Société Française d'Exobiologie

Nouvelle session d’ABC-Net : Cours Européens en Exo/Astrobiologie

Une nouvelle session de cours d’astrobiologie pour étudiants en Master ou Doctorat a lieu à partir du 30 Octobre 2007. 11 universités européennes se sont regroupées pour organiser ces cours interdisciplinaires qui seront donnés successivement dans chacune des institutions, et visibles par visioconférences dans tous les centres participants. Etudiants devant valider des ECTS, des heures de formation doctorale, ou venant en auditeurs libres, il est temps de vous inscrire ! Le nombre de place est limité… Les cours auront lieu au siège du CNES, à Paris, chaque mardi à 14h.

Les enseignants de chaque université européenne traiteront des différents aspects de cette matière pluridisciplinaire. Ces cours seront donnés en anglais à partir du pays de l’enseignant et retransmis en direct dans les autres pays participants. Un temps de questions/réponses et prévu à l’issu de chaque cours (1h cours + 30 min questions). Cet enseignement s’adresse à des étudiants de niveau Master ou Doctorat.

Si vous voulez assister à ces cours, contactez : François Raulin ou Hervé Cottin.

Astrobiology Lecture Course Network (ABC Net)
To be held during the Winter Semester 2007/2008

Astrobiology is a newly emerging field of science. The scope of Astrobiology comprises the study of the overall pattern of chemical evolution of potential precursors of life, in the inter-stellar medium, and on the planets and small bodies of our solar system ; tracing the history of life on Earth back to its roots ; deciphering the environments of the planets in our solar system and of their satellites, throughout their history, with regard to their habitability ; and searching for other planetary systems in our Galaxy. Hereby, Astrobiology provides clues to the under-standing of the origin, evolution and distribution of life and its interaction with the environ-ment, here on Earth and in the universe.

Scientists from a wide variety of disciplines are gathering in the study of Astrobiology, in-cluding astronomy, planetary research, organic chemistry, palaeontology and the various sub disciplines of biology including microbial ecology and molecular biology. Space technology plays an important part by offering the opportunity for exploring our solar system, for collect-ing extraterrestrial samples, and for utilising the peculiar environment of space as a tool. However, this full expertise in Astrobiology is not always available at a single university.

To overcome this problem, experts from different European universities covering the various fields of Astrobiology have agreed to gather in an Astrobiology Lecture Course Network with live tele-teaching between the different universities followed by an interactive question and answer period between students and teachers. This ABC-Net will be conducted in cooperation with the European Space Agency and its Erasmus Center which will operate the LiveNet broadcasting. The lectures will also be recorded and will be posted on the ESA website. Students, interested in Astrobiology, may subscribe to the Astrobiology Lecture Course Network. The course will provide 16 lecture hours which corresponds to 2 ects.

Participating university, institution, lecturer and contact person :

1. ESA-ESTEC, Noordwijk, the Netherlands
Lecturer : Jorge Vago, Massimo Sabbatini
Contact person : Massimo Sabbatini
2. Finland : University of Turku,
Lecturer : Harry Lehto, Kirsi Lehto
Contact person : Kirsi Lehto
3. France : University of Paris 12 & Paris 7,
Lecturer : Francois Raulin, Herve Cottin, and Gabriel Tobie
4. Germany : Technical University of Dresden, Germany ;
Lecturer : Stefanos Fasoulas, Helga Stan-Lotter, Heike Rauer, and Petra Rettberg
Contact person : Tino Schmiel
5. Germany : MPI Solar System Research with Universities of Braunschweig and Göttingen,
Lecturer : Fred Goesmann
Contact person : Dieter Schmitt
6. Italy : University Tuscia, Viterbo,
Lecturer : Raffaele Saladino
Contact person : Raffaele Saladino
7. Italy : Univesity of Napoli,
Lecturer : A. Rotundi
Contact person : John Robert Brucato
8. Poland : University of Szczecin,
Lecturer : Ewa Szuszkiewicz, Franco Ferrari
Contact person : Ewa Szuszkiewicz
9. Portugal : University of Lisbon,
Contact person : M.E. Webb
10. Russia, University of St. Petersburg
Contact person : N. Gontareva
11. U.K. Open University, Milton Keynes,
Lecturer : Charles Cockell, Monica Grady
Contact person : Charles Cockell and Tracey Ward
12. Technical management : Andreas Diekmann, Massimo Sabbatini, ESA-ESTEC, Human Exploration Promotion Division (HME-AP), European Astronaut Department, Directorate of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Programmes, Noordwijk, The Netherlands
13. Coordinator : Gerda Horneck, DLR, Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Köln, Germany

Each lecture starts at 2 PM.

Lecture No. Week Date Lecturer Institution Place of lecture Title
1 44 30.10.2007 A. Brack // H. Lehto University of Turku University of Turku Introduction (15 Min) // From Big Bang to the molecules of life (45 Min)
2 45 06.11.2007 E. Szcuszkiewicz University of Szcecin University of Szcecin Planet Formation
3 46 13.11.2007 H. Cottin University of Paris 12 CNES Paris Basic prebiotic chemistry
4 47 20.11.2007 K. Lehto University of Turku University of Turku From molecular evolution to cellular life
5 48 27.11.2007 R. Saladino University of Viterbo University of Viterbo Role of catalysis on synthesis of biomolecules
6 49 04.12.2007 F. Ferrari University of Szcecin University of Szcecin Hunting protein ancestors
7 50 11.12.2007 H. Stan-Lotter Univ. Salzburg University of Dresden Extremophiles, the physico-chemical limits of life (growth and survival)
8 51 18.12.2007 J. Vago/M. Sabbatini ESA/ESTEC ESA/ESTEC ESA Astrobiology missions and facilities within the HME directorate
9 3 15.01.2008 S. Fasoulas University of Dresden University of Dresden Astrodynamics and technology aspects of astrobiology missions in our solar system
10 4 22.01.2008 C. Cockell OU, Milton Keynes OU, Milton Keyes Habitability in our solar system and beyond
11 5 29.01.2008 M. Grady OU, Milton Keynes OU, Milton Keynes Astrobiology of terrestrial planets with emphasis on Mars
12 6 05.02.2008 G. Tobie University of Nantes CNES Paris Astrobiology of Jupiter’s moon Europa
13 7 12.02.2008 F. Raulin University of Paris 12 CNES Paris Astrobiology of Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus
14 8 19.02.2008 F. Goesmann University Braun-schweig/Göttingen MPS Sonnenforschung Astrobiology of comets
15 9 26.02.2008 P. Rettberg DLR, Köln University of Dresden Planetary Protection Requirements
16 10 04.03.2008 H. Rauer Tu Berlin University of Dresden Exoplanets, detection and habitability
17 11 11.03.2008 A. Rotundi University of Napoli University of Napoli Methods for analysing cosmic dust



Abstracts of the lectures :

  • Lecture no. 1, 30.10.2007, A. Brack, CNRS, Orleans // H. Lehto. Place : University of Turku

Title : Introduction (15 Min) //
Abstract : NA
Title : From Big Bang to the molecules of life (45 Min)
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 2, 06.11.2007, E. Szcuszkiewicz, Place : University of Szcecin

Title : Planet Formation
Abstract :
The most natural environment for the existence of life and its development is a planet orbiting a star. We have only one, but extremely good example for that, namely the planet Earth cir-cling around the Sun. There are quite a few conditions which need to be satisfied for life to be present on our planet and this will be the subject of a separate lecture. Here, we would like to focus on the more basic question of how planetary systems form and evolve. We adopt a methodology which proved itself to be powerful and successful in the field of stellar evolu-tion, which means, we make use of the fact that there are many stars with their planetary sys-tems in the sky in different stages of their evolution. By observing them and building models we can reconstruct the time sequence and find out the most plausible scenarios for planet formation. Our methodology is justified, because we know already more than 200 mature, fully developed planetary systems and numerous examples of protoplanetary discs, which are believed to be the sites where planets are born. During this lecture we review the life history of our planetary system. We will admire how our present Solar System has been born, starting from the molecular cloud collapse, after passing through a deeply embedded protostellar phase and successively through a T Tauri phase. Next, we will watch how planetesimals and protoplanets form in protoplanetary discs via sedimentation and agglomeration until the final system arises after 4.6 mld years of its evolution. The Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, among other missions and instruments, helped us to put together the different stages of this scenario. Advanced numerical simulations promise an even more detailed story, as they predict precisely the robust features in the structures of protoplanetary discs and the architectures of planetary systems. These pre-dictions will be verified by present and future observatories like COROT (COnvection, RO-tation and planetary Transits), Herschel, ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array), James Webb Space Telescope, Kepler and a few others. At the end of this lecture we consider briefly also what will happen with a planetary system, like our own, during further evolution of the central star, when the star enters a Red Giant phase and finally become a white dwarf.

  • Lecture no. 3, 13.11.2007, H. Cottin,

LISA, Laboratoire Interuniversitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques, Universités Paris 12, Paris 7, UMR 7583 CNRS, F-94000 Créteil, France
Place : CNES Paris
Title : Basic prebiotic chemistry
Abstract :
Before life could arise on a planet, atoms have to organise themselves into complex biological molecules such as proteins, RNA, or DNA. Such elaborated structures can’t appear by them-selves at once, they result from a complex chemical evolution, starting with the simplest or-ganic compounds. At some point, at some yet to define stage of complexity and organisation of matter, an important step is made and chemistry turns into biology. This lecture is devoted to the study of prebiotic chemistry ; it focuses on the very first steps of the chemical evolution : the synthesis of the building blocks of the molecular engine of any known living organism on Earth. In a previous lecture of this series, how atoms form in stars was explained. Now we consider how atoms can spontaneously combine to make molecules, before discussing the molecular evolution to cellular life in the next lecture. In the first part of this lecture living systems are dismantled into more elemental fragments : organic molecules. To address the origin of life, the next question would be how those frag-ments can be synthesized in an abiotic manner. After a short historical review about the chem-istry of life different tracks are explored : an endogenous production of the molecules of life, within the Earth atmosphere or in the depths of primitive oceans, or an exogenous source of prebiotic molecules through space delivery via meteorites and comets. The chemical pathways of synthesis of the building blocks of life will then be described.

  • Lecture no. 4, 20.11.2007, K. Lehto, Place : University of Turku

Title : From molecular evolution to cellular life
Abstract :
First, the essential features of cellular life will be considered ; what is required for life, and what are the criteria of life. Nucleic acids, genetic code and its expression system are con-served and ubiquitous properties of all life forms, and therefore are assumed to be the most original functional units of life. Molecular analysis of these structures gives suggestions of how they may have been involved in the early molecular evolution, and what functions they may have provided to the early (precellular) replicators. By going backwards, step by step, one sees which inventions had to precede each stage of early evolution : genetically encoded proteins had to exist prior to the establishment of the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA), and RNA-mediated RNA-replication, or so called RNA world, had to predate ge-netically encoded proteins. Some cellular RNA-molecules, which have different enzymatic activities and are highly conserved between different organisms are supposed to be relicts from this era. Still, many questions related to the early molecular evolution remain open. We do not know, for instance, the prebiotic synthesis routes for the nucleotides, how life chose to use the distinct nucleotides and amino acids in their distinct chiralic forms, how the first func-tional polynucleotides were assembled, or how the earliest life forms were confined.

  • Lecture no. 5, 27.11.2007, R. Saladino,

Dipartimento di Agrobiologia ed Agrochimica, Università della Tuscia, Via S. Camillo de Lellis snc, 01100 Viterbo, Italy.
Place : University of Viterbo
Title : Role of catalysis on synthesis of biomolecules
Abstract : Prebiotic chemistry plays a central role in the investigation of the possible scenarios of the early chemical environments. Its goal is to shed light on the events involved in the synthesis of initial biomolecules and on the self-organization processes that led the last common ancestor. Even though a well defined scenario for the physico-chemical conditions on the primitive Earth is not available, one can assume that a synthetic pathway, in order to be considered prebiotic, should use the simplest chemicals and the most common conditions present at that time. Low molecular weight molecules such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, formamide and formaldehyde, easily formed from the primitive atmosphere by ultraviolet light, heat or electric discharge as energy sources, have been considered as prebiotic precursors. The ca-talysis played a crucial role in the prebiotic synthesis of biomolecules starting from these chemical precursors. Several minerals and metal oxides characterized by chemical, redox and photochemical catalytic properties were widely diffused on the primitive Earth. These com-pounds, when components of a reaction mixture, could have enhanced the efficacy of pre-biotic syntheses, affecting the selectivities of the reactions and furnishing local microenvi-ronments able either to concentrate dilute reagents or to preserve newly formed biomolecules from degradative processes. In this lecture we will focus on the main concepts of catalysis applied to prebiotic chemistry, including homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis, multi-functional catalysis and autocatalysis. Different examples on the role of catalysis in the syn-thesis of biomolecules starting from simple precursors will be discussed with a special atten-tion to the synthesis of sugars, peptides and oligonucleotides. Examples of prebiotic synthesis of biomolecules with non terrestrial minerals as well as multi-components catalysis will be also described.

  • Lecture no. 6, 04.12.2007, F. Ferrari

University of Szcecin
Place : University of Szcecin
Title : Hunting protein ancestors
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 7, 11.12.2007, H. Stan-Lotter

Univ. Salzburg
Place : University of Dresden
Title : Extremophiles, the physico-chemical limits of life (growth and survival)
Abstract :
Extreme environments are characterized by physical and chemical parameters which were considered lying outside the range which is suitable for life. In recent years, the notion of what constitutes life-limiting conditions in an environment has undergone dramatic changes : microorganisms and occasionally higher organisms were discovered, which not only tolerate, but thrive under ranges of temperatures, pH values, pressures, salinity, ionizing radiation etc. previously thought to destruct biomolecules and organisms. Some of the mechanisms respon-sible for these life styles are in the process of being elucidated. The presence of liquid water is a prerequisite for growth under all kinds of conditions ; however, survival of resting stages, such as spores or dormant forms, was shown to occur in vacuum and in space conditions for several months. The detection of numerous viable prokaryotes and spores in subterranean locations, such as basalt, granite, ancient halite and sediments, suggests the possibility of ex-tensive longevity, perhaps over millions of years. The implications of these discoveries for the search for extraterrestrial life are severalfold : the probability of finding prokaryotic life in environments such as the subsurface of Mars or the salty ocean of the Jovian moon Europa appears greatly enhanced, and the potential for pans-permia is considered more plausible than ever before.

  • Lecture no. 8, 18.12.2007, J. Vago/P. Baglioni/M. Sabbatini

Title : ESA Astrobiology missions and facilities within the HME directorate
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 9, 15.01.2008, S. Fasoulas

University of Dresden
Place : University of Dresden
Title. Astrodynamics and technology aspects of astrobiology missions in our solar system
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 10, 22.01.2008, C. Cockell

OU, Milton Keynes
Place : OU, Milton Keynes
Title : Habitability in our solar system and beyond
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 11, 29.01.2008, M. Grady

OU, Milton Keynes
Place : OU, Milton Keynes
Title : Astrobiology of terrestrial planets with emphasis on Mars
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 12, 05.02.2008, G. Tobie

University of Nantes,
Place. CNES Paris
Title : Astrobiology of Jupiter’s moon Europa
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 13, 12.02.2008, F. Raulin

LISA, Laboratoire Interuniversitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques, Universités Paris 12, Paris 7, UMR 7583 CNRS, F-94000 Créteil, France
Place : CNES Paris
Title : Astrobiology of Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus
Abstract : Titan, largest satellite of Saturn, with a diameter of 5150 km, is the only satellite in the Solar System having a dense atmosphere. Since the discovery of the properties of this atmosphere, especially its main molecular composition – dinitrogen (N2) with a few percents of methane (CH4) – by the Voyager spacecraft observation in the early 80ties, Titan is considered as one of the most interesting bodies of the Solar System with regard to astrobiology. Indeed such an atmosphere is very favorable to the production of organic compounds as demonstrated by the Miller’s now historical experiment and the many similar experiments which were done later on. The likely presence of a complex organic chemistry in Titan’s atmosphere was also directly supported by the detection of many organic compounds detected by Voyager, and by several observations of Titan’s atmosphere from ground-based and Earth orbit telescopes. These discoveries were one of the main motivations of the scientific community for going back to the Saturn system with a very ambitious planetary mission : Cassini-Huygens. Most of our current knowledge of Titan is based on the new and very fresh observations done by Cassini-Huygens, coupled to laboratory experiments, including simulation experiments, and theoretical modeling (in particular photochemical models and ionospheric chemical models of the atmosphere, and models of the internal structure of the satellite). The lecture presents some historical data on Titan before Cassini-Huygens, before describing the Cassini-Huygens mission and its scientific payload. Then the models of formation and of internal structure of Titan are summarized and the general astrobiology of Titan is presented. Each of the three main astrobiological aspects – similarities with the Earth, organic chemistry and habitability – are described. Among the several fully unexpected discoveries done by the Cassini-Huygens mission are the observations of important geological activities on Enceladus, a smaller satellite of Saturn, with a radius of only 250 km. These observations and their potential astrobiological input are briefly described. New concepts for future exploration missions of Titan and Enceladus are presented as a conclusion.

  • Lecture no. 14, 19.02.2008, F. Goesmann

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
Place : MPS Sonnenforschung in the frame of « International Max Planck Research School on Physical Processes in the Solar System and Beyond at the Universities of Braunschweig and Goettingen » (Solar System School)
Title. Astrobiology of comets
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 15, 26.02.2008, P. Rettberg

German Aerospace Center in the Helmholtz-Association (DLR e.V.), Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Radiation Biology Division, Research Group ’Astrobiology’, Linder Höhe, D 51147 Köln, Germany
Place : University of Dresden,
Title : Planetary Protection Requirements
Abstract :
ESA’s space exploration programme Aurora aims at the robotic and human exploration of the solar system with Mars, the Moon, Europa and the asteroids as the most likely targets. Mars is selected as the destination of the first Aurora Flagship mission ExoMars, followed by a Mars Sample Return mission. The scientific objectives of the ExoMars mission are the search for past and present life on Mars, the identification and characterization of possible hazards to future human exploration and the enhancement of our knowledge about the Martian environ-ment in general. The reach these ambitious goals the importance of planetary protection measures becomes obvious. Planetary protection is the term that describes the aim of protect-ing solar system bodies (i.e. planets, moons, comets, and asteroids) from contamination by terrestrial life, and retroactive protecting Earth from possible life forms that may be returned from other solar system bodies. Planetary protection is necessary (i) to maintain the possibility to study these other solar system bodies in their pristine states, (ii) to avoid terrestrial con-tamination that would obscure the possibility to find indigenous life elsewhere and (iii) to ensure that the Earth’s biosphere is protected from potential extraterrestrial sources of biologi-cal contamination. COSPAR, the Committee of Space Research, has formulated a planetary protection policy and defined planetary protection guidelines based on article IX of the UN Outer Space Treaty from 1967. The planetary protection procedures that have to be applied to a given spacecraft are determined by the type of mission (e.g. flyby, orbiter, lander, rover) and the biological interest posed by the spacecraft’s destination. Landers and rovers destined to-wards objects of high biological interest must undergo careful cleaning and sterilization. A Mars lander mission is classified as planetary protection category IVb/c with extremely low bioburden limits among other stringent requirements, if the landing is planned in a so called ‘special region’ with the potential for the existence of extant Martian life. All other landers on Mars are classified as category IVa with less stringent, but still technically challenging re-quirements concerning bioburden limits. In this lecture the planetary protection requirements, the bioburden limits and the principle methods and procedures to fulfill these requirements will be discussed in detail.

  • Lecture no. 16, 04.03.2008, H. Rauer

Tu Berlin
Place : University of Dresden
Title : Exoplanets, detection and habitability
Abstract : NA

  • Lecture no. 17, 11.03.2008, A. Rotundi,

University of Napoli
Place : University of Napoli
Title : Methods for analysing cosmic dust
Abstract : NA

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