ASTBIO 502: Astrobiology Special Topics

Evolving Worlds: Life from Anaerobes to Aerobes
(or "From slime to the Sublime")

Instructor: David Catling


CLASS TIMES: Mon, Wed: 11am-12.20pm     (lectures)
                            Th*: 9.30am-10.20am             (review of a recent paper from the literature)
                            *Except for Th Oct 22: A 9.00am-10.20am lecture.

CLASS PLACE: Location: Johnson Hall, Room 377 (QRC Library meeting room).

Format: Two 75 min lectures, one 50 min paper review each week. (4 credits)


Lecture notes and materials will become available here:

1) Papers for Reviewing (each Thursday)

2) Lecture Notes and Suggested Background Reading.

Class Description

This course reviews the latest geological, biological and chemical research on the most significant times in Earth's history when life grew more complex and the atmosphere and oceans changed from anaerobic to oxygenated. We also discuss the comparative evolution of Mars, the concept of "Snowball Earth", relevant microbiology, bioenergetic change, and thermodynamic metrics concerning what life is and the detection of life.

This course will consist of lectures and also sessions when students critically review published papers on topics of interest. The course is for graduate students. However, senior/junior science major undergraduates may also take the course with permission of the instructor.

Course Outline

1. Comparative Planetary Evolution (2 wks)

    Astrobiology Guest Faculty: Profs. Don Brownlee, Josh Bandfield, John Baross

2.  Atmospheric Change and "Snowball Earth" Events (3 wks)

    Astrobiology Guest Faculty: Profs. Roger Buick and Steve Warren; Drs. Mark Claire and Shawn Domagal-Goldman

3.  Evolution of Microbial Metabolisms: Anaerobes to Aerobes (2 wks)

    Astrobiology Guest Faculty: Prof. John Leigh, David Stahl, Jim Staley

4. Bioenergetics and Entropy in an Aerobic versus Anaerobic World (3 wks)

5. Review and Student presentations (1 wk)

 Background Reading

The popular books below are recommended background reading for the Summer, prior to taking the course.

In the course, we will review highly  technical material: research papers from the scientific literature.

For a readable background on early life on Earth:

For general background to the nature of life and some ideas on entropy, the following is an old classic, originally published in 1944. Amongst other things, in this essay, Nobel Laureate, Erwin Schrodinger, first said that life must run on some kind of "code" like a computer program, i.e., he introduced the term "genetic code" to the English language.