While the role of late diagenesis alteration and preservation of biomarkers (e.g., lipids) is well understood, far fewer studies have focused on the diversity of early diagenetic processes which dictate preservation depending on environmental setting.
In order to better understand the relationship between depositional environment and sedimentary biological processes, we are analyzing a suite of thermally immature fish concretions from various locations around the world via lipid extraction which have partially decomposed and contain a wide range of lipids from eukaryotes, bacteria and archaea.
These fossils provide a unique opportunity to probe the diagenetic continuum or the "window" into the biological-geological (e.g., sterols to steranes; hopanols to hopanes) transition and preservation of biomarkers.
In Search for the RNA World on Mars
On Earth, tectonics have obscured the overwhelming majority of prebiotic surface history. However, reminiscent of the Hadean Earth, the well-preserved Noachis Terra on Mars is characterized by heavy meteoritic bombardment and punctuated fluvial activity which resulted in valley networks and long-lived lacustrine environments. This environment could therefore provide a great alternative to studying the prebiotic conditions on the early Earth when life emerged.
We are now leveraging advances in prebiotic chemistry and planetary exploration in order to understand the geological environments compatible with the emergence of life via an RNA world-like scenario on Mars
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes
Life on Mars, if it exists, may share a common ancestry with life on Earth due to lithological exchange (presumably containing microbial life) between early Mars and Earth. Therefore, environmental DNA (and RNA) metagenomic sequencing has the potential to provide unambiguous evidence of ancestrally-related life on Mars. The Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes (SETG) instrument integrates nucleic acid extraction and nanopore sequencing.
Carr et al. (2017) Aerospace Conference, IEEE ResearchGate
Mars Human Landing Site Study
In late October of 2015 NASA held the first workshop to identify and discuss candidate locations where humans could land, live, and work on the martian surface.
Site 36: Coprates Chasma, Valles Marineris
Our proposed exploration zone in the western aspect of Coprates Chasma, 293.367°E - 11.684°N, contains several regions of scientific and engineering interest including: recurring slope lineae (RSL), cross cutting alluvial fan deposits, tilted Noachian blocks, impact craters, olivine deposits, clay mineral deposits and exposed deep crustal lithologies. Favorable environmental conditions include strong year-round solar insolation and high atmospheric pressures. [Photo by NASA HQ]