Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology
phone (617) 452-2791
email rsummons [at]
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


Roger is holding a quadruple (Q1) from the GC-QQQ. Apparently, he still likes to play with mass spectrometers.

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)
  • Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology (2015-present)
  • Cox Visiting Professor, Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California (2015-2016)
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (2012)
  • Moore Scholar, GPS Division, Caltech, Pasadena, California (2008)
  • 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 (2007-2010)
  • 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 (2007-2018)


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 May 2018 can be found here.

A few recent papers:

Cui, X., Liu, X.-L., Shen, G., Ma, J., Husain, F., Rocher, D., Zumberge, J. E., Bryant, D. A., and Summons, R. E., 2020, Niche expansion for phototrophic sulfur bacteria at the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic transition: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA,

Groussin M., Poyet M., Sistiaga A., Kearney S.M., Moniz K., Noel M., Hooker J., Gibbons S.M., Segurel L., Froment A., Said Mohamed R., Fezeu A., Juimo V.A., Girard C., Nguyen L.T.T., Shapiro B.J., Lehtimaki J.M.S., Ruokolainen L., Kettunen P.P., Vatanen T., Sigwazi S., Mabulla A., Dominguez-Rodrigo M., Summons R.E., Xavier R.J. and Alm E.J. (2020) Industrialization is associated with elevated rates of horizontal gene transfer in the human microbiome. Nature(Submitted). bioRxiv, 2020.2001.2028.922104.

Roussel A., Cui X. and Summons R.E. 2020. Biomarker stratigraphy in the Athel Trough of the South Oman Salt Basin at the Ediacaran-Cambrian Boundary. Geobiology

Millan M., Szopa1 C., Buch A., Summons R. E., Navarro-Gonzalez R., Mahaffy P.R., Stewart Johnson S., 2020. Origin of Martian Organics: Insights from the Reactivity of Organics with Calcium Perchlorate under SAM-like Pyrolysis. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets

Franz, H.B., P.R. Mahaffy, C.R. Webster, G.J. Flesch, E. Raaen, C. Freissinet, S.K. Atreya, C.H. House, A.C. McAdam, C.A. Knudson, P.D. Archer Jr., J.C. Stern, A. Steele, B. Sutter, J.L. Eigenbrode, D.P. Glavin, J.M.T. Lewis, C.A. Malespin, M. Millan, D.W. Ming, R. Navarro-González, and R.E. Summons, 2020. Indigenous and exogenous organics and surface-atmosphere cycling inferred from carbon and oxygen isotopes at Gale crater. Nature Astronomy 4, 526-532, doi:10.1038/s41550-019-0990-x,

Newman S.A., Lincoln S.A., O’Reilly S., Liu X.-L., Shock E.L., Kelemen P.B. and Summons R.E., 2020. Lipid Biomarker Record of the Serpentinite-Hosted 1 Ecosystem of the Samail Ophiolite, Oman and Implications for the Search for Biosignatures on Mars. Astrobiology 20 (5), xxx-xxx. (In Press).

Szopa C., Freissinet C., Glavin D.P., Millan M., Buch A., Franz H.B., Summons, R.E., Sumner D.Y., Sutter B., Eigenbrode J.L., William R.H., Navarro-González, R., Guzman M., Malespin C., Teinturier S., Mahaffy P.R. and Cabane M., 2019. First Detections of Dichlorobenzene Isomers and Trichloromethylpropane from Organic Matter Indigenous to Mars Mudstone in Gale Crater, Mars: Results from the Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument Onboard the Curiosity Rover. Astrobiology 20, 292-306.

Hull P.M., André Bornemann A. et al. 2020. On impact and volcanism across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. Science 367, 266-272.

Buch A., Belmahdi I., Szopa C., Freissinet C., Glavin D.P., Millan M., Summons R., Coscia D., Teinturier S., Bonnet J.Y., He Y., Cabane M., Navarro-Gonzalez R., Malespin C.A., Stern J., Eigenbrode J., Mahaffy, P.R. and Johnson S.S., 2019. Role of the Tenax® Adsorbent in the Interpretation of the EGA and GC-MS Analyses Performed with the Sample Analysis at Mars in Gale Crater. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets

Schaefer B., Grice K., Marco Coolen M.J.L, Summons R.E., Cui X., Bauersachs T., Schwark L., Böttcher M.E., Bralower T.J., Lyons S., Freeman K.H., Cockell C.S., Gulick S.P.S, Morgan J.V., Whalen M.T., Lowery C.M., Vajda V., 2020. Microbial life in the nascent Chicxulub crater. Geology 48(4), 328-332.

Love G.D., Zumberge J.A., Cárdenas P., Sperling E.A., Rohrssen M., Grosjean E., Grotzinger J.P. and Summons R.E., 2019. Sources of C30 steroid biomarkers in Neoproterozoic–Cambrian rocks and oils. Nature Ecology & Evolution 4, 34-36.

Boyer GM, Schubotz F, Summons RE, Woods J and Shock EL (2020) Carbon Oxidation State in Microbial Polar Lipids Suggests Adaptation to Hot Spring Temperature and Redox Gradients. Frontiers of Microbiology 11, 229. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2020.00229

Alleon J., David T. Flannery D.T., N Ferralis N., Williford K.H., Yong Zhang Y., Schuessler J.A, Summons R.E., 2019. Organo-mineral associations in chert of the 3.5 Ga Mount Ada Basalt raise questions about the origin of organic matter in Paleoarchean hydrothermally influenced sediments. Scientific Reports 9, 16712

Zeng Z., Liu X.-L., Farley K.R., Wei J.H, Metcalf W.W, Summons R.E, and Welander P.V., 2019. GDGT cyclization proteins identify the dominant archaeal sources of tetraether lipids in the ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 116, 22505-22511.

Scarlett A.G., Holman A.I., Georgiev S.V., Stein H.J., Summons R.E., and Grice K., 2019. Multi-spectroscopic and elemental characterization of southern Australian asphaltites. Organic Geochemistry 133, 77-91.

Alleon J. and Summons R.E., 2019. Organic geochemical approaches to understanding early life. Free Radicals in Biology

Williams, A.J., Eigenbrode, J., Floyd, M., Wilhelm, M.B., O’Reilly, S., Johnson, S.S., Craft, K.L., Knudson, C.A., Andrejkovičová, S., Lewis, J.M.T., Buch, A., Glavin, D.P., Freissinet, C., Williams, R.H., Szopa, C., Millan, M., Summons, R.E., McAdam, A., Benison, K., Navarro-González, R., Malespin, C. and Mahaffy, P.R., 2019. Recovery of Fatty Acids from Mineralogic Mars Analogs by TMAH Thermochemolysis for the Sample Analysis at Mars Wet Chemistry Experiment on the Curiosity Rover. Astrobiology 19, 522-546.

Illing, C.J., Hallmann, C., Scott, A.C., Collinson, M.E., Briggs, D.E., Strauss, H. and Summons, R.E., 2019. Heterogeneity of free and occluded bitumen in a natural maturity sequence from Oligocene Lake Enspel. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 245, 240-265.

Flannery D.T., Allwood A.C., Hodyss R., Summons R.E., Tuite M., Walter M.R. and Williford K.H., 2019. Microbially influenced formation of Neoarchean ooids. Geobiology 17, 151-160. 

Matys E.D., Mackey T., Grettenberger C., Mueller E., Jungblut A., Sumner D.Y., Hawes I. and Summons R.E., 2019. Environmental controls on bacteriohopanepolyol profiles of benthic microbial mats from Lake Fryxell, Antarctica. Geobiology 17(5), 551-563.

Summons R. E., Miller K. E., Kotrc B., Belmahadi I., Buch A., Eigenbrode J. L., et al. 2019. Comment on “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” by Miller et al., 2015, by F. Kenig, L. Chou, and D. J. Wardrop. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 124.

Matys E.D., Mackey T., Sumner D.Y., Hawes I., Grettenberger C., Mueller E. and Summons R.E., 2019. Bacteriohopanepolyols across environmental gradients in Lake Vanda, Antarctica. Geobiology 00, 1–12. DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12335.

Liu X.-L., Russell D.A., Bonfio C. and Summons, R.E., 2018. Glycerol configurations of environmental GDGTs investigated using a selective sn2 ether cleavage protocol. Organic Geochemistry 128, 57-62.

Zeng Z., Liu X.-L., Wei J.H., Summons R.E. and Welander P.V., 2018. Calditol-linked membrane lipids are required for acid tolerance in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, 12932–12937.

Luo, G., Junium, C.K., Izon, G., Ono S., Beukes, N.J., Algeo, T.J., Cui, Y., Xie, S., Summons, R.E. (2018) Nitrogen fixation sustained productivity in the wake of the Palaeoproterozoic Great Oxygenation Event, Nature Communications, 9: 978, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03361-2.

Summons R.E. and Erwin D.H., 2018. Chemical clues to the earliest animal fossils. Science 361, 1198.

O’Reilly S.S., Summons R.E., Mayr G. and Vinther J., 2017. Molecular preservation of uropygial gland lipids in a 48-million-1 year-old bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284: 20171050.

Bhattacharya S., Dutta S. and Summons R.E., 2017. A distinctive biomarker assemblage in InfraCambrian oil and source rock from western India: Molecular signatures of eukaryotic sterols and prokaryotic carotenoids. Precambrian Research 290, 101–112.

Liu X.L., Lipp J.S., Birgel D., Summons R.E., and Hinrichs K.-U., 2017. Predominance of the parallel glycerol arrangement in archaeal tetraethers from marine sediments: structural features revealed by degradation products. Organic Geochemistry

Matys, E. D., Sepúlveda, J., Pantoja, S., Lange, C. B., Caniupán, M., Lamy, F., & Summons, R. E. (2017). Bacteriohopanepolyols along redox gradients in the Humboldt Current System off northern Chile. Geobiology.

O’Reilly S.S., Mariotti G., Winter A.R., Newman S., Matys E.D., McDermott F., Pruss S.B., Summons R.E., Klepac-Ceraj V. and Bosak T., 2017. Tracing the incorporation of microbial organic matter into ooids and grapestones using surface-coated and cortex-bound lipid biosignatures. Geobiology 15, 112–130. DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12196.

Gold, D. A., O’Reilly, S. S., Watson, J., Degnan, B. M., Degnan, S. M., Krömer, J. O., & Summons, R. E. (2017). Lipidomics of the sea sponge Amphimedon queenslandica and implication for biomarker geochemistry. Geobiology. DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12253.

Brown, C. M., Henderson, D. M., Vinther, J., Fletcher, I., Sistiaga, A., Herrera, J., & Summons, R. E. (2017). An Exceptionally Preserved Three-Dimensional Armored Dinosaur Reveals Insights into Coloration and Cretaceous Predator-Prey Dynamics. Current Biology27(16), 2514-2521.

Saitta, Evan T., Chris Rogers, Richard A. Brooker, Geoffrey D. Abbott, Sumit Kumar, Shane S. O’Reilly, Paul Donohoe, Suryendu Dutta, Roger E. Summons, and Jakob Vinther. “Low fossilization potential of keratin protein revealed by experimental taphonomy.” Palaeontology 60, no. 4 (2017): 547-556.

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 America113(10), 2684–2689.

Luo, G., Ono S., Beukes N.J, Wang D.T., Xie S. and Summons R.E., 2016. Rapid oxidation of Earth’s atmosphere 2.33 billion years ago. Science Advances 2: e1600134.

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 Acta176, 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.

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

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.

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.

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 America112(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.

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.

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.

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.