by Brandon Mercer

MOFFETT FIELD (CBS SF) — Seven research teams will get $50 million dollars over five years to study extraterrestrial life in the universe, the origins of life on earth, and the evolution of future life forms, as part of the NASA Astrobiology Isntitute’s (NAI) work at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

“The intellectual scope of astrobiology is vast, from understanding how our planet went from lifeless to living, to understanding how life has adapted to Earth’s harshest environments, to exploring other worlds with the most advanced technologies to search for signs of life,” said Mary Voytek, director of NASA’s astrobiology program. “The new teams cover that breadth of astrobiology, and by coming together in the NAI, they will make the connections between disciplines and organizations that stimulate fundamental scientific advances.”

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One group from Goddard will study whether the organic materials fdor life, and water came to earth on board comets and other smaller bodies that hit the planet over four billion years ago. Their work will also be applied to searching for other places on nearby planets and moons, and on distant stars, that could harbor extraterrestrial life.

Another team will investigate the organic chemistry needed to create the early organics on Earth.

A team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will look at how life can survive in icy regions on Earth, to extrapolate how life might exist on the moons Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus.

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SETI (The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in Mountain View will get funding to look at what to search for in looking for alien life, and where to search for them.

A team from Boulder will investigate life forms that live on rocks and chemical energy.

A UC Riverside group will look at how Earth developed so much oxygen in its atmosphere, and a team from Montana will look at how life evolved from simple life forms to more complex creatures.

The seven new teams join five continuing teams at the University of Washington in Seattle; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

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COMPLETE INFORMATION ON ALIEN LIFE GRANTs: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov