NASA’s Des Marais Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology
Cave exploring has its rewards. It led David Des Marais, a Chemistry major in college at the time, to pursue a career as a research scientist in astrobiology and space science at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Des Marais explains that his interest in exploring caves in southern Indiana on weekends while an undergraduate student at Purdue University, led him to post-graduate studies in Geology at Indiana University, where he also earned a Ph.D. in Geochemistry and became fascinated with microbiology.

Today, Des Marais is a principal investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at NASA Ames, and also serves on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission as a long-term planning lead for the Spirit rover.

This month, Des Marais was inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology for his 35 years of research. Fellows are selected through a rigorous peer review process based on scientific achievements and original contributions that have advanced the field of microbiology.

"I gained most of my microbiology experience while doing postdoctoral research at UCLA and through interdisciplinary collaborations throughout my career," said Des Marais.

For the past 26 years he has coordinated an interdisciplinary team to study cyanobacterial mat (biofilm) communities in Baja California to get a glimpse of what ancient biological communities resembled. He also has conducted field research on ancient fossilized microbial communities in Australia, Canada, South Africa and the U.S. His lifelong research interests include the biogeochemical carbon cycle, the early evolution of Earth and its biosphere and searching for fossil evidence of life on Mars.

His explorations of the Red Planet also include contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Science Laboratory missions. This summer he will serve as Chairman of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), a public forum that obtains guidance from the science community for NASA’s Mars Program regarding future exploration.

Des Marais has authored or co-authored more than 160 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and serves on the editorial boards for Astrobiology and Geobiology journals.
Cathy Weselby
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.