Session Topics

Sixty-three diverse session topics within five themes have been selected for presentation at the conference.

Themes —

Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor
Solar System Sites
Exoplanets
Origin and Evolution of Life
New Technologies and Techniques

THEME 1:  Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor

Theme:  Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor
Session:  Astrobiology Education and Public Outreach
Topic:  Innovations in Astrobiology Teaching and Learning
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Innovations in Astrobiology Teaching and Learning
Organizers:  Bruce Fouke (University of Illinois, UC), fouke@illinois.edu, and Chris Impey, (University of Arizona), cimpey@email.arizona.edu
Summary:   This session brings together instructors, designers, evaluators, and researchers of formal and informal astrobiology education activities (including for K–12 audiences, at the university level, and for the public and life-long learners) to share best practices and techniques, especially for reaching new audiences and effectively assessing outcomes. Provocative, cutting edge, or otherwise innovative approaches are encouraged.

Theme:  Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor
Session:  Astrobiology Education and Public Outreach
Topic:  What are They Ready for? Knowing What and How to Communicate Astrobiology Concepts to Different Audiences
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Knowing What and How to Communicate Astrobiology Concepts
Organizer:  Hilarie Davis (TLC, Inc.), hilarie@techforlearning.org
Summary:    This workshop will empower scientists to work with astrobiology content in ways that focus on their learners and audiences. It will begin by sharing the new Astrobiology Learning Progressions (AB LP) resource which presents core concepts in astrobiology in both storylines and progressions of learning. The AB LP resource shows scientists how they can tune their presentations to their learners’ developmental levels. Building on this, the workshop will champion and model “next gen” teaching and “active learning” methods by utilizing exemplary lesson plans and learning resources, the goal of which is to support scientists in creating dynamic, pedagogically-sound learning environments that best facilitate learner understanding of astrobiology.

Theme:  Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor
Session:  SETI
Topic:  New Strategies for SETI
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  New Strategies for SETI
Organizers:  Paul Davies (Arizona State University), Paul.Davies@asu.edu; Eric Korpela (University of California, Berkeley), korpela@ssl.berkeley.edu; Carl Devito (University of Arizona), devito@math.arizona.edu; and Chris Impey (University of Arizona), cimpey@as.arizona.edu 
Summary:    With the injection of $100 million into SETI by Yuri Milner’s Breathrough Listen project, there is renewed interest in refining existing SETI strategy and exploring new ideas. The search for bio- and techno-signatures need not be confined to message detection, but to general considerations of how non-human technology might manifest itself. Many new proposals are being discussed. This session will review some of them.

Theme:  Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor
Session:  SETI
Topic:  Evolution and Detectability of Future Earth and Terraformed Worlds
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Evolution and Detectability of Future Earth and Terraformed Worlds
Organizers:  Jacob Haqq-Misra (Blue Marble), jacob@bmsis.org, and Aaron Berliner (University of California, Berkeley), aaron.berliner@berkeley.edu
Summary:   This session invites contributions that consider the future evolution of the Earth system from an astrobiological perspective as well as how humanity or other technological civilizations could artificially create sustainable ecosystems on lifeless planets (e.g., via terraforming). Possible topics include:  climate and geologic processes that affect the long-term development of civilization; factors that contribute to changes in Earth’s remote detectability over time; technological and societal solutions to problems of sustainable development; consideration of catastrophic or existential threats to civilization; possibilities of detecting similar developments on other planets; advancing our own capacity for terraforming other worlds and the relevance of the longevity of civilization to the Fermi paradox. Session presenters will be invited to contribute a paper to a special issue of the journal Futures.

Theme:  Astrobiology as a Human Endeavor
Session:  Planetary Protection
Topic:  Astrobiology and Planetary Protection:  Science Progress, Science Gaps, and Policy
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Astrobiology and Planetary Protection
Organizers:  Margaret Race (SETI), mracemom@aol.com, and Rakesh Mogul (California Polytechnic, Pomona), Rmogul@cpp.edu
Summary:   We invite abstracts on the science and policy of planetary protection. Microorganisms found on spacecraft have the potential to contaminate explored planetary bodies, and planetary protection is an ongoing concern for missions to Mars, icy/watery moons, Phobos/Deimos, asteroids, etc. We aim to highlight the phylogenetic, microbiological, biochemical, metabolic, and other perspectives that promote survival (or persistence) in the extreme environments associated with spacecraft assembly, operation, and exploration. We also wish to highlight happenings in the world of COSPAR/NASA space policy, mission planning, instrument constraints, and assorted R&TD gaps for both robotic and human missions. Given the importance of planetary protection for astrobiological exploration, we hope to convene a panel to share information about recent planetary protection workshops, policy deliberations, science sampling considerations, and other planetary protection challenges.

THEME 2:   Solar System Sites

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Earth in Time/Deep Biosphere
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Sustained Habitability, Life, and the Biosignatures of a Dynamic Early Earth
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Sustained Habitability, Life, and the Biosignatures of a Dynamic Early Earth
Organizers:  Tim Lyons (University of California, Riverside), timothy.lyons@ucr.edu, and Betul Kacar (Harvard University), kacar@g.harvard.edu
Summary:   Earth has remained inhabited for most of its dynamic history, despite experiencing changes as dramatic as a warming Sun and cooling interior; the initiation and evolution of plate tectonics; continents nucleating, growing, stabilizing, and then interacting for the first time; climatic extremes; and fundamental shifts in the redox state of surface environments. This session explores the processes and feedbacks that promoted these persistently favorable but diverse ‘alternative Earths.’ Relevant disciplines include molecular evolution, geomicrobiology and synthetic biology as well as numerical simulations of the oceans and atmosphere, novel biogeochemical proxy approaches, gene and network reconstruction, the evolution of key proteins and metabolic pathways affecting biogeochemical cycles, plate tectonics, biotic and abiotic processes on land, nonmarine aquatic systems, biosignatures, evolving ocean chemistry, climatic and paleoecological drivers and consequences, nutrient models, initial and varying biospheric oxygenation, deep-shallow Earth interactions, and the emergence of complex life. The overarching goal is to develop a catalog of results from the early Earth to refine our search for habitability and life in the broader universe. 

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Earth in Time/Deep Biosphere
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Holistic Perspectives on Evolving Habitability and Atmospheric Biosignatures on Earth and Earth-Like Worlds
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Holistic Perspectives on Evolving Habitability
Organizers:  Chris Reinhard (Georgia Institute of Technology), chris.reinhard@eas.gatech.edu, Stephanie Olson, (UC Riverside) solso002@ucr.edu and Timothy Lyons, (UC Riverside) timothyl@ucr.edu
Summary:   Ocean-atmosphere chemistry on Earth has undergone dramatic evolutionary changes through its long history, with significant ramifications for both evolving states of habitability and the emergence and stability of atmospheric biosignatures on silicate ocean-bearing planets. This session explores the processes and boundary conditions that control the emergence and long-term maintenance of atmospheric biosignatures on Earth and other Earth-like worlds from diverse perspectives, including empirical reconstructions of Earth’s chemical and biotic evolution, reconstructions of the detectability of Earth’s biosphere through time, novel techniques for remotely characterizing biospheres on Earth-like planets, climate modulation on living worlds, and theoretical models designed to constrain fundamental controls on biosignature production and evolving habitability on Earth and beyond.

Theme: Solar System Sites
Session: Earth in Time/Deep Biosphere
Subsession:  Habitability

Topic:  Beyond the Catastrophe:  The Impact Cratering Process and Habitability
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Beyond the Catastrophe:  The Impact Cratering Process and Habitability
Organizer:  Haley Sapers (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), haley.sapers@gmail.com
Summary:   This session will explore abstracts related to impact cratering as a dynamic planetary evolution process and the effects of impacts on habitability. Topics include colonization of impact-generated environments including post-impact hydrothermal systems immediately following the impact through impact-shocked lithologies that create endolithic niches the persist through geologic time; preservation and generation of biosignatures in impact structures and impactites and the importance of impact structures as astrobiological targets in upcoming life-detection missions; and the role that impacts played in the origin of life on Earth and the possible roles that the impact cratering process plays in priming terrestrial bodies for habitability.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Earth in Time/Deep Biosphere
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Journey to the Center of the Earth:  Intraterrestrial Life on Extraterrestrial Planets
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Intraterrestrial Life on Extraterrestrial Planets
Organizer:  Haley Sapers (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), haley.sapers@gmail.com
Summary:   The session will explore the genetic, metabolic, geochemical, and niche diversity of subsurface microbial communities on Earth with an emphasis on biosignature generation, detection and preservation on Earth and potentially habitable environments in the solar system. Topics include terrestrial subsurface environments that are planetary analogues, including putative habitable subsurface niches on Mars; the detectability of organic, isotopic, geochemical, petrographic, morphologic, and structural biosignatures of putative Martian subsurface ecosystems; and the role the subsurface plays in biosignature preservation.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Earth in time/Deep Biosphere
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Earth’s Deep Biosphere and the Astrobiosphere:  New Connections Made Through Advanced Instrumentation and Field Approaches
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Earth’s Deep Biosphere and the Astrobiosphere
Organizers:  D’Arcy Meyer-Dombard (University of Illinois, Chicago), drmd@uic.edu, and Dawn Cardace (University of Rhode Island), cardace@uri.edu
Summary:   Earth’s Deep, “Dark” Biosphere is a recent target of much interest and energy. Diverse terrestrial materials interact with waters and hydrothermal processes to generate a palette of energetic landscapes fostering a spectrum of biological activities. Serpentinization of ultramafic assemblages may generate an extensive deep habitat with bearing on implications for Early Earth life. Serpentine assemblages identified on the Martian surface, and proposed in other planetary settings, bring wide astrobiological relevance. Other non-serpentinizing deep ecosystems (hydrothermal or aquifer-hosted) are also analog environments for Astrobiological targets, given the diversity of rocks and planetary processes known and possible in our solar system. As we explore extra-Earth surfaces, how is the relevance of Deep Biosphere analog systems evolving? We welcome reports concerning Earth’s Deep Biosphere that focus on metabolic processes, cycling of nutrients, survival in conditions that mirror Astrobiological targets, and those connecting investigations of subsurface environments on Earth and extra-Earth worlds.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Earth in Time/Deep Biosphere
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Novel Geologic Reservoirs for Biosignature Preservation
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Novel Geologic Reservoirs for Biosignature Preservation
Organizers:  Sarah Stewart Johnson (Georgetown University), sarah.johnson@georgetown.edu; Amy Williams (Towson University), ajwilliams@towson.edu; Heather Graham (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), heather.v.graham@nasa.gov; and Dave Des Marais (NASA Ames Research Center), david.j.desmarais@nasa.gov; Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh), c.s.cockell@ed.ac.uk
Summary:   The body of literature that describes biosignature preservation in diverse geologic reservoirs is rapidly growing. This session invites contributions about the preservation potential of a variety of lithologies and mineralogies, including phyllosilicates, sulfates, silica deposits, and iron-dominated systems. We are interested in the detection and characterization of biotic features present in the surfaces of rocky and icy planetary bodies as well as near-surface refugia, such as caves and lava tubes, and the deep biosphere. We hope to explore the full life cycle of biosignatures, from production and preservation to taphonomic modification by physical, chemical, and radiative forces.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Ice and Ocean Worlds
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Habitability in Subsurface Oceans:  Effects of High Pressure and Aqueous Organic Geochemistry
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Habitability in Subsurface Oceans
Organizers:  Kristin Johnson (Arizona State University), knjohn12@asu.edu, and Karyn Rogers (RPI), rogerk5@rpi.edu
Summary:   The discoveries of subsurface oceans on Enceladus and Europa have set the stage for a new suite of potentially habitable environments:  subsurface oceans worlds on these bodies, plus possibly Pluto, Titan, and many other bodies. Many open questions exist about the habitability of these oceans, including the effects of high pressures at the bases of these subsurface oceans, and the geochemistry that can arise. While ocean worlds will host a diverse range of environmental conditions, they are unified by high pressures. Earth’s deep biosphere spans a range of temperatures and chemistries and can serve as a guide for the potential habitability of subsurface oceans beyond Earth, yet the effects of pressure on the emergence of life are poorly understood. Abstracts that explore the effects of pressure on prebiotic chemistry, metabolic potential and microbial survival on ocean worlds are encouraged. Likewise, abstracts are invited that explore the aqueous organic geochemistry across a wide range of conditions as an approach toward predicting abiotic organic compound signatures for various ocean worlds. This can include anything from experiments and field measurements in aqueous environments to remote sensing from spacecraft.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Ice and Ocean Worlds
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Creative Destruction? The Survival and Fate of Microbes and Molecules at the Near-Surface of Icy Worlds
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)The Survival and Fate of Microbes and Molecules
Organizers:  Aaron Noell (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), anoell@jpl.nasa.gov; Bryana Henderson (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), bryana.l.henderson@jpl.nasa.gov; and Paul Johnson (Jet Proplusion Laboratory), Paul.V.Johnson@jpl.nasa.gov
Summary:   The radiation environment at the cold surface of icy worlds is hostile to both life as we know it and the organic molecular building blocks of life. However, in the near term many of our best opportunities to look for signs of past or present life will be at these surfaces, and it is therefore important to understand the effects of radiation in low temperature ices on both potential life and organic molecules. Planetary protection concerns also require improved understanding about the probability of microbes from Earth surviving sufficiently long under various near-surface conditions for transport into the more habitable regions below. This session invites papers on experimental or theoretical work on the survival of organisms and/or organic molecules under conditions relevant to Icy Worlds. Papers that explore radiation chemistry at these surfaces, and its implications for organic molecule detection strategies are also welcome.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Ice and Ocean Worlds
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Habitability of Ocean Worlds, Their Prospects for Life Detection, and Exoplanet Analogs
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Habitability of Ocean Worlds
Organizers:  Steve Vance (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), vance.steven@gmail.com, and Patricia Beauchamp (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), pbeaucha@jpl.nasa.gov
Summary:   Many remote and in situ observations provide evidence for oceans in Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede, Callisto, and Titan, and NASA has embarked on a mission to Europa with the goal of understanding the habitability of this and other ocean worlds. To address how to detect life on these bodies, the science community has developed the “Ladder of Life” as tool to investigate the astrobiological potential of planetary bodies. Long-term habitability in each moon is greatly affected by the mineralogy, reaction chemistry, and heat sources of their deep interiors. In Europa and Enceladus, strong water-rock chemical interactions, important to sustain potential habitable environments, have been suggested by the presence of potential solutes on their surface and polar jets. Ganymede, Callisto and Titan probably have high thermal gradients and diverse chemistries that might support life, but they also have high-pressures not found in Earth’s hydrosphere and dense ice phases that may impede water-rock interaction. This session will examine the astrobiological potential of ocean worlds in our solar system, with discussions on future research and spacecraft missions and earth-system analogs. The session will also examine features and processes of Deep Ocean Worlds, how upcoming missions may explore these aspects, and how such studies inform investigations of super-Earths and potential super-Ganymedes in other systems. Topics covered include (but not limited to) life detection, water and exotic solvents, chemical energy for life, organics and their detection, and continuing and future outer solar system exploration.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Ice and Ocean Worlds
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Assessing Ceres’ Past and Present Habitability and Relevance to Ocean Worlds
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Assessing Ceres’ Past and Present Habitability
Organizers:  Julie Castillo(Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), julie.c.castillo@jpl.nasa.gov, and Marc Neveu (Arizona State University), mneveu@asu.edu
Summary:   Long before Dawn’s rendezvous in 2015 it was suspected that Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest body between Mars and Jupiter, may once have harbored liquid water in its deep interior and may have been aqueously altered. Observations from the Dawn mission have confirmed aqueous alteration on Ceres and revealed ocean-derived material on its surface. This session will explore Ceres’ astrobiological relevance in the light of Dawn’s observations, new models for Ceres’ chemical and physical evolution, its present state, and possible exploration strategies.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Ice and Ocean Worlds
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Seeking Evidence of Habitable Conditions and Life Activity in Serpentinizing Systems
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Seeking Evidence of Habitable Conditions and Life Activity in Serpentinizing Systems
Organizers:  Alexis Templeton (University of Colorado), alexis.templeton@colorado.edu, and Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Institute for Ocean Sciences), borcutt@bigelow.org
Summary:   Serpentinization is a process that is predicted to occur throughout our solar system when ultramafic rocks come into contact with water. There is compelling evidence for active and ancient serpentinization processes on Earth, across regions of the surface and subsurface of Mars, and at the ocean floor of icy satellites such as Enceladus and Europa. This session to be co-convened by Alexis Templeton and Beth Orcutt invites papers that explore the coupling between serpentinization and life activity. This may include new research on the biochemistry and evolutionary biology of active life within serpentinizing systems, or the identification of diagnostic biological and chemical signatures of living serpentinizing systems. We also welcome contributions that reveal new insights into the generation of energy sources and habitable conditions during serpentinization, including new thermodynamic calculations, kinetic studies, or mechanistic models.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Ice and Ocean Worlds
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Biochemical Strategies for Searching for Signs of Life On and Within Ocean Worlds
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Biochemical Strategies for Searching for Signs of Life
Organizers:  Cynthia Phillips (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), cynthia.b.phillips@jpl.nasa.gov, and Andrew Pohorille (NASA Ames Research Center), Andrew.Pohorille@nasa.gov
Summary:   Ocean worlds, such as Europa and Enceladus, may be the best places to search for extant life in our solar system, provided strategies for seeking evidence of life can be developed. Strategies focusing on detecting molecules considered ubiquitous to biochemistry and uniquely of biological origin may miss viable alternatives to terrestrial biochemistry. In this session, we invite abstracts that provide critical assessments and scientific justification of life detection strategies in ocean worlds, and confront them with technical capabilities available in missions.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Mars
Subsession:  Habitability
Topic:  Modern Mars Habitability
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Modern Mars Habitability
Organizers:  Carol Stoker (NASA Ames Research Center), carol.stoker@nasa.gov, and Alfred McEwen (University of Arizona, LPL), mcewen@lpl.arizona.edu
Summary:   Recent discoveries on Mars, including recurring slope lineae, ground ice, and active gully formation, have been interpreted as indications for the transient presence of water. The potential for liquid water on Mars has profound implications for the habitability of the modern Mars environment. This session solicits papers that examine the evidence for habitable environments on Mars, present results about life in analogs to these environments, discuss hypotheses to explain the active processes, evaluate issues for planetary protection, and explore the implications for future explorations of Mars.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Mars
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Biosignature Detection on Mars:  Where, What, When, Why, and How?
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Biosignature Detection on Mars
Organizers:  Nathalie Cabrol (SETI/NASA Ames Research Center), Nathalie.A.Cabrol@nasa.gov, Alberto Fairen (CAB, Cornell), agfairen@cab.inta-csic.es, Caroline Freissinet (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), caroline.freissinet@nasa.gov, Dirk Schulze-Makuch (TU Berlin) dirksm@astro.physik.tu-berlin.de, Jorge Vago (ESA) Jorge.Vago@esa.int, and Leslie Bebout (NASA) leslie.e.bebout@nasa.gov
Summary:   Finding evidence of extant life on Mars would be a watershed event. We have evidence on Mars for many environments that may have been habitable in the past, but the range of possible biogeochemistries those environments allow, the co-evolution of those environments with life, the specific niches that are most likely to host detectable biosignatures, and the path forward to explore those environments are still key unknowns. We invite contributions that (1) explore the succession of physical and environmental processes and their combination on Early Mars, (2) evaluate (ideally quantitatively!) the geo/environmental context of potential sites for biological exploration of Mars, (3) detail the most promising locations, instrument concepts, and strategies for investigating these ecosystems, (4) define the relevant objects, substances or patterns that could serve as definitive biosignatures for martian life, and (5) investigate metabolisms, survival strategies, and energy sources that may be relevant to the search for biosignatures on Mars.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Mars
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Modern and Ancient Biosignatures and the Search for Life on Mars
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Modern and Ancient Biosignatures and the Search for Life on Mars
Organizers:  Andrew Czaja (University of Cincinnati), andrew.czaja@uc.edu, Scott Perl (JPL, USC), scott.m.perl@jpl.nasa.gov , Jeff Havig (University of Cincinnati), jeffhavig@gmail.com, and Andrew Gangidine (University of Cincinnati), agangidine@gmail.com
Summary:   The burden of proof for confirming the existence of life outside of our planet will be unprecedented in scientific history. Finding extraterrestrial microorganisms (whether fossil or extant) would provide the most direct evidence of life. Given planetary protection concerns, we are more likely to sample fossil microorganisms, but the biogenicity of ancient terrestrial microfossils is greatly debated owing to often poor preservation. Thus, other biosignatures are typically required to establish the biogenicity of putative ancient microfossils and other microbial structures. By developing additional novel biosignatures and combining multiple techniques for establishing biogenicity, we can find evidence of life that is more convincing. Such techniques would provide invaluable tools for the search for extraterrestrial life. This session seeks to highlight work being done to develop novel biosignatures or to use established biosignatures to search for new evidence of early life on Earth and/or past or present life on Mars.

Theme:  Solar System Sites
Session:  Mars
Subsession:  Biomarkers
Topic:  Habitability and Preservation Potential of Silica-Producing Hydrothermal Systems
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Habitability and Preservation Potential of Silica-Producing Hydrothermal Systems
Organizers:  Steve Ruff (Arizona State University), steve.ruff@asu.edu, and Martin van Kranendonk (UNSW), m.vankranendonk@unsw.edu.au
Summary:   Hydrothermal systems are recognized for their potential to generate habitable environments that can capture and preserve biosignatures. On Earth’s surface, hot springs and geysers are common manifestations, often producing biomediated deposits of hydrated, amorphous silica that entombs and preserves microbes and their biomediated structures. Evidence for silica-producing hydrothermal systems has now been well documented for both ancient Earth and ancient Mars, and suggested for recent or modern Enceladus. Their apparent widespread occurrence in the solar system, through deep time, provides a reasonable basis to assume that comparable hydrothermal systems could exist among rocky exoplanets. This session seeks to advance our understanding of the preservation potential and possibility of life detection among the silica occurrences of hydrothermal systems spanning ancient to modern Earth, Mars, Enceladus, and elsewhere.

THEME 3:  Exoplanets

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  The Habitability of Proxima Centauri b
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)The Habitability of Proxima Centauri b
Organizers:  Rory Barnes (University of Washington), rory@astro.washington.edu, and Ravi Kopparapu (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), ravikumar.kopparapu@nasa.gov
Summary:   The recent discovery of Proxima Centauri b, an Earth-mass planet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, has generated an immense interest regarding its prospects for habitability and offers an unprecedented opportunity to study the evolution of terrestrial exoplanets and search for biosignatures. Occurrence Estimates of HZ rocky planets around M-dwarfs from Kepler mission data range from 16% to 20%, with at least one HZ planet expected to be within 2.6 parsec (pc) of the Sun. At a distance of 1.3 pc, Proxima Cen b is a prime candidate for atmospheric characterization in the near-term either with JWST if the planet is transiting, or with WFIRST-Starshade/Coronagraph, if it is not non-transiting. In order to understand the habitability prospects and prepare for near-term observational campaigns, in this session, we also hope to bring together both observers and theorists to focus on Proxima Centauri b’s habitability from an interdisciplinary perspective, including its formation, coevolution with the star and planetary system, and effects due to its stellar companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, as well as the role of the Milky Way galaxy. This session will also explore predictions of the current atmospheric and surface state of Proxima Centauri b, which may or may not be habitable, and the observations needed by future ground- and space-based telescopes to discriminate between these states. Research on possible biosignatures, potential false positives and their discriminants for Proxima Centauri b will also be encouraged.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  Connecting Modeling and Observations in the Search for Habitable Planets
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Connecting Modeling and Observations in the Search for Habitable Planets
Organizers:  Tyler Robinson (University of California, SC), tydrobin@ucsc.edu, Eric Wolf (University of Colorado), eric.wolf@colorado.edu, and Edgard Rivera-Valentin (Arecibo Observatory/USRA), ed@naic.edu
Summary:   Observational campaigns, especially the Kepler mission, have made clear that terrestrial planets are common. In the next two decades, new missions will not only reveal rocky planets in their stars’ habitable zones (TESS), but may allow us to probe their atmospheres (JWST, PLATO, WFIRST, HabEx, LUVOIR). To optimize these valuable resources, theoretical modeling of rocky planets – their habitability and their atmospheres—is crucial. We invite abstracts that bring together researchers in theoretical modeling and observations of terrestrial planets in their stars’ habitable zones. Habitability is a function of many parameters:  stellar properties, orbital dynamics, planetary geology, and ocean and atmospheric processes; we invite abstracts that probe how the coupling between these effects shapes our search for habitable worlds. We also invite abstracts on atmospheric characterization and modeling techniques, to better extract information from exoplanet observations. We also invite abstracts that explore ground-based observational tools for characterizing exoplanets, including radio observations that can help refine stellar activity; and we invite abstracts that explore the design and capabilities of future telescopes to characterize exoplanets for habitability and signatures of life.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree:  Insights into Planetary Habitability from Stellar Characterization
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Insights into Planetary Habitability from Stellar Characterization
Organizers:  Patrick Young (Arizona State University), patrick.young.1@asu.edu, and Natalie Hinkel (Vanderbilt University), natalie.hinkel@gmail.com
Summary:   There are a number of fundamental inputs when assessing planetary habitability. For example, the composition of a planet, which determines internal dynamics and key geochemical cycles, is extremely important. Additionally, we need to know the time the planets spends in its host star’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. Finally, stellar activity has to be considered, which affects atmospheric survival. These and other factors affecting habitability are best determined by characterizing the host star. The purpose of this session is to explore how observable properties of host stars, especially elemental abundances, could affect planetary composition, atmospheres, and ultimately habitability. We wish to promote an interdisciplinary environment that more fully defines the field of “planetary astrophysics,” or the connection between astronomy, planetary science, and geology.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  Redox Processes in Astrobiology — From Nebulae to Life
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Redox Processes in Astrobiology — From Nebulae to Life
Organizer:  Reggie Hudson (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), reggie.hudson@nasa.gov
Summary:   Oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions span many diverse areas of astrobiology ranging from molecular formation in the interstellar medium to early-Earth geochemistry and present-day biochemistry. In this AbSciCon session a broad range of subject areas will be called upon to describe new work in redox chemistry in the gas, liquid, and solid phases. Some possible, and likely, astrobiological sites and topics include planetary surface chemistry, redox processes on icy moons and in subsurface oceans, nebular processes, the synthesis and survival of interstellar organics, and exoplanetary systems. Studies of the drivers of redox chemistry, such as thermal, photolytic, and radiolytic sources, also are welcome, as are investigations into redox chemistry as a method for establishing disequilibrium and possibly as sources of biosignatures. Results from observational and field work are welcome as are laboratory studies and theoretical investigations.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  Ionizing Radiation as a Constraint on Habitability
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Ionizing Radiation as a Constraint on Habitability
Organizer:  Brian Thomas (Washburn University), brian.thomas@washburn.edu , Reggie Hudson (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), reggie.hudson@nasa.gov
Summary:   Ionizing radiation in many forms (i.e., photons, particles) can have a significant impact on which environments may host life and what life might be found there. Understanding these impacts can help guide where to look and what to look for. We are interested in a wide range of talks investigating how ionizing radiation affects habitability. Topics could include how different organisms are affected by and respond to ionizing radiation, characterizing the radiation environment on solar and extrasolar planetary bodies, long-term and intermittent radiation sources, etc.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  Atmospheric Escape from Terrestrial Planets Around K-M Stars and Their Effects on Habitability
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Atmospheric Escape from Terrestrial Planets Around K-M Stars
Organizer:  Vlad Airapetian (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), vladimir.airapetian@nasa.gov
Summary:   The field of exoplanetary science is searching for a better understanding of conditions of viable habitats for life on exoplanets. Superflares discovered on hundreds of solar-type host stars may have profound effects on evolution of their exoplanetary atmospheres. How these processes affect habitability of terrestrial type exoplanets? The answer to this question will provide tools to search for habitable planets. The major goal of the proposed session is to promote studies that cross the boundaries of space weather from the Sun to cool stars and investigate its impact on loss and habitability, specifically to discuss thermal and non-thermal processes of atmospheric escape from early Earth, Mars, Venus and exoplanets and specify controls on atmospheric pressure, the crucial factor of habitability. We will concentrate on the lessons learned from the past and current missions to terrestrial type magnetically shielded and unshielded (exo)planets.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Habitability
Topic:  Formation of Habitable and “Earth-Like” Planets in Our Solar System and Elsewhere:  Gauging Terrestrial Exoplanet Diversity
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Formation of Habitable and “Earth-Like” Planets
Organizer:  Cayman Unterborn (Arizona State University), cunterbo@asu.edu
Summary:   The Earth is unique in our solar system. Many of the steps necessary to form a habitable world in our solar system are uncertain and it is further not known how unique it may be within the wider scope of exoplanets. As we seek to discover habitable planets we must gain a deeper understanding of the processes in our solar system and we must determine the potential diversity of exoplanets. A wealth of new observational data is available regarding exoplanet mass and radius distribution and stellar host composition. This simple dataset, however, does not address the resulting dynamic state, mineralogy and extent of geochemical cycling, all of which contribute to creating a habitable surface. In a complementary manner, new data relevant to our solar system’s origin, both from ground and space-based observations are shaping models of our solar system’s formation. In this session, we focus on innovative work from Earth and planetary science and observational astronomy to increase our understanding of formation of exoplanets, and exoplanetary surfaces, atmospheres and interiors. Topics can range from solar system terrestrial planets, exoplanet discovery and characterization and laboratory work. It is only with this interdisciplinary approach to extrasolar terrestrial planets can we truly understand what makes a planet “Earth-like,” and how truly unique the Earth and life may be.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Biosignatures
Topic:  Pigments and Other Biological Surface Features as Exoplanet Biosignatures
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Pigments and Other Biological Surface Features
Organizers:  Shiladitya DasSarma (University of Maryland), sdassarma@som.umaryland.edu, and Siddharth Hegde (Cornell University), shegde@astro.cornell.edu
Summary:   Atmospheric biosignatures are commonly considered for the detection of life on exoplanets, but alternative biosignatures could include vegetation coverage, surface coloration, bio-fluorescence, or other surface reflectance features. Understanding pigments is potentially a key issue. Life on Earth produces a tremendous variety of pigments for many purposes, from phototrophic light-driven transmembrane proton translocation, to photoreactive, phototactic, photoprotective and photorepair systems, and electron transport chain and photosynthetic reaction centers. This session will explore potentially detectable biological surface features, including their use in prioritizing targets for future dedicated characterization missions and their detectability for nearby exoplanets. The scope involves studies of diverse pigments and their UV-VIS-NIR spectral properties. Emphasis will be on potentially useful biosignatures for remote detection, including those that may have arisen early in evolution and in extreme environments.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Biomarkers
Topic:  The Science of Exoplanet Biosignatures Using Ground- and Space-Based Telescopes
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)The Science of Exoplanet Biosignatures Using Ground- and Space-Based Telescopes
Organizers:  Ravi Kopparapu (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), ravikumar.kopparapu@nasa.gov, and Eddie Schwieterman (University of California, Riverside), eddie.schwieterman@gmail.com
Summary:   A key goal of astrobiology is to analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets to find life. Ground-based opportunities include upcoming extremely large telescopes. Space missions include JWST and WFIRST, and future large space telescopes that are currently under study. However, potential biosignatures must be interpreted within the context of a planetary properties and the radiation of the host star. We invite both theorists and observers to discuss the detection of exoplanet biosignatures, including proposing, evaluating, and/or modeling biosignatures, and work that links biosignatures to the biogeochemical or geophysical properties of a planet. Topics may involve surface, gaseous, or temporal biosignatures; application of models to observational data; complementary biosignatures; quantitative metrics of the presence of life, such as chemical disequilibrium; possible “false positives” for life, anti-biosignatures; biogeochemical, photochemical, radiative, or instrument modeling for evaluating biosignatures; and laboratory measurements needed for models.

Theme:  Exoplanets
Session:  Biosignatures
Topic:  Connecting Habitability and Biosignature Observations
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Connecting Habitability and Biosignature Observations
Organizers:  Abel Méndez (PHL @ UPR Arecibo), abel.mendez@upr.edu; Dirk Schulze-Makuch (Washington State University), dirksm@wsu.edu; and Edgard Rivera-Valentin (Arecibo Observatory/USRA), ed@naic.edu
Summary:   On Earth, habitability is generally correlated with the presence of life, but this will not necessarily be the case for all habitable planets. For instance, a biosignature on a non-habitable planet by terrestrial standards could be interpreted as a false-positive or caused by very different biological process, among other explanations. Therefore, it is necessary to include quantitative measures of habitability to properly assess the significance of any biosignature detections. This session is requesting presentations about potential correlations between habitability and biosignature observations based on theoretical or empirical models, including those for complex or exotic life forms. The models presented as part of this session might consider any spatial and temporal scale, and extend from microbial to complex life, but should address how these models might scale-up and produce together both detectable global habitable conditions and biosignatures from afar.

THEME 4:  Origin and Evolution of Life

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Theory/Fundamental Questions
Topic:  Laws of Life
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Laws of Life
Organizers:  Sara Walker (Arizona State University), sara.i.walker@asu.edu; Douglas Vakoch (METI Int’l), dvakoch@meti.org; and Stuart Bartlett (ELSI), stuart.bartlett@elsi.jp
Summary:   In 1944, Erwin Schrödinger’s book “What is Life?” advanced an early and influential theoretical account of the properties of living matter. This session seeks papers that offer theoretical models addressing the question “What is life?” in the spirit of Schrödinger, broadly construed, with the session’s papers representing a number of theoretical frameworks from physics, artificial life and complexity science. The session will include discussion of the implications of these models for the detection of extraterrestrial life. While the majority of papers for the session are expected to emphasize contemporary theoretical models relevant to the question ”What is life?,” papers from historians of science that examine specific instances of theoretical models of life and their impact on subsequent empirical research are also welcome. 

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Theory/Fundamental Questions
Topic:  Abiotic “Bioenergetic” Mechanisms; a Prerequisite for the Emergence of Life?
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Abiotic “Bioenergetic” Mechanisms
Organizer:  Elbert Branscomb (University of Illinois), brnscmb@illinois.edu; Michael Russell (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) michael.j.russell@jpl.nasa.gov; Patrick Beckett (University of California, Davis) pbeckett@ucdavis.edu
Summary:   Could life have emerged without being “powered” right at the start by external sources of free energy just as all extant life must continuously be? Many if not most authorities hold that the need for such specific, “lifelike” mechanisms of bioenergetics comes in “late,” is satisfied more or less automatically, and is not a matter of essential or central concern. The opposite position is inherent in the Alkaline Hydrothermal Vent theory, a distinguishing property of which is that it implies a strict and detailed continuity between the abiotic devices that engendered life and the most conserved, fundamental, and universal metabolic mechanisms of extant life, those of energy metabolism most notably. In the hope of clarifying, and perhaps in some measure resolving, these disagreements, the session will support an airing of competing ideas and a focused and open discussion of the issues in contention.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Theory/Fundamental Questions
Topic:  Disequilibrium and Criticality:  Guiding Lights from Thermal Physics for Astrobiology
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Disequilibrium and Criticality
Organizer:  Stuart Bartlett (ELSI), stuart.bartlett@elsi.jp
Summary:   Thermodynamics is a vital tool for the physical and chemical sciences. Its use in biology was limited until the latter twentieth century as ideas of entropy production in non-equilibrium systems became more rigorous. We now understand the importance of disequilibrium as a driving force and maintainer of the living state. It was also with great foresight that James Lovelock proposed the use of disequilibrium as an indicator for alien life. More recently, origins researchers have increasingly emphasised the role of non-equilibrium conditions for abiogenesis. Much has also been learned about the relevance of criticality to life. The emergence of life has been couched in terms of phase transitions and it seems that life must exist in regimes that are poised between complete order and complete chaos. This session will discuss the use of thermodynamics to problems of abiogenesis, the detection of alien life and constraining habitability.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Geochemistry
Topic:  Electron Transfer Reactions of Interest to Astrobiologists
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Electron Transfer Reactions of Interest to Astrobiologists
Organizers:  Laurie Barge (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech), laura.m.barge@jpl.nasa.gov, and Annette Rowe (University of Southern California), annettrr@usc.edu
Summary:   Conserving energy from electron transfer reactions is essential for life was we know it. Our understanding of the mechanisms and diversity of these processes in the microbial world is continuously expanding. Moreover, inorganic metal conformational catalysts likely appeared early in the emergence of bioenergetics, and it has been proposed that reactions similar to those catalyzed by modern enzymes were once catalyzed by minerals on the early Earth. Electrochemical instrumentation techniques are also powerful for studying metabolism and are being pursued for life detection on other planets. This session will explore novel modes of electron transfer important for microbial metabolism, current strides in understanding mechanisms of electron transfer, techniques for studying biological and geochemical electron transfer, as well as how studying electron transfer mechanisms inform origin of life studies. This session welcomes contributions from researchers in microbiology, bioelectrochemistry, geochemistry, electrochemistry, and prebiotic chemistry.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Geochemistry
Topic:  An Origin of Life in Salt Water Ocean Vents or in Fresh Water Pools on Land
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Origin of Life in Salt or Fresh Water
Organizer:  Bruce Damer (University of California, SC), bdamer@ucsc.edu 
Summary:   Recent laboratory work and fossil discoveries have brought into relief two competing hypotheses for an origin of life:  at deep sea hydrothermal vents or at fresh water fluctuating hydrothermal pools on land. This session will examine the chemical, geological and systemic benefits and challenges posed by each of the two settings and seek guide future research. Consideration of these hypotheses is centrally relevant to the search for evidence of past or present life elsewhere in the Solar System on Enceladus, Mars or other locations.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Geochemistry
Topic:  Redox Processes in Astrobiology — From Nebulae to Life
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Redox Processes in Astrobiology — From Nebulae to Life
Organizers:  Nadia Szeinbaum (Georgia Institute of Technology), nadia@gatech.edu, and Reggie Hudson (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), reggie.hudson@nasa.gov
Summary:   Oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions span many diverse areas of astrobiology ranging from molecular formation in the interstellar medium to Earth’s biogeochemistry. Redox-active metals also support a variety of metabolisms on modern Earth, and were likely important catalysts during the origins and early evolution of life. Other metal-based metabolisms, while theoretically possible, are still yet to be discovered. Characterizing known and theoretical metal-based metabolisms, their limits and distribution is critical for prioritizing targets for life detection on habitable planets containing redox-active metals, such as Mars. Some possible, and likely, astrobiological sites and topics include planetary surface chemistry, redox processes on icy moons and in subsurface oceans, nebular processes, the synthesis and survival of interstellar organics, and exoplanetary systems. This session welcomes lab-, field- and/or modeling studies that will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of metal-based life’s origins and evolution on Earth and beyond.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Geochemistry
Topic:  Experimental Insights into Organic Geochemistry
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Experimental Insights into Organic Geochemistry
Organizer:  Kris Fecteau (Arizona State University), kfecteau@asu.edu
Summary:   On Earth and potentially on other habitable worlds, the vast majority of organic carbon cycles on long timescales, removed from the surface biosphere. Nevertheless, these abiotic transformations may transform organic carbon in ways capable of sustaining the biomass of a deep biosphere and create states of disequilibria that may yield energy to its microbial constituents. While thermodynamic calculations can elucidate the energy yields of these transformations, they remain poorly understood mechanistically and kinetically unconstrained. This session welcomes presentations from all studies taking experimental approaches to understand abiotic transformations of organic carbon in subsurface environments on Earth and elsewhere in the universe.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Geochemistry
Topic:  Mineralogy and the Origin of Life
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Mineralogy and the Origin of Life
Organizer:  Steven Benner (Ffame), sbenner@ffame.org
Summary:   Ever since Orgel examined montmorillonite clay as relevant to the formation of prebiotic RNA, scientists have speculated about minerals likely to have been involved in the emergence of life. These have included micas, borate minerals, peridotite, and others, having a range of likely availability. This session is timely given recent data from still older strata on Earth, data from Mars, and the new realization by prebiotic chemists that rocks are important to them. It will assemble ~ 6 speakers to cover these themes.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Geochemistry
Topic:  Reaction Kinetics, Thermodynamics, and Habitability
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Reaction Kinetics, Thermodynamics, and Habitability
Organizers:  Eric Boyd (Montana State University), eboyd@montana.edu and Everett Shock (Arizona State University), eshock@asu.edu
Summary:   Generating and conserving energy from redox reactions is a unifying and defining characteristic of life. However, if a redox reaction proceeds abiotically at a rapid rate, there is no need for catalysis, and no option for that reaction to supply energy in support of microbial metabolism. Abiotic reaction rates that are especially relevant to habitability are those that control the availability and abundances of electron acceptors/donors which depend on reactions that are governed by geochemical processes involving mineral dissolution/precipitation, gas transfer, adsorption/desorption, among others. When and where reactions with substantial thermodynamic drives meet kinetic inhibitions, life (catalysis) intervenes with metabolic strategies to take advantage of released energy. Contributions to this session will include reaction kinetic and/or thermodynamic considerations in defining habitability. Topics that range from the role of rates in constraining the distribution of a particular metabolic process to those that define the limits of life are encouraged.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Biochemistry
Topic:  Life Without Light:  New Developments and Perspectives in Chemolithotrophic Metabolism and Its Geochemical Signatures
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Life Without Light
Organizers:  Eric Roden (University of Wisconsin) eroden@geology.wisc.edu, and Eric Boyd (Montana State University), eboyd@montana.edu
Summary:   Widely accepted models for the origin of life converge on autotrophic pathways for carbon metabolism involving inorganic sources of energy supplied by water rock interactions. Application of (meta)genomic tools to communities supported by chemolithotrophs have revealed numerous new insights into this early evolving metabolism. This session will attract a combination of microbiologists and geochemists working on novel pathways and geochemical/mineralogical signatures of chemolithotrophic metabolism in a variety of astrobiologically-relevant surface and subsurface environments. Particular emphasis will be placed on linking geochemical data (observational and experimental) to genomic analysis of the microbial communities and populations responsible for generating biosignatures of chemolithotrophic metabolism.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Biochemistry
Topic:  The Origin and Evolution of Functional Biopolymers
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Origin and Evolution of Functional Biopolymers
Organizers:  Nick Hud (Georgia Institute of Technology), hud@chemistry.gatech.edu,and Raghav Poudyal (Pennsylvania State University), rup34@psu.edu
Summary:   A key challenge to understanding the origins and early chemical evolution of life is to determine how small molecules were selected from complex starting mixtures and joined together to create the first functional biopolymers. This session will explore the effect of environmental constraints (such as compartmentalization, cosolutes and crowding) on synthesis and subsequent evolution of functional biopolymers. Talks and posters in this session will focus on the origins and evolution of functional nucleic acids and peptides including the hypothesis that alternative amino acids, nucleobases and sugars were used in the earliest biopolymers. Other topics include non-covalent assemblies of compartments and biopolymers as well as the relationship between structure/fitness landscapes and biopolymer sequence space.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Biochemistry
Topic:  Origins of Life:  From Molecules to Cells
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Origins of Life:  From Molecules to Cells
Organizers:  Irena Mamajanov (ELSI), irena.mamajanov@elsi.jp, and Donald Burke (University of Missouri), BurkeDH@missouri.edu
Summary:   We wish to understand how principles of self-organization, selectivity, heredity and self-production can arise in “messy” chemical networks such as those observed in prebiotic chemistry experiments. How much catalytic activity does an artificial polymerase or metabolic ribozyme from combinatorial selection need to have for it to be useful to incipient biology? How can we get molecular parts to work together to form coherent systems? How do engineered systems evolve? How can theory and modeling guide experiments in this area? In short, how do we move from “parts” to “systems” to “cells”? Understanding the path from one to the other could lead to a better grasp of the origin of life problem and the emergence of complexity in general. Topics will include prebiotic and systems chemistry, complex systems and the use of synthetic biology, the application of engineering principles to cells and subcellular systems, as strategic guidance for origins of life studies.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Prebiotic Biochemistry
Topic:  Ab Initio Computational Prebiotic Chemistry
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Ab Initio Computational Prebiotic Chemistry
Organizer:  Marco Saitta (Université Pierre et Marie Curie–Sorbonne), marco.saitta@upmc.fr
Summary:   The aim of the session is to present state-of-the-art methods and results for quantum-based atomistic simulations of emblematic questions in prebiotic chemistry and origins of life, such as the abiotic synthesis of the biochemical elementary bricks (amino acids, sugars, nucleotides, fatty acids) in realistic prebiotic conditions (interstellar ice chemistry, hydrothermal chemistry, etc.). This will help to foster an open dialog between experimentalists and theoreticians from chemistry, biology, Earth science, physics, and to contribute to identify a more common view of the most relevant prebiotic scenarios, and thus the most promising research directions for the next future. In particular, it will allow experts in the field of theoretical modelling, going from ab initio methods through classical molecular dynamics, coarse-grained models up to multi-scale techniques, to discuss the hottest research problems about the origin of life and define the best strategies to tackle them.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Experimental Microbial Evolution
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Experimental Microbial Evolution
Organizer:  Shelley Copley (University of Colorado), shelley.copley@colorado.edu, and Frank Rosenzweig (Georgia Tech)  frank.rosenzweig@biology.gatech.edu
Summary:   To illuminate the laws that produce Darwin’s “tangled bank” of living organisms remains one of biology’s grand challenges. In natural environments, meeting this challenge is complicated by the fact that selection pressures often vary widely over space and through time. Experimental microbial evolution approaches offer an attractive alternative by which to study, under controlled conditions, both the dynamic interplay between genotype and phenotype and the interactions among phenotypes in simple communities. This session will focus upon methods for interrogating genetic variation within microbial populations, investigations of the relationship between environmental conditions and trajectories of microbial adaptation, identification of the mechanistic basis of beneficial mutations, and exploration of the genetic basis of key evolutionary transitions in the evolution of complex organisms and ecosystems.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Cellularity, Multicellularity, and Endosymbiosis:  Major Transitions and Their Impacts on the Biosphere
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Cellularity, Multicellularity, and Endosymbiosis
Organizers:  Mary Droser (University of California, Riverside), Mary.Droser@ucr.edu, and Aaron Goldman (Oberlin College), agoldman@oberlin.edu
Summary:   Several major transitions have occurred in evolutionary history that changed the nature of organismal identity:  the evolution of cellularity, the emergence of eukaryotic cells through endosymbiosis, and the multiple independent origins of multicellular organisms. Each of these major transitions increased the complexity of organismal organization, opened new biological niches, and fundamentally changed the biosphere. This session aims to explore these topics through a broad range of approaches including but not limited to evolutionary biology, experimental biology, microbial ecology, paleobiology, synthetic biology, and artificial life simulations.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Major Transitions in Evolution:  Experimental, Comparative, and Theoretical Approaches
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Major Transitions in Evolution
Organizers:  Matthew Herron (Georgia Institute of Technology), xprinceps@gmail.com; Eric Libby (Santa Fe Institute), elibby@santafe.edu; and Will Ratcliff (Georgia Institute of Technology), will.ratcliff@biology.gatech.edu
Summary:   How and why complex organisms evolve remain fundamental questions in astrobiology. On Earth, complex life has evolved through a series of ‘major transitions’, in which formerly autonomous individuals become parts of new, higher-level individuals. For example, chromosomes are thought to have evolved from autonomous genetic replicators, eukaryotes from multiple prokaryotic ancestors, multicellular organisms from unicellular ancestors, and eusocial ‘superorganisms’ from solitary multicellular ancestors. This session will focus on experimental, comparative and theoretical approaches to understanding the evolution of higher levels of organization or new forms of individuality. Topics include chemical replicators, experimental evolution, systems biology, biophysics, phylogenetic reconstruction, comparative genomics, paleontology and molecular paleontology. We also welcome theoretical approaches for understanding this topic, including those that are mathematically, computationally, or philosophically abstract. 

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Early Genomes, Ribosomes, and Translation:  Simplicity Versus Capabilities
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Early Genomes, Ribosomes, and Translation
Organizers:  Gary Olsen (University of Illinois, UC), gary@life.uiuc.edu, and George Fox (University of Houston), fox@uh.edu
Summary:   Much of what we know about the evolution of terrestrial life is based upon retrodiction from present-day life. Over the past two decades, genomic data have provided tremendous insights into early evolution. Phylogeny-based reconstructions of ancestral genomes have been used to support the idea that early organisms had simple genome complements, and a less sophisticated translational machinery. Recent work has established timelines for the relative age of various aspects and components of that translation machinery with implications for the origin of coded synthesis and the properties of the earliest proteins. This session will examine the implications of these results for the nature of the last universal ancestor and the progenotes that preceded it. More broadly, we ask, what is the interplay between the emergence of informational sophistication, and the need for metabolic abilities to support this development in an environment with limited quantities and concentrations of resources?

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Understanding the Role of Viruses in Biogeochemistry, Origin and Evolution of Life, and Extraterrestrial Life
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Understanding the Role of Viruses
Organizer:  Gareth Trubl (Ohio State University), trubl.1@osu.edu
Summary:   Viruses are widely dispersed and dominate the planet with an estimated 1031 viruses on Earth. Recently, insights into their genomes have revealed viruses can have major impacts on biogeochemical cycles. Currently known viral roles include (1) host-cell lysis, (2) the transfer of genetic material via transduction, and (3) modulating host machinery. Advancements in meta-omic techniques have allowed insights into viral ecology. Additionally, viruses are highly diverse infecting organisms found in all three domains of life. Despite this and the lack of a marker gene, the origin of viruses remains unknown. With the advent of new tools to research viruses, we have begun to elucidate “viral dark matter” and have realized life on Earth is clearly heavily influenced by viruses. Their role in the origin and evolution of life on Earth, may extend to life elsewhere and viruses may be crucial for the continued existence of life throughout the universe.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Life is Tough — and Getting Tougher:  Current Superlatives and Contenders for “Extreme” Life on Earth
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Current Superlatives and Contenders for “Extreme” Life on Earth
Organizers:  Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh), c.s.cockell@ed.ac.uk, and John Rummel (SETI), jrummel@seti.org
Summary:   This session will examine the world of extremophiles, to include the record holders (and also-rans) in various categories of biological capability, including anaerobic microbiology. This session would look at how all aspects from the deep subsurface to lab-based studies, inform our knowledge of the limits of life, habitability, biosignature gases, etc. Both invited and solicited papers will showcase the ability of life on Earth to persist in environments that are unlike the conference venue (hopefully), and that currently define the “limits to life” as we find them on Earth and may find them elsewhere in our solar system and beyond.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  Extreme Radiation Resistance in Prokaryotes — Origins, Evolution, Genomics and Their Implications for Astrobiology
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Extreme Radiation Resistance in Prokaryotes
Organizer:  Madhan Tirumalai (University of Houston), mrtirum2@central.uh.edu
Summary:   The genomes of prokaryotes are under constant attack from different sources of ionizing radiation. Radiation resistance is a highly regulated mechanism involving different genetic pathways. Given that the conditions during the early origins and the evolution of life were characterized by high doses of ionizing radiation, the origins of radiation resistance can possibly be traced back to the Last Universal Common Ancestor. This session will focus on research work related to genomics of radiation resistance, evolutionary origins of pathways related to radiation resistance, interrelationships between mechanisms of radiation resistance and other types of extremophily and how our understanding of these can help us foresee and understand similar mechanisms (if any) on other planetary bodies such as Mars.

Theme:  Origin and Evolution of Life
Session:  Evolution/Genetics
Topic:  How Do Symbioses Enable Life to Colonize New Habitats?
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)How Do Symbioses Enable Life to Colonize New Habitats?
Organizer:  Gillian Gile (Arizona State University), ggile@asu.edu
Summary:   On Earth, many habitats only become inhabitable through symbioses. Lichens occupy the harshest, most barren rocks. Endosymbiosis brought photosynthesis to eukaryotes, enabling (along with multicellularity) the greening of continents. Digestion symbioses allow termites to subsist on wood. Nutrition symbioses allow insects to subsist on phloem sap. Nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria allow a fern to thrive while floating on oligotrophic waters. This session will explore the commonalities and molecular mechanisms of symbioses that have opened up new niches for their participants.

THEME 5:  New Technologies and Techniques

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Life Detection
Topic:  Seeking the Tricorder:  Advanced Technologies for Life Discovery and Detection
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Seeking the Tricorder
Organizers:  Penny Boston (NASA Astrobiology Institute), Penelope.J.Boston@nasa.gov, and Harry Partridge (NASA Ames Research Center), harry.partridge@nasa.gov
Summary:   There’s great excitement over the prospects of life on icy fluid-containing moons around our solar system’s gas giants, and over the continuing long-term interest in Mars life. With recent exoplanet discoveries in the habitable zone by the Kepler mission and the newly discovered planet candidate around Proxima Centauri, the possibility of life beyond Earth seems plausible and within our research reach. Astrobiology and planetary research communities require advanced technologies and paradigms to explore and study exoplanets and moons for evidence of life. This session explores technology topics including next gen instrumentation, portable, miniature sensors, imagery, remote sensing focused on non-invasive methods. Robotic explorers that can access subsurface and other challenging surface terrain of Icy Worlds will be discussed. Advances with Small Sats including sensor swarms networks, telemetry and advanced algorithms for predicting life and life patterns by connecting sensor swarms and robotic explorers will also be presented.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Life Detection
Topic:  In Situ Life Detection:  Approaches, Challenges, and Opportunities
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)In Situ Life Detection
Organizers:  Aaron Burton (NASA Johnson Space Center), aaron.burton@nasa.gov; Daniel Gregory (University of California, Riverside), dgregory@ucr.edu; and Tim Lyons (University of California, Riverside), timothy.lyons@ucr.edu
Summary:   Over the next few decades, the search for life in our solar system will include missions to Mars, Europa and potentially other habitable worlds, as well as returned samples. This session will cover experiments, technologies, and instruments for life detection that are currently in development, and the obstacles that must be overcome prior to their implementation for life detection in situ. Microanalytical techniques and multi-proxy approaches are of particular interest. 

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Life Detection
Topic:  Life Detection Lessons from Analogue Environments on Earth
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form):  Life Detection Lessons from Analogue Environments on Earth
Organizers:  Jacqueline Goordial (McGill University), jackiegoordial@gmail.com, and Magdalena Osburn (Northwestern University), maggie@northwestern.edu
Summary:   Potentially habitable astrobiology targets have been identified (RSLs and near subsurface water ice on Mars, the plumes and oceans of Europa and Enceladus) that will certainly be targets for future astrobiology missions. Therefore, there is a need for direct life detection instrumentation which can work under the extreme conditions which characterize these targets. The Atacama, the Antarctic Dry Valleys, permanently ice-covered lakes in the Antarctic, the deep subsurface, and other extreme environments on Earth are test-beds for life detection instrumentation and methodology, as well as for understanding the extremes of life. We invite contributions that apply laboratory experimentation, theoretical approaches, remote sensing, and/or field application to understand the distribution of life and the challenges of biomarker detection in terrestrial analogue environments

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Life Detection
Topic:  Biosignature Detection on Mars:  Strategies and Analog Studies to Guide Mars 2020 and ExoMars
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Biosignature Detection on Mars
Organizers:  Brandi Carrier (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), bcarrier@jpl.nasa.gov, and Svetlana Shkolyar (Arizona State University), sshkolya@asu.edu
Summary:   The Mars 2020 and ExoMars missions will mark a new era in the search for traces of past life on Mars. Instruments onboard these rovers will be used to select samples from habitable environments for in situ analysis and/or caching for potential Earth return based on their biosignature preservation potential. To meet these goals, which are a top priority for Mars exploration in the next decade, studies are needed to refine methods for analyzing challenging, realistic, high priority lithotypes for astrobiology. Sample-dependent and science-driven strategies must be considered ahead of time to ensure effective outcomes during these missions. This session will highlight results that address instrumentation development and analog studies to guide biosignature detection strategies for both approaching missions.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  Instruments and Robotics for Exploration of Mars
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Instruments and Robotics for Exploration of Mars
Organizer:  German Sarmiento (Instituto de Astrobiologia Colombia), german.sarmiento@astrobiologia.org
Summary:   The session aims to inform the scientific community all those instruments, equipment , rovers, and technological material for Mars exploration.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  Technology for Accessing Ocean Worlds
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Technology for Accessing Ocean Worlds
Organizers:  Kristoff Richmond (Stone Areospace), kristof.richmond@stoneaerospace.com, and Kevin Hand (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), khand@jpl.nasa.gov
Summary:   Ocean worlds (Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and elsewhere) hold the greatest potential in humanity’s search for extant life as well as a second, independent origin of life in the solar system beyond Earth. The most likely location for possible life is beneath the surface of these worlds — through ice caps kilometers in thickness and into full-planet oceans warmed by gravitational tidal heating. Accessing these places and autonomously discovering life there is one of the greatest engineering and robotics challenges of our age. This session specifically invites presentations on viable methods for penetrating kilometers of ice with a starting condition of vacuum and 100K temperature and for concepts for full ocean exploration and search for life using behavior-based autonomous underwater vehicles.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  Application of Single-Cell, Nanopore, and Other Tiny Technologies to Astrobiology
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Application of Single-Cell, Nanopore, and Other Tiny Technologies
Organizers:  Marina Walther-Antonio (Mayo Clinic), waltherantonio.marina@mayo.edu, and Chris Carr (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), chrisc@mit.edu
Summary:   New advances in astrobiology are being facilitated by technologies of the very small. The single-cell technological revolution allows for the first time detection, manipulation and experimentation, on scales at which cellular interactions occur, with minimal disturbance introduced into the natural substrates. These new technologies are allowing live observation and experimentation in natural microenvironments. Nanopore instruments can detect and characterize single molecules in solution such as nucleotides, nucleic acids, and proteins. While research platforms for nanopores have been in use for some time, the new portable device MinION is being used in over a thousand labs, and related technologies are under commercialization. We invite abstracts that describe new technologies like these, and the impact and potential they have for astrobiology.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  Stable Isotope Techniques for the Study of Early Earth, Early Life, and Solar System Bodies
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Stable Isotope Techniques
Organizer:  Nancy Merino (ELSI), nmerino@elsi.jp
Summary:   Traditional stable isotope techniques have been widely applied to the study of solar system bodies, the ancient Earth, and the emergence of life by studying such elements as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. These have led to a deeper understanding of biogeochemical pathways and Earth’s geological evolution, including the natures of the early oceans and atmosphere. Recent advances, such as nanoSIMS, position specific isotope analysis, clumped isotopologue analysis, and stable isotope analysis of multiple elements, aim to further expand our knowledge of planetary environments (e.g., early Earth and Mars) and biosynthesis (e.g., Rubisco and lipid synthesis). This session invites contributions from all fields using these techniques to study life’s emergence, biosignatures, microbial physiology and metabolism, exoplanetary composition, and other astrobiological topics of interest. This session is co-organized by members of the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI, Tokyo Institute of Technology).

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  Big Data in Astrobiology
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Big Data in Astrobiology
Organizers:  Bob Hazen (Carnegie Institution), rhazen@ciw.edu, and Arsev Aydinoglu (Middle East TU), arsevu@gmail.com
Summary:   Astrobiology and planetary geology are distinguished by an exponentially growing volume of data, and the interdisciplinary nature of astrobiology demands analyzing and integrating diverse types of data. Analysis of combinations of diverse datasets across astrobiology holds great potential for cutting-edge research; but at the same time, the scientific community has not fully adapted practices for research data management (RDM) regarding data preservation, sharing, access, discovery, reuse, and synthesis. We invite abstracts that describe astrobiological questions in the context of planetary science answerable by Big Data analysis, such as:  the use of proteomics and mineral data to constrain electron receptors for early life; or the interpretation and prediction of planetary composition, mineralogy and petrology through advanced data analytics. We also invite abstracts considering best practices in RDM as applied to astrobiology, on topics such as metadata standards and interoperability in an interdisciplinary environment; or the existing data repositories in various disciplines, and their data discovery and reuse.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  Astrobiology ‘Omics:  Using Systems Biology to Address Big Questions in Astrobiology
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)Astrobiology ‘Omics’
Organizers:  Jamie Foster (University of Florida), jfoster@ufl.edu, and Wes Swingley (Northern Illinois University), wswingley@niu.edu
Summary:   This session addresses the rapidly evolving field of meta-omics and systems biology as it pertains to microbial ecosystems. Over the past decade the rapid expansion of –omics related datasets in astrobiology (e.g., proteomics, metabolomics, metagenomics and metatranscriptomics) has rapidly shifted reductionist or components-based biology to a more holistic systems biology approach to examining complex biological processes and ecosystems. Systems biology has enabled multi-scale predictions of how microbial ecosystems change over time or in response to their environment as well as driven new technological developments. This session explores the evolutionary and ecological implications of systems biology approaches in concert with developments in statistical and computational approaches. The session also targets tools and integration approaches of these comprehensive data sets to address fundamental questions in astrobiology.

Theme:  New Technologies and Techniques
Session:  Other Technologies and Techniques
Topic:  New Algorithms and Ground-Based Technologies for Detecting Near-by Exo-Life
Short Title (listed on abstract submission form)New Algorithms and Ground-Based Technologies
Organizer:  Jeff Kuhn (University of Hawaii), kuhn@ifa.hawaii.edu
Summary:   All known exolife biomarkers present formidable signal detection challenges. Nevertheless it is possible that dedicated instruments and/or observing techniques and algorithms will maximize the chances of conducting statistically meaningful exolife searches within a few years. Many of these efforts will be conducted from the ground. This session will explore possible near- to 20-year technical solutions to these problems.

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