Georgia Tech Researcher to Lead $6 Million NASA Astrobiology Study
Billions of years ago, self-replicating systems of molecules became separated from one another by membranes, resulting in the first cells. Over time, evolving cells enriched the living world with an astonishing diversity of new shapes and biochemical innovations, all made possible by compartments.
Compartmentalization is how all living systems are organized today — from proteins and small molecules sharing space in separate phases to dividing labor and specialized functions within and among cells.
Now, with $6 million in support from NASA, a team of researchers led by Georgia Tech’s Frank Rosenzweig will study the organizing principles of compartmentalization in a five-year project called Engine of Innovation: How Compartmentalization Drives Evolution of Novelty and Efficiency Across Scales.
It's one of seven new projects selected recently by NASA as part of its Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR) program. ICAR is embedded among NASA’s five Astrobiology Research Coordination Networks (RCNs). Rosenzweig is co-lead for the RCN launched in 2022, LIFE: Early Cells to Multicellularity.
“We’re excited by the prospect of exploring this fundamental question through the interplay of theory and experiment,” said Rosenzweig, professor in the School of Biological Sciences, whose team of co-Investigators includes biochemists, geologists, cell biologists, and theoreticians from leading NASA research centers: Jeff Cameron, Shelley Copley, Alexis Templeton, and Boswell Wing from the University of Colorado Boulder; Josh Goldford and Victoria Orphan from California Institute of Technology; and John McCutcheon from Arizona State University. Collaborating with them is Chris Kempes, professor at the Santa Fe Institute.
Rosenzweig is also eager to eventually collaborate with existing ICAR teams, such as MUSE, led by the University of Wisconsin’s Betül Kaçar, a former Georgia Tech postdoctoral researcher, and newly selected teams, such as Retention of Habitable Atmospheres in Planetary Systems, led by Dave Brain at University of Colorado Boulder.
Meanwhile, he plans to build upon Georgia Tech’s outstanding reputation in astrobiology, where a cluster of researchers, such as Jen Glass, Nick Hud, Thom Orlando, Amanda Stockton, and Loren Williams, among others, is engaged in a diverse range of work supported by NASA.
“This is just the latest chapter in a long history of excellence in NASA research at Georgia Tech, one written by my colleagues across the Institute,” Rosenzweig said.