Fall Semester 2021

12.177/12.477: Astrobiology: Origins and Early Evolution of Life

The main objective of this course is to be familiar with the research, hypotheses, and challenges in
studying the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and the implications for the search for life
elsewhere in the universe. This will be explored via a survey of current and classic primary literature
in the field. This is a highly interdisciplinary and methodologically diverse field, and our explorations
will cover qualitative concepts in biology, chemistry, astronomy, planetary science, geology, and
physics. It is not necessary to master all of these fields to be a good astrobiologist! But, familiarity
across many disciplines leads to a deeper understanding and synthesis. Instructor: G. Fournier

12.178/12.478: The Phylogenomic Planetary Record

The main objective for this course is to learn key concepts in molecular and microbial
evolution, as they relate to a genomic record of planetary history. By the end of the
course, students will have (1) a historical knowledge of planetary history from the
microbial perspective; (2) a comprehensive understanding of the processes underlying the
evolutionary change at work within individual genes and microbial lineages; (3) a
familiarity with the key literature in the field; and (4) a functional familiarity with the
algorithms and software tools used in molecular evolution analyses, including use of
sequence databases, alignment, evolutionary models, phylogenetic inference, ancestral
sequence reconstruction, and estimating divergence times using molecular clocks and
fossil calibration. Instructor: G. Fournier


12.091/12.S593  Origin of Life Seminar Series
Undergraduate and Graduate numbers

A series of hosted lectures from leaders in the Origin of Life community, focusing on various dimensions of one of the most challenging problems in the biological and planetary sciences.  Topics include the origin of cells, metabolism, replication and proteins, as well as the geochemical conditions on the Early Earth that led to prebiotic and early biotic systems.  Enrolled students attend 4-5 seminars during IAP, actively engage in Q & A sessions with invited speakers in a panel format, and collaborate on creating an Origins of Life online blog resource highlighting the work of invited speakers. Instructor: G. Fournier

Fall Semester

12.090/12.S492   The Phylogenomic Planetary Record
Undergraduate and Graduate numbers

There are only two records of events in Earth’s deep past, that preserved within rocks, and that preserved within genomes.  This course introduces the tools of sequence-based phylogenetic analysis and molecular evolution in the context of studying this genomic record.  Topics include basic concepts of cladistics, phylogeny, and sequence evolution, construction of phylogenetic trees of genes and microbial lineages, molecular clocks, dating, and ancestral sequence reconstruction.  Special attention is given to the evolutionary history of microbial metabolisms, and their relationship to global biogeochemical cycles across Earth’s history.  Coursework includes lectures, paper discussions, and hands-on computer lab training in bioinformatics and molecular evolution data analysis. Instructor: G. Fournier