Handbook of Astrobiology: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Handbook of Astrobiology

1st Edition

Edited by Vera M. Kolb

CRC Press

846 pages | 50 Color Illus. | 450 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2019-01-08
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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


"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)

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

About the Editor

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.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Astrophysics & Space Science
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / Geology
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Biology / Molecular Biology
SCIENCE / Physics