Palmer Lab

Chemical Ecology and Astrobiology

Research

RADISH (Research to Advance the Development of Interstellar Horticulture)

By most projections, the first continually inhabited Martian colony will be established within the next 50 years. Given the challenges associated with the Martian environment, as well as its distance from Earth, nearly all aspects of life on this colony must be considered mission critical, and therefore subject to evaluation during mission planning. While such an integrated approach creates a daunting list of concerns, many of the solutions to these problems are interconnected. Resolving these issues depends on successful identification of these challenges prior to the start of the mission. An emerging theme in environmental system management and agriculture is sustainability, or the ability to maintain existing production from an ecological system while ensuring its stability and availability at a future date. While crucial to the success of food security and ecosystem viability on Earth, sustainable systems must be at the heart of every long-term off-world effort. In an off-world system, all of the elements, both biotic and abiotic are included from human waste to inedible plant matter to minimize the number and amount of external inputs. Sustainability will minimize the need for resupply missions, create a more robust food production system, and support mission success. Indeed, in the absence of sustainable systems, most projected missions have a built-in expiration date, due to costs and/or mission safety issues. One crucial aspect of off-world sustainability efforts is a dependency on in-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), or the use of existing materials at the site whenever possible. ISRU will allow colonists to introduce new materials into their closed-loop ecosystem without relying on resupply missions. On Mars, examples of in situ resources include water, regolith, and perchlorates as well as harnessing the CO2 in the atmosphere to introduce new biomass for food production, feedstocks for building materials, pharmaceuticals and more through photosynthesis.

 

Understanding social behaviors in microorganisms (quorum sensing)

Reactive Oxygen Associated Molecules (ROAMs)

Deciphering the role on symbiosis on coral reef disease