The major scientific interest of Courant Research Centre of Geobiology is concentrated on the interplay of any kind of organic matter with inorganic substances.
This basically prebiotoic metabolism has changed the planet earth since the first occurrence of organic matter on earth, independent of whether of abiotic or biotic origin. Prokaryotic life within today extreme environments, especially the Deep Biosphere is tight-knit with the earliest environmental conditions on earth and therefore the central research goal.
These organisms have developed crucial enzymatic pathways, e.g. via metal enzymes, to use inorganic substances often poor in energy as energy- and carbon sources. The detailed knowledge of these organisms opens windows to billion year old evolutionary strategies with an enormous biotechnological potential. Many prokaryotes are organised in biofilms which exhibit many functions and adaptation known from complex multicellular bauplans, e.g. sponges, which are basic animals. One important question is which evolutionary key innovations have led to true animal bauplans?
Most animal phyla occurred first after the last global glaciation (“Snow Ball Earth”-glaciation) ca. 630 million years ago. For the evolution of animal phyla the 60 my period between the “Snow Ball Earth”- glaciation and the “Cambrian Explosion” which means the onset of biologically controlled biomineralisation is very intriguing and enigmatic. Sponges are the first complex animals and their basic bauplan demonstrates the tight relationship and metabolic dependence between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. However, the phylogenetic relationship to higher evolved animals is widely unclear. The existing molecular clock data are incongruent to the fossil data and need a fundamental new calibration via advanced bioinformatic methods.
The evolution of living plants is usually studied from morphological or molecular point of view, rarely the two approaches are integrated. Even rarer is the integration of data from extant living plants with those derived from fossil material. In this project, we aim to integrate all accessible evidence and different approaches, including paleobotany, geochemistry, genomics and phylogenetics. It is to our knowledge the first research project with this major goal. The project will unravel the origin and early diversification of the major groups of the land plants, determine the timing of the evolutionary events that led to their origin, and identify key innovations that facilitated their evolution.
The envisaged multi-disciplinary and multi-methodological approach to the study of the early evolution of living beings is to our knowledge not paralleled by any other current research program and is unique in its kind. The proposed research is expected to answer with more precision than ever before basic questions concerning the origin and early diversification of life on this planet.