Rock-Powered Life: Revealing Mechanisms of Energy Flow from the Lithosphere to the Biosphere

Project: Research project

Description

Rocky planets store enormous amounts of chemical energy that can power living systems when this energy is released through the interaction of rocks with water. Astrobiological investigations commonly use a thermodynamic framework to predict the habitability of planetary environments based upon the disequilibrium between rocks, minerals, aqueous species and gases across gradients1,2. Yet this versatile framework identifies only the potential for habitability and does not allow scientists to necessarily predict which habitable niches are effectively occupied and
transformed by biological organisms. When we interrogate modern systems, we often find both oases and deserts of life activity within broadly habitable environments, which demonstrates that the release and utilization of stored energy and nutrients is discretely focused. Additionally, in many of these systems we have scant information available on the energetic demands of microbial metabolism and physiology, which are necessary to develop predictive models. Such observations challenge our abilities to predict the distribution and abundance of life beyond Earth, to develop life detection strategies for extraterrestrial life, and to improve hypotheses concerning the earliest ecosystems to evolve on Earth.
StatusActive
Effective start/end date4/29/1512/31/19

Funding

  • NASA: Ames Research Center: $549,448.00

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energy flow
biosphere
lithosphere
rock
energy
oasis
disequilibrium
physiology
niche
energetics
planet
desert
thermodynamics
metabolism
nutrient
ecosystem
mineral
gas
water