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LAB is learning to identify life

as we've never known it before

In the universe, there may be life that is very different from what we're use to on Earth. How will we know what to look for, and how will we recognize it as life if we've never seen it before? The Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB) is working to address these and other question related to the search for truly alien life, as we've never seen before.


Alien Life

Using Agnostic Biosignatures:

Life detection methods that identify unknowable, unfamiliar features and chemistries that may represent processes of life as-yet unrecognized.

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Molecular Complexity expands on the Ladder of Life theme “Complex Organics” and seeks to define the chemical complexity of any type of molecule (organic or inorganic) that is unlikely or impossible to form spontaneously.

Chemical Fractionation: expands on the Ladder of Life consideration of “Metal Distribution” and uses elemental and isotopic accumulation in compartments isolated from the surrounding environment as a potential biosignature.

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Molecular Complementarity: expands on the Ladder of Life theme“Organic Complexity Patterns” and harnesses the power of sequencing to explore sample complexity, as measured by molecular complementarity of ligands to short, randomly generated oligonucleotides.

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Disequilibrium and Energy Transfer: expands on Ladder of Life“Energy” measurements and seeks disequilibrium redox chemistries that are inconsistent with abiotic redox reactions as an indicator of active metabolism.

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The Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures is developing techniques to detect life in the universe that humans can’t conceive of. Funded over the next five years with nearly $7 million from the NASA Astrobiology Program, the LAB team includes biologists, chemists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and instrument engineers. Together, these scientific disciplines aim to define potential extraterrestrial biosignatures, or signs of life, by imagining beyond the molecular framework of the only life we know of here on Earth.


The team is also designing tools for detecting these signatures and strategies for interpreting them. LAB’s unique detection techniques can be used on bodies that include Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn’s icy moons.

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