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SURF: Announcements of Opportunity

Below are Announcements of Opportunity posted by Caltech faculty and JPL technical staff for the SURF program. Additional AOs for the Amgen Scholars program can be found here.

Specific GROWTH projects being offerred for summer 2018 can be found here.

Each AO indicates whether or not it is open to non-Caltech students. If an AO is NOT open to non-Caltech students, please DO NOT contact the mentor.

Announcements of Opportunity are posted as they are received. Please check back regularly for new AO submissions! Remember: This is just one way that you can go about identifying a suitable project and/or mentor.

Announcements for external summer programs are listed here.

Students pursuing opportunities at JPL must be
U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

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Project:  Comparitive Genomics
Disciplines:  Biology/Bioengineering, Bioinformatics
Mentor:  Hyung Park, (JPL),, Phone: (818) 354-2173
Background:  The Planetary Protection group at JPL focuses on minimizing the microbial bioburden present on spacecraft hardware and associated surfaces, quantifying the bioburden using cultivation based techniques. Using the NASA standard spore assay to measure cultivable hardy microorganisms, PP engineers have been continually monitoring the microbial load on spacecraft hardware and associated surfaces since the Viking mission. In addition, any cultures resulting from this assay have been curated and stored in the JPL microbial archiving facility which houses over 4000 microorganisms. With the early phases of planning for the upcoming challenging planetary protection missions that may be planned (i.e. Mars or Europa life detection or Mars Sample Return), it is essential to understand the total microbial bioburden diversity present, rather than just the cultivable spore forming organisms. Applying cutting edge shotgun metagenomics technologies to assess microbial bioburden diversity along with imposing stringent cleaning techniques are required for future missions like Europa and Mars. Our current understanding of microbial characteristic expression such as dry heat resistance and radiation resistance is limited to phenotypic assays, and those microbes we are able to cultivate in a lab. However, coupling genomics based analysis with cultivation based analysis can provide a unique glimpse into the genomic profiles that allow certain microbes to survive extremely harsh conditions. Results from this study will yield details about the microbes that have been isolated from the surfaces of pre-flight spacecraft and, on a broader level, will gauge whether microorganisms from Earth have the potential to survive on extraterrestrial bodies. Furthermore, the outcome of this study will benefit those involved in the planning of future missions such as the Mars Sample Return Campaign and Europa by being able to correlate unique genomics profiles to assess the likelihood of radiation/dry heat/ or UV resistance of unknown uncultivable microbes.
The objectives of the proposed project, are to i) perform a thorough comparative genomics analysis of existing microbial genomes exhibiting dry heat, UV, and/ or radiation resistance, ii) Identify unique marker genes, characteristic of these extremotolerant microbes. iii) Apply these unique marker genes to discern radiation/UV/ and dry heat resistance from, mixed sample data sets. The student will join an established group of researchers focusing on molecular systematic/population genetics of microbes isolated from the extreme environments of spacecraft assembly. Students will be exposed to state of the art molecular microbial techniques, sequencing, and bioinformatics, etc.
Student Requirements:  Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Genomics, Metagenomics, Microbiology, Computer Science
Location / Safety:  Project building and/or room locations: . Student will need special safety training: No.
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       SURF    Caltech students only 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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