9 April 2016

GRC Geobiology meeting 2016 in Galveston


The GRC Geobiology meeting was held in early February in Galveston, Texas. The venue was the magnificent Hotel Galvez and was chaired by David Fike and Tanja Bosak. The meeting brought together a core group of experts from diverse fields, all with common objectives in attempting to answer some of the most important questions in Geobiology today. The meeting was attended by molecular biologists, microbial ecologists, geochemists, paleontologists, and geologists among others. Topics were broad and spanned life’s early beginnings to modern biogeochemical processes. The aim of this meeting was to also identify future research directions and to foster and encourage continued interest from the academic and industrial community. The Summons Lab was represented by Shane and Xiaolei, who both presented posters of their recent work. Many members of the Bosak lab were also in attendance, as well as former members of the Summons Lab.  The meeting was very successful and it was clear that all involved came away with much enthusiasm and ideas.

Image credit: Gordon Research Conferences

Image credit: Gordon Research Conferences



9 April 2016

The Summons Lab welcomes two recent additions to the group


The Summons Lab welcomes two new postdoctoral scientists – Ainara Sistiaga and Heather Throckmorton.

Ainara is no stranger to the Summons Lab and to MIT, as she spent time hereas a visiting student during her postgraduate studies. Ainara’s research is focused on exploiting the organic molecular information preserved in sediments, with particular emphasis on the paleodietary record. She combines organic geochemistry and paleolithic archaeology to provide greater insight into the dietary role of meat and plants during human evolution. One interesting aspect of her work involves the use of faecal biomarkers (sterols, bile acids and other potential novel indicators) as a source of paleodietary information. For an insight into Ainara’s work, check out this MIT news story on neanderthal diet.



Heather arrives from Los Alamos National Laboratory where she was a postdoctoral scientist. Heather studied  geology at the University of Southern Maine before headingwest to University of California, Davis where she received her doctorate. Heather has expertise in soil biogeochemistry and has previously studied the impacts of microbial biomass types on soil carbon stabilization (and how soil matrices effect the former), as well as pathways and fate of dissolved methane and inorganic carbon in Arctic tundra watersheds. She joins the group as an NAI-funded fellow and will be leading and collaborating in a diverse range of astrobiology projects.

3 January 2016

Microenergy 2015


The third international workshop on microbial life under extreme energy limitation – Microenergy 2015, was held in the spectacular setting of Sandbjerg Manor near Sonderborg in southern Denmark from September 21st – 25th.

Aerial view of Sandbjerg Manor in Southern Denmark. Image Credit: Aarhus University, http://www.sandbjerg.dk/en/

Aerial view of Sandbjerg Manor in Southern Denmark (Image credit: Aarhus University, http://www.sandbjerg.dk/en/)

View of Sandbjerg Manor. Image credit: Shane O'Reilly

View of Sandbjerg Manor (Image credit: Shane O’Reilly)

The workshop was convened by Jan Amend (University of Southern California), Tori Hoehler (NASA Ames) and Bo Barker Jørgensen (Aarhus University). It brought together some of the leading researchers from a variety of fields in a small, informal and intensive setting (70 attendees), with the objective of discussing and stimulating new thinking in the area of microbial energy limitations and the limits of microbial life.

Workshop participants outside Sandbjerg Manor

Workshop participants outside Sandbjerg Manor (Image Credit: Bo Barker Jorgensen)

The Summons Lab was represented by Shane. He presented some of his results from an ongoing project with Sharon on the Oman Ophiolite and serpentinite-hosted ecosystems. Shane discussed the occurrence of unusual lipids and stable carbon isotope signatures preserved in travertine sampled from Oman. He also presented some of his work in shallow methane seeps at a pockmark field in Dunmanus, Ireland.

Shane discussing his poster with Prof. Jack Middelburg (Utrecht)

Shane discussing his poster with Prof. Jack Middelburg, Utrecht University. (Image Credit: Bo Barker Jorgensen)

The workshop consisted of keynote and invited lectures, discussion sessions, poster sessions (in a converted distillery), as well as a number of working group break-out sessions to explore and discuss topics in further detail, and identify future research trends and potential. The final day brought together a synthesis of results and findings from the workshop.

The lectures took place in a former stable wing, now converted to an impressive auditorium.

The lectures took place in a former stable wing, now converted to an impressive auditorium. Image Credit: Bo Barker Jorgensen.

Working group break-out sessions. Image Credit: Bo Barker Jorgensen.

Working group break-out sessions. Image Credit: Bo Barker Jorgensen.

3 January 2016

International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry (IMOG 2015)



The 27th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry (IMOG 2015) was held in Prague from September 13th – 18th, and brought together over 500 of the world’s leading researchers and graduate students in organic geochemistry. Topics and themes included petroleum systems, paleoclimate, soil biogeochemistry, biodegradation, archaeology, analytical methods and evolution of complex life.

St. Anna and the St. Vitus Cathedral — at Charles Bridge. (Image credit: Ross Williams)

St. Anna and the St. Vitus Cathedral — at Charles Bridge. (Image credit: Ross Williams)

Ross and Shane both presented on Monday in the Earth and life history session. Ross presented his work on Early-Middle Equatorial Eocene of North-western India, while Shane presented his work on the potential microbial role in ooid formation and implications for their utility as molecular paleoenvironmental records. Ainara, who recently returned to the Summons Lab as a new postdoc, presented her research on utilizing faecal biomarkers in non-human primates to explore the origins of ancestral hominin meat consumption. On Wednesday morning, David provided the audience with an excellent plenary talk titled ‘Sterols, rocks, and molecular clock’. David’s talk was followed by Emily’s later that afternoon. Emily presented some of her recent exciting findings on the diversity of bacterial hopanoids in Antarctic lake microbial mats and structures.

On Wednesday evening, the gala dinner took place at Zofin Palace on an island on the Vltava River. Attendees, were transported to the venue, treated to a champagne reception, before being escorted into the palace for a fantastic evening of great food, music and fun.


Champagne reception prior to the gala dinner at Zofin Palace (Image credit: Guarant International)


The gala dinner at Zofin Palace, with members and friends of the Summons Lab in the foreground (Image credit: Guarant International)

On Friday morning, Xiaolei completed the contributions to IMOG 2015 from the Summons Lab. He gave an impressive talk on his recent work investigating the predominant parallel glycerol arrangement of archaeal tetraethers in marine sediments. Overall, it was a very successful and productive meeting. The countdown to IMOG 2017 in Florence has commenced!

14 September 2015

IMOG 2015 kicks off this week in Prague!



The 27th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry kicks off this week in Prague, and the Summons Lab will be out in strength with a range of talks and posters being presented over the course of the week. There will be up to 600 people attending and presenting on a range of topics from biogochemistry to petroleum geochemistry. Looking forward to meeting up with previous lab members, current collaborators and plenty of new organic geochemists!


13 August 2015

Genming and Xiaolei to present at Goldschmidt2015 next week!


Goldschmidt logo

Genming and Xiaolei will be representing the Summons Lab in Prague next week for the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference. This will be the 25th anniversary of the meeting, and to celebrate the organising committee will have 25 plenary talks highlighting 25 major advances in geochemistry over the last quarter century. At 15:45 on Thursday, Genming will present his work on Rapid Oxygenation of Earth’s Atmosphere at 2330 million years ago. Also on Thursday, Xiaolei will present his work in collaboration with the Bosak Lab on novel ring-containing tetrether lipids in the stratified Green Lake in Upstate New York. Former lab member, Jessica Whiteside, will also be presenting her work on constraining TEX86 temperatures based on her work on Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 from the Central North Atlantic.

Best of luck to Genming, Xiaolei and Jessica!

13 August 2015

The Summons Lab go to Chicago for AbSciCon2015



The Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 (AbSciCon2015) was held at the Hilton in Chicago on June 15-19. The Summons Lab was well represented, with postdocs and postgraduate students presenting oral and poster presentations of their work. The conference brings together scientists who work on the interdisciplinary field of astrobiology. The focus of AbSciCon2015 was on habitability in our solar system and beyond, and the origin and evolution of life on early Earth. Summons Lab research presented at the meeting was funded by a variety of sources such as NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Simons Collaboration on Origins of Life, the Agouron Institute, the Irish Research Council and the Marie Curie Actions Programme. There was an abundance of fascinating panel discussions, plenary sessions, and oral and poster sessions over the course of the week. Here are some of the highlights from the Summons Lab.

Tuesday morning kicked off with a fascinating panel discussion on biosignatures of life, which included Roger as an expert panel member (image below courtesy of @dstryco).

Roger AbSciCon

On Tuesday, many members, and collaborators, of the Summons Lab presented their work in the session about how studying modern microbes can inform our understanding of ancient Earth ecosystems. Emily presented her exciting recent work on biological diversity of microbial structures in Antarctic ice-covered lakes, and did a great job. Bosak Lab member and Summons Lab collaborator, Sharon Newman, presented her work on cyanobacterial fossilization by clay minerals. Sharon gave a great presentation and received much interest during questions, which extended into the break.

David did a very impressive job, both chairing a session, and delivering an excellent talk investigating the sponge sterol biomarker hypothesis using comparative genomics and organic geochemical approaches. Shane presented his recent work on the microbial contribution to ooid formation from a Pigeon Cay in the Bahamas and its broader implications for the meaning of these enigmatic grains in the Geological Record. Former Summons Lab member, Paula Welander, and recent addition to Geobiology at MIT, Gregory Fournier, also gave excellent presentations in this session.

On Thursday, Genming presented his impressive recent work using bulk carbon isotopes and stratigraphy to reconstruct autotrophic microbial responses after the Paleoproterozoic Great Oxidation Event. Ross also did a great job and got a lot of interest and positive feedback when he presented his work reconstructing terrestrial plant and marine algal responses to Eocene warming using biomarker and stable isotope records from his field site in NW India. Mary Beth, a visiting student from Georgia Tech and NASA Ames, also presented her work on the preservation of lipid biomarkers in the Atacama Desert in Chile. On Friday, former Summons Lab postdoc Christian Hallmann gave a talk on the use of stable nitrogen isotopes of Ediacaran porphyrins to gain an insight into Neoproterozoic nitrogen cycling.

It was a great week for the Summons Lab in Chicago, and looking forward to the next AbSciCon conference!


16 July 2014

The Pyroprobe—How It Works and What It Can Do


Summons lab postdoc Kristen Miller recently gave a presentation to the lab group about the capabilities and operating procedures of the CDS 5250T Pyroprobe, an instrument that allows (amongst other things) whole-rock samples and entire microfossils to be analyzed by GCMS. We have posted a summary of her presentation to the Facilities section of our website here.


11 December 2013

Where Are They Now?


Wonder where they went after they left MIT? Here are the current placements of a number of recent Summons lab alumni over the last few years. To see more, head over to the Alumni page.


Jake Waldbauer, a former graduate student, is now Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago. There’s a short piece about his arrival at Chicago here, and he’s quoted in this piece in Chicago’s university magazine. You can find his contact details in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences faculty directory.


Paula Welander, a former postdoc, is now Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford University. There’s an article about her here, and her lab website here.




Alex Bradley, a former graduate student, is now Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. You can find his lab website here, including this nice description of his work. You can also keep up with him on Twitter.


Amy Kelly, former graduate student, is now Geochemist/Basin Modeller at Shell International Exploration and Production. She also teaches at the University of Houston Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.





Phoebe Cohen, onetime Summons lab postdoc and Education/Public Outreach Lead for the NASA Astrobiology Institute team headquartered at MIT, is now Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. You can read about her work in the Berkshire Eagle (a newspaper of record for Western Massachusetts) here, and check out her lab website here. Phoebe also won the 2012 Subaru Outstanding Woman in Science Award. You can hear her talking about chasing rocks and bears in her Story Collider podcast episode.


Christian Hallmann is a former postdoc who now leads the Organic Paleobiogeochemistry Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry at Jena; Chris also holds a joint appointment as Staff Scientist at MARUM in Bremen. You can visit his group’s website here and his webpage at MARUM here.


5 December 2013

To Make a Virtual Fieldtrip, Start with a Real One


Roger Summons explains the role of microbial activity in the formation of oolitic sand


In June 2013, Roger Summons and postdoc Ben Kotrc, with colleague Tanja Bosak, embarked on a field excursion to several sites in Western Australia as part of an Education and Public Outreach project under the auspices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute headquartered in the Summons lab and carried out in partnership with our NAI colleagues at ASU. The aim of the trip was to gather material for developing a Virtual Fieldtrip to several sites of tremendous importance to understanding early life—including Shark Bay, home to the best-known living stromatolites, Karijini National Park, with spectacular exposures of Banded Iron Formation linked to the oxygenation of the atmosphere, and North Pole dome, home to some of the oldest evidence of life.


Tagging along with the Astrobiology Grand Tour organized by Malcolm Walter of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW, and teaming up with our VFT-making colleagues Ariel Anbar, Geoffrey Bruce, Lev Horodyskyj, and Jessica Swann from ASU, we returned with 13 location-based sphericals for that “Google street view” pan-around-360˚ experience, 4 gigapans, 277 video clips and well over 2000 images.

As an exciting first this year (the Summons lab has been working on the development of these VFTs for several years), Geoffrey Bruce brought a video-camera-equipped quad copter (think: drone), capturing a dramatic new perspective—from high up in the sky—at sites like the stromatolites in Shark Bay and fly-throughs of Dales Gorge at Karijini National Park.