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Further Investigations: Properties of Life

  1. Astrobiology is the study of possible life beyond Earth’s atmosphere (also called exobiology or space biology). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched several missions into space looking for life beyond our own planet. NASA has landed scientific instruments on the moon and Mars. Similarly, the Russian space agency launched several landing missions to Venus. If you were a NASA astrobiologist searching for living organisms on another planet, what experiments would you conduct? What instruments would you put on your lander spacecraft?
  2. Scientists have recently discovered that a high abundance of microbial life exists in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean. There are also fish and other marine organisms that have been spotted using cameras mounted to deep sea submersibles. Considering the cold temperatures, extreme pressure, and darkness of an extreme environment like the Mariana Trench, what unique adaptations might you expect to find in the life that exists there? What are the selective pressures that lead to these adaptations? Would these organisms be able to live at different locations or are they uniquely adapted to the Mariana Trench? What do these adaptations tell us about the evolutionary history in the Mariana Trench?
  3. Most living organism on Earth live in moderate conditions, particularly moderate temperatures (20 to 45 °C) and near neutral pH. However, some organisms—called extremophiles—are capable of thriving in physically or chemically extreme environments. Aside from extreme temperatures and pH, what are some other extreme conditions intolerable for most living organisms? What organisms can survive in these conditions?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.