s habitability and has played a leading role in the search for microbial life on the planet.

How does Astrobiology Contribute to Humanity

Why should you care about Astrobiology?

Astrobiology has the potential to contribute to humanity in several ways. Some of how astrobiology may contribute to society include:

  1. Advancing our understanding of the origins and evolution of life: Astrobiology research helps deepen our understanding of the origins and evolution of life on Earth and the conditions necessary for this to occur. This knowledge can help us to better understand the processes that have shaped the evolution of life on our planet. It may also provide insights into the potential for the emergence of life elsewhere in the universe.
  2. Searching for life beyond Earth: Astrobiology research involves the search for signs of life on other planets and moons within our own solar system and beyond. The discovery of extraterrestrial life, whether microbial or more complex, could have significant implications for our understanding of the universe and our place within it.
  3. Developing new technologies: The search for life beyond Earth often requires the development of new technologies and techniques, such as advanced telescopes and spacecraft. These technologies can also have applications beyond astrobiology, potentially leading to new innovations and developments in other fields.
  4. Inspiring the public: Astrobiology research has the potential to inspire and engage the public, particularly younger generations, in science and exploration. The search for life beyond Earth has long captured the imagination of people around the world, and the potential for the discovery of extraterrestrial life could inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers.

Overall, astrobiology has the potential to contribute to humanity in many ways, from advancing our understanding of the universe and our place within it to inspiring the public and driving technological advancements.

What is Astrobiology?

Astrobiology studies the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. It is a multidisciplinary field that combines elements of astronomy, biology, chemistry, and other scientific disciplines to understand the conditions under which life arises and evolves and the potential for the existence of life beyond Earth.

Astrobiology research includes searching for habitable, habitable, or habitable life on other planets and moons within our own solar system and beyond, as well as studying the conditions on these bodies that might support life. It also involves investigating the chemical and physical processes that may have led to the emergence of life on Earth and the conditions necessary for this to occur.

Astrobiology also encompasses the study of the potential for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence or the search for intelligent life beyond Earth. This involves the search for signs of technologically advanced civilizations, such as radio signals or other evidence of their presence.

Overall, astrobiology is a broad and rapidly-growing field that is helping to answer fundamental questions about the nature of life and the possibility of its existence elsewhere in the universe.

Prebiotic Membraneless Structures as a way towards Cellurarity

Originally title: Droplets of these simple molecules may have helped kick-start life on Earth from Carmen Drahl (Sciencenews.org) 

droplets pics

For the origin of life on Earth, ancient puddles or coastlines may have had a major ripple effect.

A new study shows that a simple class of molecules called alpha hydroxy acids forms microdroplets when dried and rewetted, as could have taken place at the edges of water sources. These cell-sized compartments can trap RNA, and can merge and break apart — behavior that could have encouraged inanimate molecules in the primordial soup to give rise to life, researchers report July 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Besides giving clues to how life may have gotten started on the planet, the work might have additional applications in both medicine and the search for extraterrestrial life.

Present-day biology relies on cells to concentrate nutrients and protect genetic information, so many scientists think that compartments could have been important for life to begin. But no one knows whether the first microenclosures on Earth were related to modern cells.

“The early Earth was certainly a messy place chemically,” with nonbiological molecules such as alpha hydroxy acids potentially having roles in the emergence of life alongside biomolecules like RNA and their precursors, says biochemist Tony Jia of Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Earth-Life Science Institute.

Jia’s team focused on mixtures of alpha hydroxy acids, some of which are common in skin-care cosmetics. Though not as prominent as their chemical relatives amino acids, alpha hydroxy acids are plausible players in origin-of-life happenings because they frequently show up in meteorites as well as in experiments mimicking early Earth chemistry.

In 2018, a team led by geochemists Kuhan Chandru of the Earth-Life Science Institute and the National University of Malaysia at Bangi and H. James Cleaves, also of the Earth-Life Science Institute, demonstrated that, just though drying, alpha hydroxy acids form repeating chains of molecules called polymers. In the new study, the pair along with Jia and their colleagues found that rewetting the polymers led to the formation of microdroplets about the same diameter as modern red blood cells or cheek cells.

Prior studies have shown that simple molecules can form droplets(SN: 4/15/17, p. 11).  The new work goes further in showing “that possibly prebiotically relevant molecules can form droplets,” says artificial cell expert Dora Tang of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, who wasn’t involved with the work.

In the lab, the team demonstrated that the droplets could trap and host molecules essential to life as we know it, such as RNA. The researchers also observed that a protein retained its function within the droplets and that fatty acids could assemble around the droplets.

Still, those findings don’t mean the microdroplets were Earth’s first cells or ancestors of them, Chandru cautions. Instead, he suggests that the droplets could have helped reactions along in emerging biochemical systems in the lead-up to the origin of life.

Though the team’s focus is origin-of-life studies, Jia points out that these microdroplets could potentially be engineered to deliver medications. The researchers note in their study that they may apply for a patent related to the work within the next year but have not specified an application.

The new research may also hold an important lesson for the search for extraterrestrial life (SN: 4/30/16, p. 28). “We need to not only focus on detection of modern biomolecules and their precursors, but also other relevant nonbiomolecules” that, like alpha hydroxy acids, might have played supporting roles in the emergence of life, on Earth or elsewhere, Jia says.

 

Click here for the source article

Click here for Original paper

The missing years (2016-2019)

STEM school

 

 

Since 2016, I’ve been busy and didn’t really find the time to blog here. So here is a brief summary of what has happened thus far:

  • Got a couple of papers published:
  • Got appointed at two places:
  • Gave a couple of Science Talks
    • Invited Talk – Faculty of Science and Technology, UKM Bangi, Malaysia (March 2019)- “Mother of all questions- Origins of Life”
    • Invited Talk – University of Duisburg-Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (October 2018)- “Using non-standard biomolecules to elucidate the Origins of Life”
    • Contributed Talk  – Interdisciplinary Origins of Life (iOOL) meeting 2018 at Institute for Molecular Evolution, Heinrich-Heine-University, Dusseldorf, Germany, (October 2018) – “The possible role of prebiotic scaffold molecules in the Origins of life ”
    • Contributed Talk  – 18th European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA) conference 2018, Berlin, Germany, (September 2018) – “Combinatorial Chemistry and the Origins of Life: Polyesters”
    • Invited Talk – Biotechnology and Biomedicine Center of the Academy of Sciences and Charles University in Vestec (BIOCEV), Vestec, Czech Republic (September 2018)- “Scaffolding the Origins of life”
    • Invited Talk- Research Fellows Conference, University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, Czech Republic (September 2018) “Introduction and Problems in the Origins of Life”
    • Invited Talk – Institute for Planetary Materials (IPM), Okayama University, Misasa, Japan (June 2017)- “Origins of life and its discontent”
    • Invited Talk – NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Thermodynamic, Disequilibrium and Evolution (TDE) Focus Group meeting, ELSI, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan, (October 2016) – “The Abiotic Chemistry of Thiolated Acetate Derivatives and the Origin of Life”
  • And some outreach talks in Malaysia (see the attached poster)
    • Public talk at SMK (High School) Wangsa Melawati “How to Find Aliens Vol 2”, 13th March 2019
    • Public talk at Planetarium Negara “How to Find Aliens”, 25th February 2019. 

I will be updating this blog soon with my own OOL stuff.

 

 

Setting constraints on origins of life’ hypotheses. Example 1: thioester world and metabolism first in hydrothermal vents

When it comes to origins of life (Ool) hypotheses, we are often served with beautiful stories on how one event follows another and then you get life. But, the devil is always in the details and we want it to be out, to be known and to be addressed.

“Only when negative results are permitted and theories can be abandoned will science  progress in this area (OoL)”

-Robert Shapiro (1935 – 2011)

Here is a summary of my recent paper addressing a weakness in the metabolism first hypotheses in hydrothermal vents.

Thioesters, the prebiotic analogues of Acetyl coenzyme A is a linchpin organic compound in respiration processes in life. Its occurrences have been transposed into geochemical settings such as hydrothermal vents to form many metabolism first schemes for origins of life in the last 40 years or so. One glaring problem, despite the usual poised narration, is that, this hypothesis have survived so long without through investigations for that many years. Now, researchers at Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI), an institute incepted to exclusively study the origins problem is doing just that, to set constrains on current OoL models and to produce more experimentally driven principles to understand the origins of life.

The open-source paper available in Sci.report, has demonstrated that the accumulated concentration of thioesters in HT vents are too insignificant to launch any meaningful progression in metabolism first schemes. Additionally, thioester (like Acetyl-Co-A) has a very limited shelf life; the researchers measured the decay rate and concluded that, depending on thioesters speciation and physical conditions, they are unlikely to persist in hydrothermal vent conditions for long, thus constraining the metabolism first hypotheses.

p.s: We are extremely delighted to get this piece out in an open source journal.

Dropbox

Figure is showing the possible formation of thioacetic acids, in blue and thioesters (methyl thioacetic acid) , in pink in hydrothermal vent systems.

Reference

Authors: Kuhan Chandru, Alexis Gilbert, Christopher Butch, Masashi Aono and Henderson James Cleaves II

Title: The Abiotic Chemistry of Thiolated Acetate Derivatives and the Origins of Life

Journal: Scientific Reports, 2016

DOI: 10.1038/srep29883

 

Scribbles on the Gordon Research Conference (2016) for the Origins of Life

January is often a horrendous month for ELSI researchers; first we have our own in-house annual international symposium and then this is followed by our intense internal evaluation seminar, a two-day affair where all ELSI members present their work for the past twelve months. This year I decided to one up that schedule by attending the Gordon Research Conference on the Origins of Life in Galveston, Texas in between these two important events.

grcphoto_2016_origins-(1)-1.jpg

This was my first trip to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and I was very excited about it before boarding the flight. After 15 hours of journey, I started to develop mixed feelings about this trip until I was shown to my room at the famously haunted Hotel Galvez (be sure to watch the video in youtube), where I slept for the next 15 hours. That is a personal record.

Here are some of my random observations during the GRC’s intense science program.

  1. You are forbidden to record electronically any of the talks or posters given by the presenters. Because of that very fact, we are ALLOWED to argue aggressively. Rumor has it that there was a legendary argument that took place in the past. When I say argument, I don’t mean light ones. But to my surprise nothing like that happened this time. This was probably because they wasn’t anyone trying to sell/convince you their version of OoL scenario (which usually happens in Origins kind of conferences). This GRC, in my opinion, was amazing since the focus was only in what we know, what we don’t know, and what the current evidence is showing. That was such a relieve for me after witnessing many sales pitches in the field in the past.
  2.  GRC likes placing their conferences in, sorry Galveston, remote areas to create an intimate group setting. This is something that didn’t go well with the enthusiastic foreigner like me who wants to spend some time off as well. But in any case, science always comes first, and I was immensely satisfied with what I have gained (talks and meeting people) and not to mention having the time-off to visit Johnson Space Center with some of my favorite people on board.
  3. The scientific talks were exclusively made for an interdisciplinary crowd, meaning that one never saw a physicist showing only equations and expecting the biologists and chemist to understand, as if it were “matter of fact” knowledge. I don’t mean this in an offensive way but it is really hard to be able to give a talk to an interdisciplinary crowd, something we do almost everyday at ELSI. The GRC Origins was good demonstration of this with few minor exceptions.
  4. The GRC starts from 9 to 12 pm, we then have a huge break until dinner, and talk resumes again from 7.30 to 9.30. This was thoughtful and pleasing as it helps the jet-lagged foreigner to sleep and feel refreshed for the sessions.

One glaring shift I noticed among some of the leading OoL workers in the field is that they are moving away from trying to only understand origins based on modern bio-molecules. This is good news, as we in ELSI are also having similar views and are working to explore new chemical domains within prebiotic chemistries and origins of life. I also noticed that the integration of theory and experiments are also coming into play more than before to understand this complex problem. In my opinion, interdisciplinarity between sciences cannot be forced upon but needs to grow organically. This puts ELSI in an amazing position with all the disciplines combining (sometimes clashing) to solve some of the pieces of the origins puzzle. In my world of complaints and criticisms (I’m an experimentalist), this is one of the best conference I have attended in this field, absolutely worth the jet-lag and crazy ELSI schedule of January.

kuhan2016-01-21 15.58.jpg

originally post on February 4, 2016 (ELSI blog)

38億年の時を 超え、 生体分子生成の瞬間に迫る

Researcher’s Eye 〜地球最大の謎に挑む研究者たち

Kuhan Chandru

生命誕生に迫るという大きな目標を見据えて

kuhan01.jpg「日本での研究はスピードが速くて刺激的。その上、ELSIには第一線の研究者が集まっているから、知りたいことがあればすぐに聞きに行ける。この環境はとても貴重です」と話すのは、ELSI若手研究員 のクーハン・チャンドゥルー。「原始地球で、どのようにして生命誕生につながる生体分子ができたのか」に迫ろうと、自らが中心となって新たな実験を準備中だ。
母国はマレーシア。海に囲まれたこの国で、大学生の頃には海洋環境の研究に携わっていた。しかし、海でサンプルを採取して分析するという日々の繰り返しに、当時は面白さを見いだせなかったという。転機となったのは、2010年に来日し研究分野を変更、横浜国立大学の小林憲正教授の下で、アミノ酸や核酸、糖など生き物を形づくっている生体分子がどのようにしてできたのかを探る研究に携わるようにったことだった。そして2014年5月、小林教授の勧めもあってELSIの研究員公募に応募した。
「以前、研究を面白く感じられなかったのは、研究の全体像を理解していなかったからだと思う」と振り返る。そして今”生命の誕生に迫る”という大きな目標を見据えながら、生体分子の研究を進めている。

本当のところはわかっていない、生体分子の生成

チャンドゥルーが興味をもつ生体分子に関する研究は、現状どうなっているのだろうか。生体分子の生成といえば、1953年に行われたユーリー・ミラーの実験が有名である。水素やメタン、アンモニアを含む気体を原始大気に見立て、そこに雷に見立てた電気的な放電を行ったところ、生体分子の1つであるアミノ酸が合成された。この実験は「原始の地球で生体分子が発生する可能性が十分ある」ことを初めて示した点で重要であった。しかし、これが実際に地球で起こったのかどうか、さらに生命誕生につながったのかどうかは、未だに明らかになっていない。そのため、「実際にどんな生体分子の生成が生命誕生につながったのか」を突き止めようと、多くの学者による研究や調査が続いている。
生体分子ができるためには、陸地の岩石が反応触媒として働き、落雷や紫外線、火山噴火の熱などのエネルギー源が必要であるという理由から、”浅い海”が長らく生体分子生成の有力地とされてきた。それが1970年代に入ると、海底の熱水噴出孔が注目されるようになった(図1)。西オーストラリアのバクテリア化石の調査から、「初期の生命体は陸から遠く離れた遠洋域に生育していた」とされ、陸から離れた場所で生体分子ができる可能性がある場所として、熱水噴出孔が有力な候補の1つになったからだ。
「しかし、これらはいずれも状況証拠に基づく仮説です。現実に一歩近づくためには、実験で確かめる必要がありますが、これまでには十分な実験が行われていません」とチャンドゥルーは自らがこれから行おうとしている実験の意味について話す。

図1.jpg図1:チャンドゥルーは、海底の熱水噴出孔やマグマが流れ込む海岸付近、落雷地点など温度変化(エネルギー供給)の見られる場所で、生体分子は自然に合成されたと考えている。

アイディアと最先端技術で解き明かす

そこでまずチャンドゥルーは、生体分子ができたであろう”原始の地球の環境”を実験室内に再現しようというのだ。生体分子は高温では不安定であることから、生体分子ができた原始の地球は低温であったされている。ただ、局地的にさまざまな環境が存在しており、その中に生体分子ができやすい環境があったと考えられる。
1つは、ユーリー・ミラーの実験のように、落雷によって一瞬だけ高温になり、その後急激に冷えるという条件をフラスコ内につくる。これは浅い海の環境を再現するもので、「低温地球シミュレータ」と呼んでいる。設計図は完成し、現在、製作作業が進んでいる。実験では、一酸化炭素や二酸化炭素、アンモニア、メタン、水素など、フラスコ内のガスの組成によって、生体分子であるアミノ酸や脂質のでき方がどう変わるかを検討する予定だ。
一方、生体分子ができたとされるもう1つの候補地、海底の熱水噴出孔周辺で何が起こったのかは、「フロー式急冷リアクタ」で検討する(図2)。この装置の特徴は、熱水孔内部は高温でありながら、その周辺は海水の影響で一気に冷えるという環境を再現できることだ。しかも、そこには流れがあり、一瞬として環境が安定することがない。こうした環境下において、一酸化炭素や二酸化炭素といった単純な分子から、生体分子の元ともいえる炭化水素類の合成を試みる。
「2つの装置内の温度、pH、気体や溶液の組成などを変えることで、考えられる限りの原始の地球の環境を再現し、そこでどんな生体分子ができるか検討します」とチャンドゥルー。「この実験では、最終的な生体分子が何であるかだけでなく、それができる過程でどのような物質ができたり無くなったりしているのか、途中の段階も1つ1つ突き止めたいのです」。質量分析装置など、少量の物質の同定を可能にしてくれる最新分析機器もそろった。間もなく装置も完成の予定(2015年7月時点)で、ひたすら実験を繰り返す日々が始まる。

図2.jpg
図2:海底の熱水噴出孔の環境を再現する「フロー式急冷リアクタ」。流れ(フロー)の中で、生体分子の合成反応が進む点が、これまでの多くの学者たちが行ってきた実験と異なる。

期待の大きさ

kuhan02.jpg「生体分子が生成すれば、生命が成り立つわけではありません。生体分子の1つである脂質は、細胞膜など構造にならなくてはなりませんし、その中で代謝といったエネルギー変換が行われ、自己複製ができるようになって初めて生命だからです。細胞膜や代謝にももちろん興味はあります。しかし、生体分子ができなければ生命は誕生しない。私がやろうとしているのは、生命誕生のごく最初に起こった出来事の解明なのです」。チャンドゥルーの実験計画は、生命誕生の謎に迫るものだとして、平成27年度の笹川科学研究助成を受けることになった。
ELSIの外国人研究者では、初めて日本の助成金を獲得した。
生命誕生から38億年。その最初に起こった生体分子生成の現場を目の当たりにする日は、すぐそこまできているのかもしれない。

人物紹介

006.jpgマレーシア出身のチャンドゥルー。趣味はサッカー。ポジションはミッドフィールダー。2010年に来日以来、東京や横浜を中心に仲間を募り、サッカーチームを結成し活動している。今回、計画中の実験については、「装置をつくったり、実験を進めたりする優秀なメンバーは揃いました。あとは、化学に精通したアドバイザーがいてくれるといいのですが」。ELSIのバックアップを受け、チャンドゥルーの結成した研究チームのチャレンジが始まる。

 

 

Original interview appeared on February 2015 ELSI (Japanese)