Charles S Cockell

Charles S Cockell
The University of Edinburgh | UoE · School of Physics and Astronomy

BSc 1989; PhD 1994

About

832
Publications
266,299
Reads
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17,518
Citations
Additional affiliations
February 2006 - December 2011
The Open University (UK)
Position
  • Professor of Geomicrobiology

Publications

Publications (832)
Article
Full-text available
Understanding the impact of long-term exposure of microorganisms to space is critical in understanding how these exposures impact the evolution and adaptation of microbial life under space conditions. In this work we subjected Nostoc sp. CCCryo 231-06, a cyanobacterium capable of living under many different ecological conditions, and also surviving...
Chapter
The majority of rock material in the Solar System that we might mine and use for manufacturing processes is silicate rock of different varieties. Although volcanic and impact hydrothermal regions on Mars, for instance, might host concentrated (as yet, unmapped) ores of industrial grade with respect to terrestrial standards, most of the material is...
Article
Full-text available
Space bioprocess engineering (SBE) is an emerging multi-disciplinary field to design, realize, and manage biologically-driven technologies specifically with the goal of supporting life on long term space missions. SBE considers synthetic biology and bioprocess engineering under the extreme constraints of the conditions of space. A coherent strategy...
Article
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High pressure deep subsurface environments of Mars may harbor high concentrations of dissolved salts, such as perchlorates, yet we know little about how these salts influence the conditions for life, particularly in combination with high hydrostatic pressure. We investigated the effects of high magnesium perchlorate concentrations compared to sodiu...
Article
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As we aim to expand human presence in space, we need to find viable approaches to achieve independence from terrestrial resources. Space biomining of the Moon, Mars and asteroids has been indicated as one of the promising approaches to achieve in-situ resource utilization by the main space agencies. Structural and expensive metals, essential minera...
Article
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The Nostoc sp. strain CCCryo 231-06 is a cyanobacterial strain capable of surviving under extreme conditions and thus is of great interest for the astrobiology community. The knowledge of its complete genome sequence would serve as a guide for further studies. However, a major concern has been placed on the effects of contamination on the quality o...
Article
Meteoritic material accumulated on the surface of the anoxic early Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment around 4.0 Gya and may have provided Earth's surface with extraterrestrial nutrients and energy sources. This research investigates the growth of an anaerobic microbial community from pond sediment on native and pyrolyzed (heat-treated) carbon...
Article
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Mars exploration motivates the search for extraterrestrial life, the development of space technologies, and the design of human missions and habitations. Here, we seek new insights and pose unresolved questions relating to the natural history of Mars, habitability, robotic and human exploration, planetary protection, and the impacts on human societ...
Article
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The term ''habitability'' is pervasive throughout the space sciences and astrobiology literature and is broadly used to describe an environment's ability to support life. Here, we argue that, while it is fundamentally a binary matter whether an organism can persist in an environment or not, these binary assessments lead to continuous ecological mea...
Article
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Samples returned from Mars would be placed under quarantine at a Sample Receiving Facility (SRF) until they are considered safe to release to other laboratories for further study. The process of determining whether samples are safe for release, which may involve detailed analysis and/or sterilization, is expected to take several months. However, th...
Article
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The Mars Sample Return Planning Group 2 (MSPG2) was tasked with identifying the steps that encompass all the curation activities that would happen within the MSR Sample Receiving Facility (SRF) and any anticipated curation-related requirements. An area of specific interest is the necessary analytical instrumentation. The SRF would be a Biosafety Le...
Article
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The most important single element of the "ground system" portion of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign is a facility referred to as the Sample Receiving Facility (SRF), which would need to be designed and equipped to receive the returned spacecraft, extract and open the sealed sample container, extract the samples from the sample tubes, and implem...
Article
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration-European Space Agency (NASA-ESA) Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign involves the collection of samples on Mars by the Perseverance (Mars 2020) rover and their return to Earth. To accomplish this, the Orbiting Sample container (OS) will be sent to Mars to accommodate the collected samples then launche...
Article
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The Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign must meet a series of scientific and technical achievements to be successful. While the respective engineering responsibilities to retrieve the samples have been formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding between ESA and NASA, the roles and responsibilities of the scientific elements have yet to be fully...
Article
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Dust transported in the martian atmosphere is of intrinsic scientific interest and has relevance for the planning of human missions in the future. The MSR Campaign, as currently designed, presents an important opportunity to return serendipitous, airfall dust. The tubes containing samples collected by the Perseverance rover would be placed in cache...
Article
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The Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign represents one of the most ambitious scientific endeavors ever undertaken. Analyses of the martian samples would offer unique science benefits that cannot be attained through orbital or landed missions that rely only on remote sensing and in situ measurements, respectively. As currently designed, the MSR Campai...
Article
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The NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign seeks to establish whether life on Mars existed where and when environmental conditions allowed. Laboratory measurements on the returned samples are useful if what is measured is evidence of phenomena on Mars rather than of the effects of sterilization conditions. This report establishes that there are...
Article
Full-text available
Mars exploration motivates the search for extraterrestrial life, the development of space technologies, and the design of human missions and habitations. Here, we seek new insights and pose unresolved questions relating to the natural history of Mars, habitability, robotic and human exploration, planetary protection, and the impacts on human societ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Mars exploration motivates the search for extraterrestrial life, the development of space technologies, and the design of human missions and habitations. Here we seek new insights and pose unresolved questions relating to the natural history of Mars, habitability, robotic and human exploration, planetary protection, and the impacts on human society...
Article
Full-text available
In recent years, Enceladus' subsurface ocean has become a tantalizing case study for potentially habitable conditions in an extraterrestrial ocean world. However, we still know very little about its subsurface conditions. Its oceanic composition is difficult to characterize with current data and estimates are highly dependent on model‐based interpr...
Article
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Baas-Becking is famously attributed with the conjecture that 'everything is everywhere, but the environment selects'. Although this aphorism is largely challenged by microbial biogeographical data, even weak versions of the claim leave unanswered the question about whether all environments that could theoretically support life contain life. In the...
Article
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What might motivate us to not wantonly destroy microbial life on Earth, and if we found it elsewhere, beyond Earth? Critiques against the idea that microbial life has some form of non-instrumental value have ranged from the fact that we destroy microbes on a day-to-day basis to arguments based on perceived opposition to the notion that they have in...
Article
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The interactions of ligands with nucleic acids are central to numerous reactions in the biological cell. How such reactions are affected by harsh environmental conditions such as low temperatures, high pressures, and high concentrations of destructive ions is still largely unknown. To elucidate the ions' role in shaping habitability in extraterrest...
Article
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The establishment of a permanent human settlement in space is one of humanity’s ambitions. To achieve this, microorganisms will be used to carry out many functions such as recycling, food and pharmaceutical production, mining and other processes. However, the physical and chemical extremes in all locations beyond Earth exceed known growth limits of...
Conference Paper
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As space agencies plan to expand human presence in space and to settle on the Moon first and Mars later, developing strategies to achieve this goal in a sustainable way is necessary. These include in situ resource utilization (ISRU) and recovering of materials by waste recycling (1). Microbe based technologies may be pivotal to the success of human...
Article
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Prisons are in some significant respects similar to planetary stations. Their occupants live within a social environment that is confined, takes on its own culture with a strong interdependence and camaraderie between individuals, and contains within it huge latent talents in art, science, engineering, and other disciplines. Recognizing this potent...
Article
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Studies of salt effects on enzyme activity have typically been conducted at standard temperatures and pressures, thus missing effects which only become apparent under non-standard conditions. Here we show that perchlorate salts, which are found pervasively on Mars, increase the activity of α-chymotrypsin at low temperatures. The low temperature act...
Article
As the exploration of Mars and other worlds for signs of life has increased, the need for a common nomenclature and consensus has become significantly important for proper identification of nonterrestrial/non-Earth biology, biogenic structures, and chemical processes generated from biological processes. The fact that Earth is our single data point...
Article
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We report on the effect of the end-Cretaceous impact event on the present-day deep microbial biosphere at the impact site. IODP-ICDP Expedition 364 drilled into the peak ring of the Chicxulub crater, México, allowing us to investigate the microbial communities within this structure. Increased cell biomass was found in the impact suevite, which was...
Article
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Lipid membranes are a key component of contemporary living systems and are thought to have been essential to the origin of life. Most research on membranes has focused on situations restricted to ambient physiological or benchtop conditions. However, the influence of more extreme conditions, such as the deep subsurface on Earth or extraterrestrial...
Article
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We present a case for the exploration of Venus as an astrobiology target-(1) investigations focused on the likelihood that liquid water existed on the surface in the past, leading to the potential for the origin and evolution of life, (2) investigations into the potential for habitable zones within Venus' present-day clouds and Venus-like exo atmos...
Poster
Meteoritic material accumulated on the surface of the anoxic Early Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment around 4.0 Gya. These meteorites may have provided the Earth with extra-terrestrial nutrients and energy sources for early life. How could the presence of meteorites have affected the origin and evolution of early life on Earth? And what is th...
Conference Paper
The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique, completely confined habitat for the human crew and co-inhabiting microorganisms. In the experiment EXTREMOPHILES we investigated the microbial bioburden and biodiversity from three surface and air sampling events aboard the ISS during increments 51 and 52 (2017) with respect to: i) microbial source...
Article
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As humans explore and settle in space, they will need to mine elements to support industries such as manufacturing and construction. In preparation for the establishment of permanent human settlements across the Solar System, we conducted the ESA BioRock experiment on board the International Space Station to investigate whether biological mining co...
Article
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Habitability has been generally defined as the capability of an environment to support life. Ecologists have been using Habitat Suitability Models (HSMs) for more than four decades to study the habitability of Earth from local to global scales. Astrobiologists have been proposing different habitability models for some time, with little integrati...
Article
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Background Extreme terrestrial, analogue environments are widely used models to study the limits of life and to infer habitability of extraterrestrial settings. In contrast to Earth’s ecosystems, potential extraterrestrial biotopes are usually characterized by a lack of oxygen. Methods In the MASE project (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration), we...
Article
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Although the search for habitability is a much-vaunted objective in the study of planetary environments, the material requirements for an environment to be habitable can be met with relatively few ingredients. In this hypothesis paper, the minimum material requirements for habitability are first re-evaluated, necessarily based on life "as we know i...
Article
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The cloud layer has been hypothesized to be the most habitable region of Venus. In the lower clouds, both temperature and pressure fall within bounds that support reproduction of microbial life on Earth, although the water activity of the sulfuric acid cloud droplets makes the clouds uninhabitable to known life. In this study, we carried out an ana...
Article
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Geomorphological studies of the hidden and protected subsurface environments are crucial to obtain a greater insight into the evolution of planetary landforms, hydrology, climate, geology and mineralogy. From an astrobiological point of view subsurface environments are of interest for their potential habitability as they are local environments that...
Article
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Astrobiology is focused on the study of life in the universe. However, lifeless planetary environments yield biological information on the variety of ways in which physical and chemical conditions in the universe preclude the possibility of the origin or persistence of life, and in turn this will help explain the distribution and abundance of life,...
Article
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The discovery of extraterrestrial life is a claim of extraordinary magnitude, and scientists these days expect correspondingly compelling evidence (McMahon, 2020). However, there has been little discussion of the circumstances in which it is, or is not, appropriate to invoke the hypothesis of extraterrestrial life, even tentatively, as one plausibl...
Article
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Microorganisms are employed to mine economically important elements from rocks, including the rare earth elements (REEs), used in electronic industries and alloy production. We carried out a mining experiment on the International Space Station to test hypotheses on the bioleaching of REEs from basaltic rock in microgravity and simulated Mars and Ea...
Article
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Microorganisms perform countless tasks on Earth and they are expected to be essential for human space exploration. Despite the interest in the responses of bacteria to space conditions, the findings on the effects of microgravity have been contradictory, while the effects of Martian gravity are nearly unknown. We performed the ESA BioRock experimen...
Article
The detection and identification of biosignatures on planetary bodies such as Mars in situ is extremely challenging. Current knowledge from space exploration missions suggests that a suite of complementary instruments is required in situ for a successful identification of past or present life. For future exploration missions, new and innovative ins...
Article
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The conditions, timing, and setting for the origin of life on Earth and whether life exists elsewhere in our solar system and beyond represent some of the most fundamental scientific questions of our time. Although the bombardment of planets and satellites by asteroids and comets has long been viewed as a destructive process that would have present...
Article
The mineral apatite, Ca 5 (PO 4) 3 (F,Cl,OH), is a ubiquitous accessory mineral, with its volatile content and isotopic compositions used to interpret the evolution of H 2 O on planetary bodies. During hypervelocity impact, extreme pressures shock target rocks resulting in deformation of minerals; however, relatively few microstructural studies of...
Article
The effects of high radiation as a biological extreme have historically been, and continue to be, extensively researched in the fields of radiation biology and astrobiology. However, the absence of radiation as an extreme has received relatively limited attention from the scientific community, with its effects on life remaining unclear. The current...
Article
Full-text available
The effects of high radiation as a biological extreme have historically been, and continue to be, extensively researched in the fields of radiation biology and astrobiology. However, the absence of radiation as an extreme has received relatively limited attention from the scientific community, with its effects on life remaining unclear. The current...
Article
Full-text available
This study investigated what defines the limits of life in mixed ion solutions. Better understanding these limits should allow us to better predict the habitability of extreme environments on the Earth and extraterrestrial environments. We systematically examined the response of Bacillus subtilis, a well characterized non-halophile model organism,...
Article
Full-text available
For the last four decades space exploration missions have searched for molecular life on planetary surfaces beyond Earth. Often pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry has been used as payload on such space exploration missions. These instruments have relatively low detection sensitivity and their measurements are often undermined by the pre...
Article
Full-text available
Charles S Cockell reviews the eventful history and exciting future of astrobiology: the collaboration between astronomers and biologists.
Article
The Late Paleozoic tectono-magmatic history and basement of the Maya block are poorly understood due to the lack of exposures of coeval magmatic rocks in the region. Recently, IODP-ICDP Expedition 364 recovered drill core samples at borehole M0077A from the peak ring of the Chicxulub impact crater, offshore of the Yucatán peninsula in the Gulf of M...
Article
The ~180-km-diameter Chicxulub peak-ring crater and ~240-km multiring basin, produced by the impact that terminated the Cretaceous, is the largest remaining intact impact basin on Earth. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) Expedition 364 drilled to a depth of 1335 m below the...
Article
Motivated by an interest in understanding the habitability of aqueous environments on Earth and in extraterrestrial settings, this study investigated the influence of ions in an artificial sodium-magnesium-sulfate-chloride ion system on the growth parameters (lag phase, growth rate, and final cell concentration) of bacteria. These four ions, in dif...
Article
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We have recently argued that, because microbes have pervasive – often vital – influences on our lives, and that therefore their roles must be taken into account in many of the decisions we face, society must become microbiology‐literate, through the introduction of relevant microbiology topics in school curricula (Timmis et al. 2019. Environ Microb...
Article
Polygonal features in a ∼250 million-year-old Permian evaporitic deposit were investigated for their geological and organic content to test the hypothesis that they could preserve the signature of ancient habitable conditions and biological activity. Investigations on evaporitic rock were carried out as part of the MIne Analog Research (MINAR) proj...