We are Exploring the origin and Nature of Life on Earth and other worlds...
Our research aims to answer "What is life?". To do so we are developing new theory for living systems, with the goal to explain their origins, and to identify them on other worlds. To understand life we recognize it is important to study living processes across many scales: from the microscale interactions of the chemistry happening within cells to the macroscale interactions of societies and planets. Our hunch is that information flows are organizing biological systems across this hierarchy and may provide the ultimate clues to how life emerges and how we might identify it on other worlds. Find out more about our work below, or by reading our team's publications here.
The Origin of Life
How does life emerge? This has proven to be one of the most stubborn open questions of modern science. Our lack of understanding is not for lack of effort - the origin of life has been a serious scientific research field for > 100 years. Yet, we are still casting about in the dark: attempts to generate life, be they spontaneous or engineered, have so far not yielded success. We are taking new approaches to the problem, developing theory for how molecules and reactions come together to yield increasingly life-like properties, quantified in terms of how information flows within chemical networks.
Information in Living Systems
Our daily lives are dictated by information flows, via interactions within both virtual and physical spaces. But, how fundamental is information to life? And, can information uniquely characterize life? We are approaching these and related questions by studying how information structures living matter across a variety of length and time scales in biology, including identifying how information is organized in life and how biological systems control information flows. Currently, our work focuses on gene regulatory networks, planaria regeneration, and social decision-making.
Living systems persist across a huge span of space and time scales, from the microscale interactions happening within your cells (assuming you are not a bot) to the global organization of modern society and its impact on geobiochemical cycles. We are approaching the problem of understanding how life organizes across these many scales by developing a planetary-scale understanding of biochemical networks and how they interface with atmospheric and geochemical systems for living and intelligent systems.
Identifying Life on Other Worlds
Are we alone? Answering this question requires knowing what we mean by 'we' - that is by identifying what we could possibly share with alien life. So far, much of astrobiology has focused on looking for molecular signatures indicative of life on Earth. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that any biosignature molecule we might identify is likely subject to false positives, fooling us into thinking we may have discovered life when we did not. We are working on statistical frameworks for identifying life that mitigate this issue and developing new, systems-level biosignatures that are likely to persist independent of the particular chemistry of life.