Science Market Update

UIUC Genomic Biology Lab Wins $8M NASA Grant For Astrobiology Research

Posted by BCI Staff on Tue, Sep 25, 2012

In the search for early life we are going where we have never gone before...with newly-funded astrobiology research at the University of Illinois.

Nasa astrobiology(courtesy of

 It seems that NASA is really interested in understanding the origins of life in the Universe. It has just expanded its funding in astrobiology by 40 million dollars to university research labs across the United States. Each lab will receive 8 million dollars to explore and develop new tools and technologies to understand the origins and evolutions of life. According to Carl Pilcher, the Director of NAI, the grant is to understand "how our planet went from lifeless to living, to understanding how life has adapted to Earth’s harshest environments, to exploring other worlds with the most advanced technologies to search for signs of life.” 

astrobiologist researcher

Courtesy of Professor Nigel Goldenfeld's homepage

In fact, Dr. Nigel Goldenfeld’s Biocomplexity Research Group at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign received an $8 million grant from NASA to develop a blueprint of how life starts and changes over time. Nigel believes that life began in a cooperative fashion because of the universal nature of much of the collective genome. According to Physorg, the lab is going to, "explore deep evolutionary time, looking for signatures of early collective states of life." By studying the reaction of cells to shifting environments, the lab hopes to understand the underlying mechanism of cellular evolutionary change. Through research Goldfeld believes he can model the process of how cellular life transitioned from communal origin to branched singular descent. According to Goldenfeld,

"It is important to develop the field of universal biology, because we may never find traces of life on other planets. But if we understand that life is generic, maybe even an expected outcome of the laws of physics, then we'll know for sure that we are not alone,"


Nigel Goldenfeld leads the Biocomplexity Research Group team within the Institute for Genomic Biology at UIUC. He is currently the holder of the Swanlund Endowed Chair. Moreover, he is a professor of physics and has won the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, and Xerox Award for research. The Goldenfeld lab currently holds research grants from the DOE, NSF, and NASA. The NSF has continuously funded the lab since 1985. The Biocomplexity team is made up of a diverse group of faculty researchers from many different research fields.

"This bold research program fits perfectly at the IGB, which was established to help faculty compete for the large grants that are necessary to address grand challenges with a team-based multidisciplinary approach," says Gene Robinson, Director of the IGB. "The NASA award reflects the creativity and vision of the faculty in the Biocomplexity research theme, the IGB, and the campus as a whole."

bioscience research building
(Courtesy of Institute for Genomic Biology)

The Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) was created in 2003 "to advance life sciences" in the areas of "...pioneering research in bioenergy, critical climate change studies, and promising work in regenerative medicine, drug development, and understanding cancer at the cellular level." The new, state of the art, IGB building was completed in 2007 and has 7 research laboratories to accommodate 130 researchers from 30 departments throughout the University. The institute is dedicated to cross-disciplinary research to solve complex multidisciplinary research questions. It has three areas of focus for research:

  • Systems Biology
  • Cellular and Metabolic Engineering
  • Genome Technology

genomic biologyThe IGB has also been in the news recently for the research of Dr. Gustavo Caetano-Anolles (left) and his study of giant viruses. He is the author of the definitive 2010 textbook Evolutionary Genomics and Systems Biology.

[Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, courtesy of UI New Bureau]


For another recent blog of ours on research in evolutionary biology, read: FHCRC Basic Biology Research Lab Explores Genetic "Evolutionary Arms Race"

For another NASA-related blog on the search for life on Mars, read: Washington University Research Scientists Shoot For the Stars


Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is in the business of bringing life science researchers together with scientific sales professionals to network and exchange valuable information about laboratory research and the tools and techniques for getting it done well. Now in our 20th year of scientific event planning and marketing on research campuses across the US, we're pleased to be holding our 12th annual Urbana-Champaign BioResearch Product Faire event on the University of Illinois campus next year on May 1, 2013. For more information on exhibiting, plus a free funding report on the University, click here:

Click me

If you cannot attend the UIUC show, these other shows nearby might be of interest to you:

See our complete 2013 Show Schedule as well.


Tags: Midwest, Bioresearch, Bioresearch funding, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2012, Illinois, biology research, BioResearch Product Faire Event, Funding, Research Funding, IL, genomics research, research grant, new research grants, UIUC

Subscribe to Company News