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June 25, 2003
NASA Renews Support of The Astrobiology Team at the MBL

Multi-million dollar, five-year award will fund projects seeking to understand early biospheric metabolisms and the evolution of complex systems

Woods Hole, MA-NASA announced yesterday that The Astrobiology Team at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA, was awarded a new five-year grant to continue its studies into understanding the metabolism of microbes in the early biosphere and the evolution of complex systems.  The Astrobiology Team at the MBL is directed by Mitchell Sogin, a senior scientist at the Laboratory.  It is a joint effort among scientists at the MBL, Brown University, the Woods Hole Oceanographic  Institution, and the University of North Carolina.
The MBL Astrobiology Team joins 11 other teams as members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), a national and international research consortium that studies the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and in the universe.  Sogin's team is interested in learning more about the evolution of early life forms and how changing environments contributed to the development of complex systems in simple organisms. From this understanding, they expect to be better prepared for future discoveries about extraterrestrial life that might come from sample return missions or exploration of other planets.

"The confluence of molecular microbial ecology and unprecedented access to extreme environments, including deep sea microbial habitats, will yield new insights about how early life reshaped planetary processes on Earth," says Sogin.  "This exciting area of research will provide a predictive framework for understanding evolution of our biosphere and interpreting results from NASA's ambitious, unmanned solar-system exploration program."

The institutional awards begin in fall 2003, when current agreements with the NAI's 11 founding lead teams conclude.  The MBL is one of six founding teams whose funding was renewed. NAI team awards are for five years, with annual reviews, at an average annual funding level of one million dollars. Funding supports interdisciplinary research in conjunction with professional, educational, and public outreach activities, coordinated through NAI's offices at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.

Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. This cross-disciplinary field addresses many fundamental questions concerning the origin, distribution, and future of life in the universe. To address these questions, NASA has funded 12 institutions across the country to form a virtual institute for the exchange of research and ideas. Questions being addressed by member scientists include: How do habitable worlds form and how do they evolve? How did living systems emerge? How can we recognize other biospheres?  How have the Earth and its biosphere influenced each other over time?

The goals of the NASA Astrobiology Institute are to develop an understanding of how life evolved on Earth, whether there is life elsewhere, where life could be found, how best to detect it, and what issues are associated with adaptation and evolution of terrestrial organisms to other environments.
As members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, investigators at the Marine Biological Laboratory study microbial biodiversity using molecular biological techniques. Research is focused on the evolution of microorganisms in extreme environments, the origins of nucleated cells (eukaryotes) and the evolutionary development of complex systems in simple organisms. For more information about the Astrobiology Team visit the MBL website.

The Marine Biological Laboratory is an independent scientific institution, founded in 1888, that undertakes the highest level of creative research and education in biology, including the biomedical and environmental sciences.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is an international research consortium with central offices located at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. NASA Ames is the Agency's lead center for astrobiology, the search for the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. For further information about the NAI, visit http://nai.arc.nasa.gov.