Handbook of Astrobiology  book cover
1st Edition

Handbook of Astrobiology

Edited By

Vera M. Kolb

ISBN 9781138065123
Published January 8, 2019 by CRC Press
866 Pages 50 Color & 450 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Choice Recommended Title, August 2019

Read an exclusive interview with Professor Vera Kolb here.

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life on Earth. This exciting and significant field of research also investigates the potential existence and search for extra-terrestrial life in the Solar System and beyond.

This is the first handbook in this burgeoning and interdisciplinary field. Edited by Vera Kolb, a highly respected astrobiologist, this comprehensive resource captures the history and current state of the field. Rich in information and easy to use, it assumes basic knowledge and provides answers to questions from practitioners and specialists in the field, as well as providing key references for further study.


  • Fills an important gap in the market, providing a comprehensive overview of the field
  • Edited by an authority in the subject, with chapters written by experts in the many diverse areas that comprise astrobiology
  • Contains in-depth and broad coverage of an exciting field that will only grow in importance in the decades ahead
  • Table of Contents

    Part 1. Astrobiology: Definition, Scope, And Education

    Chapter 1.1 Astrobiology: Definition and Scope
    Vera M. Kolb

    Chapter 1.2 Astrobiology Goals: NASA Strategy and European Roadmap
    David Des Marais

    Chapter 1.3 Online, Classroom and Wilderness Teaching Environments: Reaching Astrobiology Learners of All Ages Around the World
    Bruce W. Fouke

    Chapter 1.4 Astrobiology as A Medium for Science Education
    Sun Kwok

    Chapter 1.5 Astrobiology as Origins Story: Education and Inspiration Across Cultures
    Daniella Scalice

    Part 2. Definition and Nature of Life

    Chapter 2.1 Definition of Life: Multiple Perspectives
    Vera M. Kolb

    Chapter 2.2 A Generalized and Universalized Definition of Life Applicable to Extraterrestrial Environments
    Benton C. Clark

    Chapter 2.3 Synthetic Life and Minimal Cell
    Hamilton Smith, J. Craig Venter, and Clyde Hutchinson

    Chapter 2.4 Communication as The Main Characteristic of Life
    Guenther Witzany

    Part 3. Origin of Life: History, Philosophical Aspects, And Major Developments

    Chapter 3.1 Philosophical Aspects of The Origin-Of-Life Question: Neither by Chance nor By Design
    Iris Fry
    Chapter 3.2 Charles Darwin And the Plurality of Worlds: Are We Alone?
    Michael Ruse

    Chapter 3.3 Origins of Life: Early History, From Buffon To Oparin
    Stéphane Tirard

    Part 4. Chemical Origins of Life: Chemicals in The Universe and Their Delivery on The Early Earth. Geology and Atmosphere on The Early Earth.

    Chapter 4.1 Interstellar Molecules and Their Prebiotic Potential
    Lucy Ziurys

    Chapter 4.2 Formation and Delivery of Complex Organic Molecules to The Solar System and Early Earth
    Sun Kwok

    Chapter 4.3 Organic Molecules in Meteorites and Their Astrobiological Significance
    Zita Martins

    Chapter 4.4 Ancient Life and Crust and Mantle Evolution
    Clark Johnson and Martin J. Van Kranendonk

    Chapter 4.5 Atmosphere on Early Earth and Its Evolution as It Impacted Life
    James Kasting

    Part 5. Chemical Origin of Life: Prebiotic Chemistry

    Chapter 5.1 Prebiotic Chemistry That Led to Life
    Juli Peretó

    Chapter 5.2 Prebiotic Chemical Pathways to RNA And the Importance of Its Compartmentation
    Peter Strazewski

    Chapter 5.3 The Hydrothermal Impact Crater-Lakes: The Crucibles of Life’s Origin
    Sankar Chatterjee

    Chapter 5.4 Prebiotic Chemistry in Hydrothermal Vent Systems
    María Colín-García

    Chapter 5.5 Prebiotic Reactions in Water, On Water, In Supercritical Water, Solvent less, And in The Solid State
    Vera M. Kolb

    Chapter 5.6 The Origin and Amplification of Chirality Leading to Biological Homochirality
    Kenso Soai, Tsuneomi Kawasaki and Arimasa Matsumoto

    Chapter 5.7 Phosphorus in Prebiotic Chemistry – An Update and A Note on Plausibility
    Alan W. Schwartz

    Chapter 5.8 Phosphorylation on The Early Earth
    Matthew Pasek, Carolyn Lang and Jennifer Lago

    Part 6. RNA And RNA World. Complexity of Life’s Origins.

    Chapter 6.1 Transitions: RNA And Ribozymes in The Development of Life
    Niles Lehman, Peter Unrau and Eric Hayden

    Chapter 6.2 Three Ways to Make an RNA Sequence: Steps from Chemistry to The RNA World
    Paul G. Higgs

    Chapter 6.3 Coevolution of RNA And Peptides
    Peter Strazewski

    Chapter 6.4 Role of Ions in RNA Folding and Function
    Jessica Bowman, Anton S. Petrov, and Loren Dean Williams

    Chapter 6.5 The Origin of Life as An Evolutionary Process: Representative Case Studies
    Iris Fry

    Chapter 6.6 The Complexity of Life’s Origins: A Physicochemical View
    Jan Spitzer

    Part 7. Origin of Life: Early Compartmentalization. Coacervates And Protocells

    Chapter 7.1 Oparin’s Coacervates
    Vera M. Kolb

    Chapter 7.2 Protocell Evolution
    Nita Sahai and Punam Dalai

    Part 8. Origin of Life and Its Diversification. Universal Tree of Life. Early Primitive Life on Earth. Fossils of Ancient Microorganisms. Biomarkers and Detection of Life.

    Chapter 8.1 The Progenote, LUCA, And the Root of The Cellular Tree of Life
    Johann P. Gogarten

    Chapter 8.2 Horizontal Gene Transfer in Microbial Evolution
    Johann P. Gogarten and R. Thane Papke

    Chapter 8.3 Viruses in The Origin of Life and Its Subsequent Diversification
    Luis P. Villarreal and Frank Ryan

    Chapter 8.4 Carl R. Woese And the Journey Toward A Universal Tree of Life
    Bruce W. Fouke

    Chapter 8.5 Fossils of Ancient Microorganisms
    Kenichito Sugitani

    Chapter 8.6 Biomarkers and Their Raman Spectral Signatures: An Analytical Challenge in Astrobiology
    Howell G. M. Edwards

    Chapter 8.7 Fossilization of Bacteria and The Implications for The Search for Early Life Forms. Biosignatures In Astrobiology Missions to Mars  
    Frances Westall and Keyron Hickman-Lewis

    Part 9. Life Under Extreme Conditions. Microbes in Space.

    Chapter 9.1 Extremophiles and Their Natural Niches on Earth
    Aharon Oren

    Chapter 9.2 Microbes in Space
    Kasthuri Venkateswaran

    Chapter 9.3 Virus Evolution and Ecology. Role of Viruses in Adaptation of Life to Extreme Environments
    Marilyn Roossinck

    Part 10. Habitability: Characteristics of Habitable Planets.

    Chapter 10.1 The Evolution of Habitability: Characteristics of Habitable Planets
    Charles H. Lineweaver, Aditya Chopra, and Sarah R. N. McIntyre

    Part 11. Intelligent Life in Space: History, Philosophy, And SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

    Chapter 11.1 Mind in Universe: On the Origin, Evolution, And Distribution of Intelligent Life in Space
    David Dunér

    Chapter 11.2 Where Are They? Implications of The Drake Equation and The Fermi Paradox
    Nikos Prantzos

    Chapter 11.3 SETI, Its Goals and Accomplishments
    Eric J. Korpela

    Chapter 11.4 Humanistic Implications of Discovering Life Beyond Earth
    Steven J. Dick

    Part 12. Exoplanets. Exploration of Solar System. Search for Extraterrestrial Life in Our Solar System. Planetary Protection.

    Chapter 12.1 Exoplanets: Methods for Their Detection and Their Habitability Potential
    Ken Rice

    Chapter 12.2 Solar System Exploration: Small Bodies and Their Chemical and Physical Conditions
    Hikaru Yabuta

    Chapter 12.3 Solar System Exploration: Icy Moons and Their Habitability
    Steven Vance

    Chapter 12.4 Searching for Extraterrestrial Life in Our Solar System
    Benton C. Clark

    Chapter 12.5 Planetary Protection
    Catharine Conley

    View More



    Vera M. Kolb earned a BS in Chemical Engineering and an MS in organic chemistry from Belgrade University, followed by a PhD in organic chemistry at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She was a Chemistry Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside from 1985-2016, and is now a Professor Emeritus. During her first sabbatical leave (1992-1994) she received training in astrobiology (then termed exobiology) at the NASA Specialized Center of Research and Training (NSCORT) in San Diego, where she has worked with Leslie Orgel at the Salk Institute, and Stanley Miller, at the University of California San Diego.

    She has worked in the field of astrobiology ever since. In 1992 she received the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity. During her second sabbatical (2002-2003) she studied sugar organo-silicates and their astrobiological importance with Joseph Lambert, at Northwestern University. She was inducted in the Southeastern Wisconsin Educators’ Hall of Fame in 2002. She is a recipient of numerous research and higher education grants and awards from the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium/NASA, among others. At this time, she has published over 150 articles, including patents and books, in organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and astrobiology.

    She has edited a book "Astrobiology, An Evolutionary Approach", for CRC Press, which was published in 2014. Her second book, "Green Organic Chemistry and its Interdisciplinary Applications", was published in 2016, also by CRC Press. Since both astrobiology and green chemistry study organic reactions in water, as in the primordial soup for astrobiology and as a benign solvent in green chemistry, the relationship between these two fields speaks of their true interdisciplinary characters.


    "Astrobiology fuses research from many different fields to address questions about life in the universe. Thus, practitioners need to be familiar with research in a diverse set of fields of study. Kolb (Univ. of Wisconsin, Parkside) has gathered experts to review various facets of the field. Handbook of Astrobiology, contains extensive reviews grouped into 12 sections and 54 chapters.
    In addition to many reviews of studies of the definition of life, the origin of life, and the nature of and evolution of planets, this work includes discussions of education and public outreach and a roadmap for future work in the field from NASA and the European Space Agency. It is an unusually comprehensive volume, which achieves its goal of providing an overview of modern astrobiology. Many of the chapters do an excellent job of reviewing one subfield of astrobiology.
    Summing Up: Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and professionals."
    —C. Palma, Pennsylvania State University, in CHOICE, August 2019

    "The Handbook of Astrobiology is a comprehensive collection of articles and reviews penned by some of the leading experts in the field. This book provides an in-depth survey of the current status of Astrobiology, through the various fields it encompasses. Spanning various topics related to life, its origins on earth and beyond, and the search for life elsewhere, the handbook’s layout is very logical and is strengthened by the systematic approach to each topic. The chapter on education and outreach activities relating to Astrobiology is well integrated into the flow and narrative of the handbook. It is an enjoyable read and will be a very good and handy reference for Astrobiology novices and enthusiasts alike."
    Professor Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA

    "I have been involved in NASA’s efforts in exobiology and astrobiology in one way or the other since 1986, when I was handed NASA’s portfolio and asked to invest wisely and grow it, accordingly. The field was already broadly inter- and multi-disciplinary and a bit daunting as a result, but my work would have been made much easier if there had been an introduction and reference as carefully assembled as Vera Kolb’s Handbook of Astrobiology. It is clearly a work of great scholarship and Vera’s strong affection for the field and her evident command of its breadth have resulted in a highly valuable reference that will serve as a point of departure for much good work and scientific reflection in the future.
    I particularly like Professor Kolb’s selection of a broad spectrum of experts who represent both long-time astrobiology practitioners and more recent contributors who bring with them fresh perspectives and a remarkable energy that drives the field forward with new discoveries.
    In astrobiology’s future, I would hope that Professor Kolb’s and her contributing authors will have a regular opportunity to meet, compare results, and plot out scientific strategies to continue the field’s successes. Whether, and how often, those meetings take place in the future is not known, but those authors are all meeting, now, in the pages of Vera’s excellent handbook."
    John D. Rummel, PhD, Senior Scientist, SETI Institute and formerly Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, NASA Headquarters (2006-2008) and Exobiology Program Manager and Discipline Scientist, NASA Headquarters (1986-1993)