What We Do

What drives the natural selection of the chemical elements in biology – function or availability?

This is a foundational question in chemical evolution that brings the intellectually diverse MUSE team together. Every element has specific chemical characteristics that may lead to uniquely valuable biochemical functions. Those chemical characteristics also shape the availability of each element in the environment in ways that lead to variations across space and time. It is easy to see on Earth today that life is often limited when certain elements are scarce. Is this dependence an inevitable consequence of the utility of those elements? Or is it an accident of history that might have worked out very differently if we “replayed the tape” of evolution under slightly different conditions — as seems inevitable on other worlds? The interplay between these factors is a fundamental puzzle in astrobiology.

Our unifying question translates into a research project focused on the evolution of metal use in the biochemistry of N acquisition. MUSE team carries out transdisciplinary geochemical and biological investigations that involve ancient materials, experiments, and modern natural systems.

Our team is carrying out the following three initiatives

Molecular-like structure

Initiative I

What were the abundances and sources of metals involved in Nfixation on early Earth?

Initiative II

What were the biological metal demands of Nfixation on early Earth?

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Initiative III

What were the alternatives to the metals used in Nfixation?