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.

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].

Grad Students Boost Astrobiology Hypothesis Browser

Astrobiology News

For their semester-long science communication capstone project, fifteen Georgia Tech graduate students enrolled in the Astrobiology Graduate Certificate Program published content for Hypothesis Browser, an online tool for hypothesis-based literature searches, designed to capture the state of knowledge around the science of astrobiology and life detection.

Hypotheses were diverse in scope, ranging from planetary formation, to origins of life, to exoplanets, to icy moons, to the evolution of Earth and life. A full list of hypotheses and webpage links is below.

This project was a collaboration between Georgia Tech Astrobiology Graduate Certificate Program, Graham Lau at Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, and Andrew Pohorille at NASA Ames.

Planetary Formation

Katie Koube: Moon formation 

Reilly Brennan: Solar System Formation 


Origins of Life

Tyler Roche: Information Polymers

Rebecca Guth-Metzler: Nucleobases

Taylor Plattner: Organics at Hydrothermal Vents



Alex Sessa: Technosignatures

Pengxiao Xu: Gaseous biosignatures on exoplanets 


Worlds of the Solar System

Justin Lawrence: Icy Moons 

Elizabeth Spiers: Europa ice thickness

Chase Chivers: Icy moons

Abhijit Harathi: Mars methane


Evolution of Earth and Life

Maria Catalina Granada: Panspermia 

Zijian Li: Manganese and Oxygen Leah O’Rourke: Cretaceous–Tertiary mass extinction

Charles Lindsey: Early/late mitochondria

Loren Williams speaks at ATL Science Tavern

Public Events

GT Biochemistry Professor Loren Williams will be presenting “Voyage from the Gates of the Hadean – Origins of Life Research at Georgia Tech” at the Atlanta Science Tavern on Saturday February 22, 2020 at 7pm at Manuel’s Tavern. Details and RSVP here and below.


– This event is a production of the Atlanta Science Tavern.
– It is free and open to the public.
– Seating is on a first-come basis.
– RSVPs are not required to attend nor do they reserve seats.
– Doors open at 6:00 pm for early arrival.
– Gather for dinner by 7:00.
– The evening’s presentation gets under way around 7:45.
– Parking at Manuel’s has changed; refer to the note below for details.

Loren Williams, Professor
School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Georgia Institute of Technology

The origin of life (OOL) took place around 4 billion years ago, soon after the Earth cooled in the Hadean Eon. Water-based chemistry converted small building blocks to large polymeric molecules. Polymers have incredible properties, including ability to form assemblies. Polymers can assemble into compartments, fibers, enzymes and motors and can store and transduce information.

We have models, that are testable by experiment, to explain how increasing complexity of polymers led to simple microbial cells. For nearly 3 billion years microbes ruled the planet. Complex plants and animals are relatively recent branches on the tree of life.

The OOL can be studied from the bottom up (using chemical principles) or from the top down (mining information from biological systems). In this presentation I will discuss progress from long-running efforts at Georgia Tech that use both top-down and bottom-up approaches to unravel the OOL.

Consideration of OOL forces us to frame and confront the most profound and vexing questions in science and philosophy. The OOL tests our understanding of geological, chemical and biological principles and unsettles our sense of place in the universe.

Congratulations to Dr. Denise Okafor, Georgia Tech Astrobiology Alumna!

Astrobiology News

June 2019

Dr. Denise Okafor, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, will be starting as an assistant professor in the Penn State Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in January 2020. Dr Okafor graduated from Georgia Tech with a PhD in Biochemistry in 2015. She worked on research related to the origin of life in the Williams and Hud labs. Dr Okafor was featured as one of six GT College of Sciences alumni during the 2019 Georgia Tech Homecoming. Read more about Dr. Okafor’s research accomplishments here.