CSTAR Distinguished Lecture

Dragonfly: In Situ Exploration of Titan’s Organic Chemistry and Habitability

Dr. Elizabeth Turtle, PI of Dragonfly Mission

Thursday, November 19, 6:30 pm

REGISTER: https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/register/rgyxupxq

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is an Ocean World with a dense atmosphere, abundant complex organic material on its icy surface, and a liquid-water ocean in its interior. The joint NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens mission revealed Titan to be surprisingly Earth-like, with active geological processes and opportunities for organic material to have mixed with liquid water on the surface in the past. These attributes make Titan a singular destination to seek answers to fundamental questions about what makes a planet or moon habitable and about the pre-biotic chemical processes that led to the development of life here on Earth.
NASA’s Dragonfly New Frontiers mission is a rotorcraft lander designed to perform wide-ranging in situ investigation of the chemistry and habitability of this fascinating extraterrestrial environment. Taking advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, Dragonfly can fly from place to place, exploring diverse geological settings to measure the compositions of surface materials and observe Titan’s geology and meteorology. Dragonfly will make multidisciplinary science measurements at dozens of sites, traveling ~150 km during a 3-year mission to characterize Titan’s habitability and determine how far organic chemistry has progressed in environments that provide key ingredients for life.
Speaker bio: Dr. Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle is a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Her research combines remote-sensing observations and numerical geophysical models to study geological structures and their implications for planetary surfaces, interiors, and evolution, including tectonics and impact cratering on terrestrial planets and outer planet satellites, the thickness of Europa’s ice shell, Ionian mountain formation, and Titan’s lakes and weather. She is the Principal Investigator for the Dragonfly New Frontiers mission to Titan and the Europa Imaging System (EIS) cameras on the Europa Clipper mission, and has participated in the Galileo, Cassini, and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter missions. She earned her Ph.D. in Planetary Sciences from Univ. Arizona and B.S. in Physics from MIT.

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: http://prebioticchem.org/workshop/workshop.html 

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.

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].