New NASA research consortium to tackle life's origins

February 14, 2019, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
NASA's new Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3) Consortium will identify planetary conditions that might give rise to life's chemistry. Credit: Rensselaer

Did life on Earth originate in Darwin's warm little pond, on a sunbaked shore, or where hot waters vent into the deep ocean? And could a similar emergence have played out on other bodies in our solar system or planets far beyond? These questions lie at the center of research in NASA's new Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3) Consortium.

One of five cross-divisional research coordination networks with the NASA Astrobiology Program, PCE3 aims to identify planetary conditions that might give rise to life's chemistry. One goal of PCE3 is to guide future NASA missions targeting discovery of habitable worlds.

"This new consortium has the potential to transform how we research the . The consortium will advance understanding of how life begins, by cross-fertilizing the community, enabling new collaborations, and fundamentally changing the dialogue across diverse intellectual expertise," said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. One of the objectives of this community is to better understand early Earth environments and make this knowledge accessible to a broad scientifically diverse community through a virtual interactive portal.

"With this approach, we will incorporate realistic planetary conditions into prebiotic chemistry experiments, leading to models for the emergence of life that are consistent with what we know of our planet's early history," said Karyn Rogers of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of four PCE3 co-leaders and a recent NASA Astrobiology Program award recipient.

A dedicated steering committee to coordinate the consortium's cross-disciplinary interactions will be led by Rogers, Ram Krishnamurthy of the Scripps Research Institute, Loren Williams of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Timothy Lyons of the University of California, Riverside.

"Among the group's initial tasks will be to investigate how are synthesized on, or delivered to, the early Earth and how these might survive and subsequently form more complex compounds in early Earth environments that could have harbored life's emergence," Krishnamurthy said. These studies will be undertaken in parallel with more detailed investigations of the earliest conditions on Earth, incorporating recent evidence for the early formation and persistence of liquid oceans.

"Deconstructing life's origins requires a rich understanding of the environmental and chemical conditions during Earth's early history and on how life developed and progressed in a world very different than today's," Williams said.

"I am particularly excited to frame the beginnings of life within the context of our planet's early, dynamic habitability and to use those lessons to imagine how planets around distant stars similarly could have favored the origins and evolution of ," Lyons said.

Explore further: Plan developed to characterize and identify ocean worlds

More information: … -to-meet-the-future/

Related Stories

Plan developed to characterize and identify ocean worlds

October 23, 2018

Strategies to identify and explore ocean worlds in our Solar System should focus on a range of targets, including confirmed and unconfirmed ocean worlds, according to a new paper by a team led by Planetary Science Institute ...

NASA Selects Science Teams for Astrobiology Institute

October 3, 2008

( -- NASA has awarded five-year grants, averaging $7 million each, to 10 research teams from across the country, including two from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, to study the origins, evolution, ...

Was RNA the original prebiotic molecule?

September 7, 2016

Where did life begin—in a shallow lagoon, or in a vent of superheated water spewing from the ocean floor? If we knew, we might know where to look for life elsewhere in the universe. The "RNA World" hypothesis, which suggests ...

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 14, 2019
If someone insinuate that life did not originate in the warm pond, he will not find a job in any university in the world. You must BELIEVE it or you are considered "dumb" and anti science, and if you have a career that they can not hide, they will label you "pseudo scientist" one of their biggest educated insults.
Da Schneib
3.5 / 5 (8) Feb 14, 2019
The scholarly literature says you're wrong. There are lots of ideas that don't involve warm ponds, and they get plenty of publication, as well as publicity, too.

Nobody has any hard evidence in this area. But that also means there isn't any meaningful consensus.
4 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2019
Sadly, the biochemical work has made much less progress on elucidating the early evolution of life than biology and geology has combined [ https://www.natur...l2016116 ]. But of course we should work that field too.

@mgr: Obviously no. C.f. the article, or my link for the most popular result.

But I feel comfortable in calling you pseudoscientist since you make uninformed claims on science, without even an attempt to reference your effectively anti-science opinion.

Is it dumb to be uninformed? Only if you willingly keep yourself so, for example by being opinionated against some science despite an article that show your opinion wrong and what you can learn instead. Sorry, but you raised the point.

And reading your context of believing in belief: magical belief lost against hard work and its observational awards. If that is the horse you bet on, you are bankrupt.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.