phone (617) 452 2791
Link to CV

Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
E25-633, 45 Carleton Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

Roger on his first dive in the submersible Alvin, 2008

Research interests

I am interested in biogeochemistry and geobiology with the following themes:

  • lipid chemistry of geologically significant microbes and microbially dominated ecosystems
  • organic and isotopic indicators of climate change, biotic evolution and mass extinction
  • age- and environment-diagnostic biomarkers in sediments and petroleum
  • Archean, Proterozoic and extraterrestrial biogeochemical fossils

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people, and have a hand in all the research going on in the MIT Geobiology lab.

Professional preparation

  • Australian National Univ. Chemistry Postdoctoral Fellow 1973-1975
  • Stanford University Genetics Fellow in Genetics 1972-1973
  • University of NSW (Wollongong University College) Chemistry PhD 1972
  • University of NSW (Wollongong University College) Chemistry BSc Honours Class 1 1969


  • Professor of Geobiology, MIT (2001-present)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society (2008)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Award (2008)
  • Fellow, Hanse Wissenschafts Kolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany (2008)
  • Fellow, American Geophysical Union (2006)
  • Halpern Medal, University of Wollongong (2005)
  • Treibs Award of the Geochemical Society (2003)
  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Science (1998)
  • Petroleum Explorationists Society of Australia, Australian Lecturer (1998)
  • Principal to Chief Research Scientist, Geoscience Australia (1987-2001)
  • Senior Research Scientist, Baas Becking Geobiological Laboratory (1983-1987)
  • Australian National Univ. RSBS Research Officer (1977-1983)
  • Australian National Univ. RSC Research Fellow (1975-1977)


  • Associate Editor Geochim. Cosmichim. Acta (1995-2006).
  • Member of Editorial Boards of Astrobiology, Geobiology & Paleoworld since inception;
  • Guest Investigator and Adjunct Scientist, WHOI (1999-2001)
  • Adjunct Professor, Applied Chemistry, Curtin University of Technology, Australia (2007-pres.)
  • Adjunct Professor, Earth Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia (1999-present)
  • Teach and develop courses for undergraduates and postgraduates in geobiology and organic geochemistry; Instruct and mentor graduate students and postdoctoral fellows
  • NSF Working group on Biogeosciences (2003)
  • NRC Committee on Origin and Evolution of Life (COEL 2003-6)
  • NRC Committee on Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems (LIMITS; 2005-7)
  • NRC Committee on Mars Astrobiology (2006-7)
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute Harvard-MIT-WHOI (1998-2003), NASA Astrobiology Institute
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute Ames Research Center (1998-present)
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute MIT (2007-present)


born Sydney, Australia, June 11th
family married to Elizabeth and proud father of Justine, Alice and Rebecca


…and I came here from Australia? What was I thinking…


A complete list of papers published through August 2016 can be found here.

A few recent papers:

Garby, T.J., Matys, E.D., Ongley, S.E., Salih, A., Larkum, A.W., Walter, M.R., Summons, R.E. and Neilan, B.A. (2017). Lack of methylated hopanoids renders the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme sensitive to osmotic and pH stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology83(13), pp.e00777-17.

Gold, D. A., Caron, A., Fournier G. P. and Summons, R. E. (2017). Paleoproterozoic sterol biosynthesis and the rise of oxygen. Nature, 543, 420-423, doi:10.1038/nature21412.

Gold, D. A., Grabenstatter, J., de Mendoza, A., Riesgo, A., Ruiz-Trillo, I., & Summons, R. E. (2016). Sterol and genomic analyses validate the sponge biomarker hypothesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(10), 2684–2689.

Carrasquillo, A. J., Cao, C., Erwin, D. H., & Summons, R. E. (2016). Non-detection of C60 fullerene at two mass extinction horizons. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 176, 18–25.

Miller, K. E., Eigenbrode, J. L., Freissinet, C., Glavin, D. P., Kotrc, B., Francois, P., & Summons, R. E. (2016). Potential Precursor Compounds for Chlorohydrocarbons Detected in Gale Crater, Mars, by the SAM instrument suite on the Curiosity Rover. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, n/a–n/a.

Tulipani, S., Grice, K., Greenwood, P. F., Haines, P. W., Sauer, P. E., Schimmelmann, A., … Schwark, L. (2015). Changes of palaeoenvironmental conditions recorded in Late Devonian reef systems from the Canning Basin, Western Australia: A biomarker and stable isotope approach. Gondwana Research, 28(4), 1500–1515.

Love, G.D., and Summons, R.E. 2015 The molecular record of Cryogenian sponges – a response to Antcliffe. Paleontology, 58, 1131–1136.

Williford, K. H., Ushikubo, T., Lepot, K., Kitajima, K., Hallmann, C., Spicuzza, M. J., et al., Valley, J. W. (2016). Carbon and sulfur isotopic signatures of ancient life and environment at the microbial scale: Neoarchean shales and carbonates. Geobiology, 14(2), 105–28.

Miller, K.E., Kotrc, B., Summons, R.E., Belmahdi, I., Buch, A., Eigenbrode, J.L., Freissinet, C., Glavin, D.P., Szopa, C. 2015. Evaluation of the Tenax trap in the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite on the Curiosity rover as a potential hydrocarbon source for chlorinated organics detected in Gale Crater. JGR Planets, In Press.

Bender, M. M., Schmidtmann, M., Summons, R.E., Rullkötter, J., Christoffers, J., 2015. A Geomimetic Approach to the Formation and Identification of Fossil Sterane Biomarkers in Crude Oil: 18-nor-D-homo-Androstane and 5α,14β-Androstane. Chemistry – A European Journal 21,1–9.

Baesman S.M., Miller L.G., Wei J.H., Yirang Cho, Matys E.D., Summons R.E, Welander P.V, Oremland R.,S. 2015. Methane oxidation and molecular characterization of methanotrophs from a former mercury mine impoundment. Microorganisms 2015, 3, 290-309.

Sistiaga, A., Wrangham. R., Rothman, J., Summons R.E., 2015. New insights into the evolution of the human diet from faecal biomarker analysis in wild chimpanzee and gorilla faeces. PLOS ONE 10(6): e0128931. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128931. PDF available here.

Martindale, R.C., Strauss, J.V., Sperling, E.A., Johnson, J.E., Van Kranendonk, M.J., Flannery, D., French, K., Lepot, K., Mazumder, R., Rice, M.S., Schrag, D.P., Summons, R., Walter, M., Abelson, J. and Knoll, A.H. 2015. Sedimentology, chemostratigraphy, and stromatolites of lower Paleoproterozoic carbonates, Turee Creek Group, Western Australia. Precambrian Research 266, 194-211.

Beaupré, S.R., Roberts, M.L., Burton, J.R., Summons, R.E., 2015. Rapid, high-resolution 14C chronology of ooids. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 159, 126–138.

French, K.L., Hallmann, C., Hope, J.M., Schoone, P.L., Zumberge J.A., Hoshino, Y., Peters, C.A., George, S.C., Love, G.D., Brocks, J.J., Buick, R. and Summons, R.E., 2015. Reappraisal of hydrocarbon biomarkers in Archean rocks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 5915-5920.

Escobedo-Hinojosa, W.I., Vences-Guzmán, M.A., Schubotz, F., Sandoval-Calderón, M., Summons, R.E., López-Lara, I.M., Geiger, O., Sohlenkamp, C., 2015. OlsG (Sinac_1600) is an ornithine lipid N-methyltransferase from the planctomycete Singulisphaera acidiphila. Journal of Biological Chemistry jbc.M115.639575. http://doi:10.1074/jbc.M115.639575.

Srain, B., Sepúlveda, J., Pantoja, S., Summons, R. E., Quiñones, R. A., Levipan, H., 2014. Archaeal and bacterial assemblages in the Oxygen Minimum Zone of the upwelling ecosystem off Central Chile as determined by organic biomarkers. Gayana 79, 6-43.

French, K. L., Hallmann, C., Hope, J. M., Schoon, P. L., Zumberge, J. A., Hoshino, Y., … Summons, R. E. (2015). Reappraisal of hydrocarbon biomarkers in Archean rocks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(19), 5915–20.

Schubotz F., Hays, L.E., Meyer-Dombard D.R., Gillespie, A., Shock E.L., Summons R.E., 2015. Stable isotope labeling confirms mixotrophic nature of streamer biofilm communities at alkaline hot springs. Frontiers in Microbiology 6, Article 42.

French, K.L., Rocher, D., Zumberge, J.E. and Summons, R.E., 2015. Assessing the distribution of sedimentary C40 carotenoids through time. Geobiology 13, 139–151.

Kasprak, A.H., Sepulveda, J., Price-Waldman, R., Williford, K.H., Schoepfer, S.D., Haggart, Ward P.D., Summons, R.E., Whiteside, J.H., 2015. Pervasive photic zone euxinia in the northeastern Panthalassic Ocean during the end-Triassic extinction. Geology, 43, 307–310.

Tulipani, S., Grice, K., Greenwood, P., Schwark, L., Bӧttcher, M.E., Summons, R.E., Foster, C.B., 2015. Molecular Proxies as Indicators of Freshwater Incursion-Driven Salinity Stratification. Chemical Geology 20, 61–68.

Summons, R.E., 2014. The exceptional preservation of interesting and informative biomolecules. In: Reading and Writing of the Fossil Record: Preservational Pathways to Exceptional Fossilization. The Paleontological Society Papers, Volume 20, Marc Laflamme, James D. Schiffbauer, and Simon A. F. Darroch (eds.). The Paleontological Society Short Course, October 18, 2014.

Summons, R.E., Sessions, A.L., Allwood, A.C., Barton, H.A., Beaty, D.W., Blakkolb, B., Canham, J., Clark, B.C., Dworkin, J.P., Lin, Y., Mathies, R., Milkovich, S.M., and Steele, A., 2014. Planning considerations related to the organic contamination of martian samples and implications for the Mars 2020 rover. Astrobiology 14, 969-1027.

Rothman, D.H., Fournier, G.P., French, K.L., Alm, E.J., Boyle, E.A., Cao, C. and Summons, R.E., 2014. Methanogenic burst in the end-Permian carbon cycle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 5462-5467.

Lincoln, S.A., Wai, B., Eppley, J.M., Church, M.J., Summons, R.E. and DeLong, E.F., 2014. Reply to Schouten et al.: Marine Group II planktonic Euryarchaeota are significant contributors to tetraether lipids in the ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, E4286-E4286.

Schmerk, C.L., Welander, P.V., Hamad, M.A., Bain, K.L., Bernards, M.A., Summons, R.E. and Valvano, M.A. 2014. Elucidation of the Burkholderia cenocepacia hopanoid biosynthesis pathway uncovers functions for conserved proteins in hopanoid-producing bacteria. Environmental Microbiology 17, 735-750.

Illing, C.J., Hallmann, C., Miller, K.E., Summons, R.E. and Strauss, H., 2014. Airborne hydrocarbon contamination from laboratory atmospheres. Organic Geochemistry 76, 26-38.

Sistiaga, A., Mallol, C., Galván, B., and Summons, R. E., 2014, The Neanderthal Meal: a New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers. PLOS ONE 9, e101045.

Lincoln, S.A., Wai, B., Eppley, J.M., Church, M.J., Summons, R.E. and DeLong, E.F., 2014. Planktonic Euryarchaeota are a significant source of archaeal tetraether lipids in the ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 9858-9863.

Briggs D.E.G. and Summons R.E., 2014. Ancient biomolecules: their origin, fossilization and significance in revealing the history of life. BioEssays 36, 482–490.

Ghisalberti M., Gold D., Laflamme M., Clapham M., Narbonne G., Summons R.E., Johnston D.T., Jacobs D.K., 2014. Canopy Flow Models Identify the Advantage of Size in the Oldest Communities of Multicellular Eukaryotes, Current Biology 24, 305-309.

Aponte J.C., Tarozo R., Alexandre M.R., Alexander C.M. O’D, Charnley S.B, Hallmann C. Summons R.E. and Huang Y., 2014. Chirality of meteoritic free and IOM-derived monocarboxylic acids and implications for prebiotic organic synthesis. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 131, 1-12.

Arreguin-Rodriguez, G.J., Alegret L., Sepúlveda J., Newman S and Summons R.E., 2014. Enhanced terrestrial input supporting the Glomospira acme across the Paleocene‐Eocene boundary in Southern Spain. Micropaleontology 60, 43-51.

French, K. L., Sepúlveda, J., Trabucho-Alexandre, J., Gröcke, D. R., and Summons, R. E., 2014. Organic geochemistry of the early Toarcian oceanic anoxic event in Hawsker Bottoms, Yorkshire, England. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 390, 116-127.

Biller S.J., Schubotz F., Roggensack S.E., Thompson A.W., Summons R.E., Chisholm S.W., 2014. Bacterial vesicles in marine ecosystems. Science 343, 183-186.