Watch Nathalie Cabrol's AGU Sagan Lecture on life and environment

On December 14, Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute, gave the prestigious Sagan Lecture at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.

Her invited presentation explores the ways in which biology and its environment co-evolve. This could give essential insight into how we might search for extraterrestrial life.

“On Earth, as soon as life gained a foothold, it began to modify the planet’s environment. Subsequent generations inherited changed surroundings, and introduced their own environmental modifications,” says Cabrol. “Understanding how this process might have worked on a world with environmental conditions other than Earth’s could help in our exploration for life elsewhere.”

Everything from the composition of the atmosphere to the minerology of the soil changes as life colonizes a world. This interplay of environment and life is a central theme of astrobiology, and Cabrol describes how studying its workings can help in the search for ancient or extant biology on Mars.

In its early days, the environments of Mars and Earth were similar, although they eventually diverged dramatically. So understanding the succession of physical and environmental processes in Mars’ first 700 million years is essential to envision what adaptation strategies life would have had to make to survive on the Red Planet, and which biosignatures could be preserved and possibly found.

The AGU’s Sagan Lecture honors the life and work of astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Trained in astronomy and biology, Sagan was a leader in establishing the field of astrobiology.

This named lecture, co-sponsored by the AGU’s Planetary Sciences and Biogeosciences sections, is presented annually at the society’s Fall Meeting.

The Sagan Lecture is webcast and made available as an archived presentation on the AGU website.

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About SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies.  The Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.