Earth First Origins Project Seeks to Replicate the Cradle of Life

Assistant Professor Karyn Rogers and Gina Oliver, Ph.D. ’19

The evolution of planet Earth and the emergence of life during its first half-billion years are inextricably linked, with a series of planetwide transformations — formation of the ocean, evolution of the atmosphere, and the growth of crust and continents — underpinning the environmental stepping-stones to life. But how, and in what order, were the ingredients for
life on Earth manufactured and assembled?

NASA’s Astrobiology Program has awarded a $9 million grant to tackle the question through the Earth First Origins project, led by Rensselaer Assistant Professor Karyn Rogers. The five-year project seeks to uncover the conditions on early Earth that gave rise to life by identifying, replicating, and exploring how prebiotic molecules and chemical pathways could have formed under realistic early Earth conditions.

“Planet Earth and the chemistry of life share the same road,” says Rogers. “Because of that co-evolution, we can use our understanding of the fundamental planetary processes that set the Earth system in motion to sketch the physical, chemical, and environmental map to life.”

Earth First Origins serves as the catalyst for launching the Rensselaer Astrobiology Research and Education (RARE) Center. The newly established RARE Center builds on the expertise established through more than three decades of astrobiology research at Rensselaer, and supersedes its predecessor, the New York Center for Astrobiology. In addition to conducting fundamental research into life’s origins and the potential for life throughout the universe, the RARE Center will support a range of education and public engagement activities.

Earth First Origins and the RARE Center unite a diverse team of experts in planetary evolution, early Earth geochemistry, prebiotic and experimental astrobiology, and analytical chemistry. Complemented by a team of molecular biologists, geochemical modelers, and data and visualization experts, the research team brings a wealth of experience poised to launch a new research paradigm for studying life’s origins.

  • Biotechnology and the Life Sciences
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