TEMPE, ARIZONA — More than 500 biologists, geologists, chemists and engineers gathered at the 2003 NASA Astrobiology Institute General Meeting, held February 10-12 on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU). While acknowledging NASA's recent tragedy, attendees were forward-looking, discussing their latest findings here on Earth and plans to take the search for life off-world.

"In part, the challenge is to avoid being trapped into 'Earth-o-centric' thinking based on familiar terrean biochemistry," said Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida.

Still, studying the biology of Earth's earliest life is a cornerstone of the field and Benner, with University of Florida colleagues Eric Gaucher and J. Michael Thomson, presented findings that suggest the conditions in which that life first evolved. Benner, who specializes in paleochemistry and bioinformatics, and his team recreated ancient proteins from bacteria that lived more than a billion years ago based...

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