Inaugural Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3) Community Workshop


You are invited to participate in the Inaugural Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3) Community Workshop, which is intended to form bridges between disparate fields of astrobiology. 

Registration is free and required to attend. You will receive an email with log-in after being approved. There is no cost to register. Register here: 

The workshop is designed to cross-pollinate between different areas of research addressing origins of life, including early earth geoscience and prebiotic chemistry. This workshop will foster intellectual cooperation and innovation across the community and thereby give rise to novel research avenues. A central goal is to root models for the emergence of prebiotic pathways in realistic planetary conditions and fully integrate the dynamics and constraints of early Earth environments into origins hypotheses. Beyond our planet, PCE3 aims to identify planetary conditions that can or cannot give rise to life’s chemistry, thus guiding future missions that target the discovery of habitable worlds.

Workshop speakers have been asked to give a state-of-the-art talk in their respective sub-theme to *other* fields of the Origins of Life community. These talks will be accessible to a non-specialist and aim to highlight the points of agreement, the important remaining debates, uncertainties, and essential next steps. The presentations are meant to be “neutral” in that they don’t advocate for any specific model, but instead cover the range of scientific opinions. The talks will explain explicitly how these interdisciplinary themes are relevant and important to the Origin of Life community. The foundational information presented in this workshop will enable future workshops and collaborations that bridge the many disciplines that are part of PCE3.
Each of five interdisciplinary themes will be the focus of one week of the workshop:
1. Earliest Planetary Formation
The primer talks will be posted on Monday, October 5.
    *   Stellar Evolution (Edward Schwieterman)
    *   Accretionary History & Planetary Dynamics (Rebecca Fisher)
    *   Origin of the Moon (Miki Nakajima)
    *   Hadean Geodynamics (Rick Carlson)
    *   Impact History (Simone Marchi)
The discussion meeting on this topic will be on Friday, October 9, at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time.
2. Evolution of the Near Surface
The primer talks will be posted on Monday, October 12.
    *   Chemical Crustal Evolution & Oldest Crust (Ann Bauer)
    *   Physical Crustal Evolution (Brad Foley)
    *   Atmosphere and Ocean Evolution (Kevin Zahnle)
    *   Lithospheric Fluid Composition (Everett Shock)
The discussion meeting on this topic will be on Friday, October 16, at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time.
3. Inventories, Geological Settings, and Building Blocks
The primer talks will be posted on Monday, October 19.
    *   Geological Settings and Local Conditions (Martin van Kronendonk)
    *   Meteoritic/Exogenous Delivery (Zita Martins)
    *   Haze and Atmospheric Synthesis (David Catling)
    *   Surface Chemistry and Abiotic Organic Synthesis (Benedicte Menez)
The discussion meeting on this topic will be on Friday, October 23, at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time.
4. Prebiotic Complexity
The primer talks will be posted on Monday, November 9.
    *   Overview (David Deamer)
    *   Formation of Precursors, Simple Molecules, Selection I (James Cleaves)
    *   Formation of Precursors, Simple Molecules, Selection II (Laurie Barge)
    *   Processes Acting on Building Blocks, Assembly and Complexification I (Luke Leman)
    *   Processes Acting on Building Blocks, Assembly and Complexification II (Christine Keating)
The discussion meeting on this topic will be on Friday, November 13, at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time.
 5. Peering into the Past with Today’s Biochemistry
The primer talks will be posted on Monday, November 16.
    *   Overview – Biochemistry meets Prebiotic Chemistry (Ram Krishnamurthy)
    *   Genetics (Hannes Mutschler)
    *   Metabolism (George Cody)
    *   Chemical Evolution (Moran Pinter-Frenkel).
    *   Earliest Evidence of Life (Elizabeth Bell)
    *   Rewinding Life’s Clock (Greg Fournier)
The discussion meeting on this topic will be on Friday, November 20, at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time.
Questions? Please email workshop organizer Loren Williams.

Aomawa Shields, GT Physics Seminar, Sept 21, 2020


Recipe for a Habitable Planet

Prof Aomawa Shields of UC Irvine
Monday, Sept 21 at 3pm Eastern

The discovery of numerous small exoplanets has brought the search for life beyond the Solar System into sharp focus on many potentially habitable worlds where life may exist. However, many factors 
and processes can affect planetary climate and habitability, most of which are currently unconstrained by observations, and their effects must be understood to accurately determine a planet’s habitability potential and prioritize planets for observational follow-up. Professor Shields will describe the methods used by her research group to quantify the effects on planetary climate of a range of factors important for planetary habitability, and share recent results from this work, which demonstrates how the unique interactions between a star and a planet’s atmosphere and surface can produce either a recipe of successful ingredients for habitable surface conditions, or one that reveals less favorable planetary prospects for life.

Seminar details here.

PSAS: Andrew Mullen: Microscopes for Earth and Space Exploration


A microscope for life detection is a top candidate instrument for ocean world and other planetary missions. Microscopes developed for ocean, earth, and space exploration have significant overlap; with analog terrestrial environments offering excellent settings to test techniques potential for space application.

In this talk I will introduce basic principles of microscopic imaging and discuss the application of microscopes for life detection and environmental exploration. I will then present several different microscopic imaging systems developed for both oceanographic exploration and planetary missions. This will include details on a submersible digital holographic microscope (DHM) being developed for the underwater robot Icefin, results from benthic underwater microscopes used to observe seafloor organisms, and towed systems for imaging plankton. At then end of this talk I hope you will have a better understanding of the capabilities of microscopes, their history of use in space and ocean applications, and future potential.

Georgia Tech astrobiologists develop COVID-19 test kit

Astrobiology News

In spring-summer 2020, Georgia Tech astrobiologists teamed up to create an in-house test kit to boost testing supplies. Read the NASA press release here.

Pre-print posted to MedRxiv on July 31, 2020:

SJ Mascuch, S Fakhretaha-Aval, JC Bowman, MTH Ma, G Thomas, B Bommarius, C Ito, L Zhao, GP Newnam, KR Matange, HR Thapa, B Barlow, RK Donegan, NA Nguyen, EG Saccuzzo, CT Obianyor, SC Karunakaran, P Pollet, B Rothschild-Mancinelli, S Mestre-Fos, R Guth-Metzler, AV Bryksin, AS Petrov, M Hazell, CB Ibberson, PI Penev, RG Mannino, WA Lam, AJ Garcia, JM Kubanek, V Agarwal, NV Hud, JB Glass, LD Williams, RL Lieberman. Buzz about RT-qPCR: An RT-qPCR formulation for SARS-CoV-2 detection using reagents produced at Georgia Institute of Technology. MedRXiv [link]

Widespread testing for the presence of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in patients remains vital for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic prior to the advent of an effective treatment. The early testing shortfall in some parts of the US can be traced to an initial shortage of supplies, expertise and/or instrumentation necessary to detect the virus by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Here we show that academic biochemistry and molecular biology laboratories equipped with appropriate expertise and infrastructure can produce the RT-qPCR assay and backfill pipeline shortages. The Georgia Tech COVID-19 Test Kit Support Group synthesized multiplexed primers and probes and formulated a master mix composed of enzymes and proteins produced in-house. We compare the performance of our in-house kit to a commercial product used for diagnostic testing and describe implementation of environmental testing to monitor surfaces across various campus laboratories for the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

Test Kit Figure 1

Image by Rebecca Guth-Metzler, PhD candidate, advisors: Loren Williams and Jennifer Glass (Figure 1 in Mascuch et al. 2020, MedRXiv [link].