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Space sciences/Astronomy/Astrobiology/Exobiology

A slew of new data releases, search programs and advances in telescope technology are setting the stage for the next era in the search for extraterrestrial life.

A look back through our archives for classic books still worth reading.

AAAS member Michael Meyer has let his interests lead his career. Between high school and college, he worked as a diver to salvage treasure from a sunken ship. This made him want to study oceanography. But, after completing his Ph.D., he went to study life in deserts. He spent many years studying how life survives in extreme environments, learning the basic elements necessary for life in these harsh places. He joined NASA to study exobiology, looking at extreme conditions for life on other planets.

Today he leads the Mars Exploration Program, where he uses his combined knowledge of engineering, oceanography, desert-life research and exobiology to work on the new Mars Science Laboratory, which will launch in November. The Mars Science Laboratory will help launch the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, and take observations about the atmosphere of the planet.

Meyer's background in engineering has been instrumental in planning this lofty mission. But his experience studying the conditions necessary for life, were what made him uniquely qualified. Part of the goal of this mission, and of the Curiosity rover, is to see if Mars ever had the conditions necessary to support living organisms, and if that life ever began on the red planet.

In this podcast Meyer talks about his varied career and his advice to young professionals about how to plan their own cross-disciplinary careers. He also talks about how religion and astrobiology might clash, but why he thinks they don't have to. He highlights how changing careers has given him interdisciplinary experience, and why that has been so helpful in his current position as lead scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory.

Researchers have discovered a bacterium that can live and grow off arsenic, a new study reports. The findings point for the first time to a microorganism that is able to use a toxic chemical (rather than the usual phosphate) to sustain growth and life.

The study is being published online 2 December at the ScienceExpress Web site.