Date of Award


First Advisor

Amy Smith

Second Advisor

Sarah Snyder


Life as we know it currently only exists on this planet. Life on Earth can be identified through a number of key features that are shared by all forms of life that have persisted throughout the evolution of this planet. One such shared feature is that life on this planet is all carbon-based. Carbon is one of the most important elements needed for life to exist, and we are still trying to understand why. We have learned from chemistry that carbon is a very stable element and can make up to four bonds with other atoms allowing for much versatility. This has led to many hypotheses, but we have been unable to prove conclusively whether life based on elements similar to carbon could exist. Another major factor in the development of life on Earth was the evolution of the eukaryotic cell. All of the complex multicellular organisms we know of on Earth are eukaryotic, leaving many questions remaining about the definitions and origins of life on Earth. I intend to use scientific concepts from genetics, astrobiology, sociobiology, cell biology and more to explore the idea of the possibility of life originating on other planets, focusing primarily on the events and conditions that led to the origin of eukaryotes (eukaryogenesis) and how our definitions of evolution and life impact the search for life. This will aid in understanding how ecological relationships between living things can result in more advanced life forms. These relationships can include endosymbiotic events such as the origins of the mitochondria organelle, but also relationships between animals, plants, and single celled organisms that are symbiotic. I hope to gain from this research a better understanding of the origins of eukaryotic organisms on Earth. Using genetics and astrobiology to better understand broad similarities in all life on Earth could be a window into understanding how life originated on Earth, and if this is the only way life can persist in the universe.

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