NASA has selected four new teams to become part of the agency’s 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.

After a highly competitive peer-review process, teams from Michigan State University (MSU), East Lansing; the University of Rhode Island (URI), Kingston; the University of Washington (UW), Seattle; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, today were notified of their selection.

These new teams of researchers will bring specialized expertise to the institute, allowing its members to more deeply investigate the diversity of life inhabiting extreme environments on Earth and to develop analytical models to search for habitable planets outside our solar system.

The MSU team, led by Dr. Michael Thomashow, will examine low-temperature Earth analogs to possible life on Mars and Europa by analyzing genetic material and proteins of bacteria from the Arctic and Antarctic permafrost. Data from the gene-expression analysis will be important for understanding the biology of “hitch-hiker” microbes traveling through space on meteorites and other bodies.

The University of Rhode Island team, led by Dr. Steven D’Hondt, will examine the deep biosphere of the Earth and the “extremophile” communities that thrive in this extreme environment. This research will include developing bio-geochemical markers for life for use on future astrobiology missions.

The new team based at UW will address a broad series of important areas in astrobiology, ranging from biogeochemistry of the earliest life on Earth to the formation, evolution and potential for life on planets outside our solar system. This team is led by Dr. Peter Ward.

Dr. Victoria Meadows will lead the JPL team, which will conduct research on recognizing the biospheres of extrasolar planets. The results of her team’s work are expected to directly influence the development of future space missions such as Terrestrial Planet Finder, which will look for habitable planets around other “suns.”

With today’s additions, the NAI represents a partnership between NASA and 14 major national and three international research institutions to promote, conduct and lead integrated, multidisciplinary astrobiology research and to train a new generation of researchers in the discipline of astrobiology. The NASA Astrobiology Institute, with central offices at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, was founded in 1997.

More information about NAI is available on the Internet at: