Alfonso Davila

Alfonso Davila
Co-Chair for the Astrobiology Research Group, Senior Research Scientist
Curriculum Vitae: 
Planetary Sciences, Astrobiology

Research Areas: Planetary Sciences (geochemistry, biology, geology). Microbial ecology in extreme environments.

My latest research interests include the study of habitability and life in the extremely dry Atacama Desert and Antarctic Dry Valleys. Results are expanding our understanding of the limits of life and microbial activity on Earth, and help us improve models of planetary habitability, particularly the possibility of life on Mars.

Alfonso F. Davila is a research scientist at the SETI Institute and the NASA Ames Research Center in California since 2009, with substantial experience in Earth and Planetary sciences. As an undergraduate in Spain, he studied marine sciences and was trained in marine biology, chemistry, geology and physics, with a later focus in marine geology and physics for his Masters degree (1996-2001). He obtained a PhD in Germany studying bio-geophysics, and the interactions between the Earth's magnetic field and biological systems (2001-2005). His Post-Doc at NASA Ames in California, brought him to work on the habitability of Mars through the study of Mars Analog Environments on Earth (2006-2009). This greatly broadened his experience in field geology and biology. Alfonso has been a guest speaker in international conferences and a guest lecturer in universities and research institutes in the US, Canada, South America and Europe, and has published more than 50 scientific papers and book chapters in these fields.
Alfonso's research interests are broad, spanning from planetary habitability, geology and geochemistry, to the origin and evolution of life on Earth. He is particularly interested in the geologic, geochemical, and climatic evolution of Mars, and how this evolution affected the habitability of the planet from its origins and up to the present. He is also interested in comparing the evolution of Mars and Earth through field research in Mars Analog Environments such as the Antarctic Dry Valleys, the high Arctic, or the Atacama Desert, combined with laboratory work, numerical modeling, and the analysis of remote sensing data. He is currently working in several international science and engineering projects in the field of planetary sciences.

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Life at the dry limit: Cyanobacteria inside halite pinnacles in the Atacama desert

The goal of this project is to understand the survival mechanism of cyanobacteria inhabiting the interior of halite pinnacles in the Yungay region of the Atacama desert. The Yungay region is so inhospitable that even the organisms better adapted to water stress are absent. For decades it was thought that life was not possible in this region. The discovery of endolithic colonies of cyanobacteria inside halite pinnacles was a surprise. The halite pinnacles themselves are unique, and have not been described in any other desert on earth.

Advancing the Search for Life on Mars Through Robotic Exploration and Field Analogue Research

I propose to advance the search for life on Mars by approaching the microbiology of ground ice in the Antarctic Dry Valleys as an analogue to ground ice on Mars, and by introducing a new mission concept for the robotic exploration of Mars that would allow to drill to a depth of several meters and search for life in ground ice.