Institute for Astronomy

Astrobiology PhD Projects

Research projects on offer in our Astrobiology group

The habitability of extraterrestrial environments at the limits of life

Charles Cockell  

Video: The habitability of extraterrestrial environments at the limits of life
The habitability of extraterrestrial environments at the limits of life

The habitability of extraterrestrial environments depends on the presence of liquid water, CHNOPS elements as raw materials and energy. Although we know a great deal about life’s need for energy and raw materials, we know less about how life adapts and operates at the limits of water availability. In this project, you will explore life at the limits of water availability, investigating molecular and physiological adaptations and responses that allow life to persist at the limits of the molecular availability of water. You will contribute to our involvement in the ESA ExoMars mission instruments Raman, CLUPI (Close-Up Imager) and HABIT, the latter involving the study of water behaviour on Mars.     This project involves:

  • Biological and microbiological laboratory methods and some molecular biology.  
  • Interaction with mission scientists involved in the ExoMars mission.
  • Consideration of the physics involved in life’s access to liquid water.

The project will allow us to better predict the limits of life, understand how life operates at the limits of its access to a solvent, and inform the search for life in extreme environments on Earth and on other planetary bodies.   The project requires a student with a background in biology/biochemistry and some experience of biological or biochemical laboratory methods.