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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Indiana University to become NASA base for space biology studies

Indiana University Bloomington will soon be the headquarters of one of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's new Astrobiology Institute "lead teams," which are research institutes working on projects related to the search for life beyond Earth.

Based at IU and involving 18 scientists from eight research institutions, the new Indiana-Princeton-Tennessee Astrobiology Institute (IPTAI) will be directed by IU Bloomington biogeochemist Lisa Pratt. Other IU members are geologist Edward Ripley, artist Ruth Droppo and Digital Media Services managers Douglas Pearson and Michael Jasiak of University Information Technology Services.

NASA will provide IPTAI with $5 million in funding over five years, and the institute will be able to apply for a renewal of funding in 2008. IPTAI is one of 16 lead teams selected this year.

IPTAI's project, titled "Detection of Biosustainable Energy and Nutrient Cycles in the Deep Subsurface of Earth and Mars," will employ a series of field and laboratory experiments as well as biological samples taken from deep inside mines to figure out the best of way of detecting life on the two planets. As yet, no life has been detected on or under the surface of Earth's chilly neighbor, Mars, where the daily temperature usually tops out around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientists from Princeton University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Toronto, and the Universities Space Research Association's Lunar Planetary Institute comprise the rest of the IPTAI team.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is an international research consortium with central offices located at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., the agency's lead center for astrobiology. Astrobiology is the search for the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

To speak with Pratt or other IUB team members, contact David Bricker at 812-856-9035 or