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Felisa Wolfe-Simon: Strategies for Life on Earth

Felisa Wolfe-Simon gets inspired by life’s inherent flexibility.

Chemistry drives life. Through the process of metabolism, every cell on Earth is constantly manipulating atoms and molecules in order to harvest energy, grow, and thrive. Although known life forms use just a handful of basic strategies for harnessing energy from their world, life also has an inherent flexibility that allows biological systems to adapt over time as the environment changes.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon, Ph.D., believes life’s 3.5-billion year history on Earth means there is a lot that living things can teach us about energy. “I like to think about biological systems as useful models to learn something about energy…because life is electric,” said Wolfe-Simon.

Wolfe-Simon’s work focuses on two main areas. She explores a unique approach used by some bacteria to capture energy from light (anoxygenic photosynthesis, or photosynthesis without making oxygen). She also is investigating a newly-discovered microbe, GFAJ-1, found in high arsenic soda lakes in California and Nevada, that appears to sustain its growth using arsenic instead of using phosphorus.

Presentation: “Microbes and the four basic strategies for life on Earth: What we can learn from what we know (and how to look for what we don’t know)” (PDF)

Audio Interview (MP3)

Felisa Wolfe-Simon is a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow.