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Lynn J. Rothschild

Sr Research Scientist, Bio and Bio-Inspired Technologies, Research and Technology Lead for NASA HQ STMD

Affiliation: NASA Ames Research Center


Read Lynn Rothschild‘s interview

Professional Biography

Dr. Lynn Rothschild is passionate about the origin and evolution of life on Earth or elsewhere, while at the same time pioneering the use of synthetic biology to enable space exploration.  Just as travel abroad permits new insights into home, so too the search for life elsewhere allows a more mature scientific, philosophical and ethical perception of life on Earth. She wears several hats as a senior scientist NASA’s Ames Research Center and Bio and Bio-Inspired Technologies, Research and Technology Lead for NASA Headquarters Space Technology Mission Directorate, as well as Adjunct Professor at Brown University, and the University of California Santa Cruz.  Her research has focused on how life, particularly microbes, has evolved in the context of the physical environment, both here and potentially elsewhere. She founded and ran the first three Astrobiology Science Conferences (AbSciCon), was the founding co-editor of the International Journal of Astrobiology, and is the former director of the Astrobiology Strategic Analysis and Support Office for NASA.  Astrobiology research includes examining a protein-based scenario for the origin of life, hunting for the most radiation-resistant organisms, and determining signatures for life on extrasolar planets. More recently Rothschild has brought her creativity to the burgeoning field of synthetic biology, articulating a vision for the future of synthetic biology as an enabling technology for NASA’s missions, including human space exploration and astrobiology. Since 2011 she has been the faculty advisor of the award-winning Stanford-Brown iGEM team, which has pioneered the use of synthetic biology to accomplish NASA’s missions, particularly focusing on the human settlement of Mars, astrobiology and such innovative technologies as BioWires and making a biodegradable UAS (drone) and a bioballoon.  Her lab will be move these plans into space in the form of the PowerCell synthetic biology secondary payload on a DLR satellite, EuCROPIS, scheduled to launch in July 2017. She is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London, The California Academy of Sciences and the Explorer’s Club. In 2015, she was awarded the Isaac Asimov Award from the American Humanist Association, and was the recipient of the Horace Mann Award from Brown University, and has been a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) fellow three times, most recently in 2018. She frequently appears on documentaries, tv and radio, and lectures worldwide, including Windsor Castle, Comi Con and the Vatican.


1987-90 National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, NASA Ames Research Center

1985-87 Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University

1985 Ph.D., Molecular and Cell Biology, Brown University

Ph.D. Thesis title: Assessment of evolutionary relationships among protistan phyla and a blue-green prokaryote by comparison of the enzyme ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase.

1981 M.A., Zoology, Indiana University, Bloomington

1979 Visiting Graduate Student, Department of Zoology, University of Maryland, College Park

1978 B.S., Biology, Yale University    

Research Interests

My research straddles two intellectual camps: one, studying the diversity that evolution has wrought on earth and might have elsewhere, and the other figuring out how to use biology as technology for use in aerospace. My research interests focus on astrobiology, space exploration. synthetic biology, evolutionary biology, and the intersections among them, with particular expertise in microbiology, life in extreme environments, and synthetic biology as an enabling technology for exploration. Biology is no longer the province of biologists alone, but are providing inspiration and platforms for new frontiers in geology, planetary science and the aerospace industry. Oh yes; and all things Darwin.

Select Publications

Fujishima, K., Wang, K., Palmer, J., Abe, N., Nakahigashi, K., Endy, D. & Rothschild, L.J 2018. Reconstruction of cysteine biosynthesis using engineered cysteine­free enzymes. Scientific ReportsNature Publishing Group 8:1776. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-19920-y

Emerson, J… & Rothschild, L.J. 2017. Schrödinger’s microbes:  Tools for distinguishing the living from the dead in microbial ecosystems. Microbiome 5:86 DOI 10.1186/s40168-017-0285-3

Folliard, T., Steel, H., Prescott, T.P., Wadhams, G., Rothschild, L.J., & Papachristodoulou, A. 2017. A synthetic recombinase-based feedback loop results in robust expression. ACS Synthetic Biology 6(9): 1663-71. DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.7b00131

Folliard, T. Mertins, B., Steel, H., Prescott, T.P., Newport, T., Jones, C.W., Wadhams, G., Bayer, T., Armitage, J.P., Papachristodoulou, A. & Rothschild, L.J. 2017. Ribo-attenuators: novel elements for reliable and modular riboswitch engineering. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 7: 4599.

Matsubara, T., Fujishima, K, Saltikov, C., Nakamura, S. & Rothschild, L.J. 2016. Earth analogs for past and future life on Mars: Isolation of perchlorate resistant halophiles. Internatl. J. Astrobiology, doi:10.1017/S1473550416000458

Paulino-Lima, I., Fujishima, K., Navarrete, J.U., Galante, D., Rodrigues, F., Azua-Bustos, A., & Rothschild, L.J. 2016. Extremely high UV-C radiation resistant microorganisms from desert environments with different manganese concentrations. Photochem. Photobiol. 163: 327–36.

Holm-Hansen, A.C., Paulino-Lima, I., Fujishima, K., Rothschild, L. & Jensen, P. 2016. Draft Genome Sequence of Hymenobacter sp. Strain AT01-02, Isolated from a Surface Soil Sample in the Atacama Desert, Chile. Genome Announcementsv4, p e01701-15.

Rothschild, L.J. 2016. Synthetic biology as the enabling technology for humans on Mars. Biochemical Society Transactions44(4): 1158-64. DOI: 10.1042/BST20160067;

Toomey, E., Xu, J., Vecchioni, S., Rothschild, L., Wind, S, & Fernandes, G. 2016. Comparison of Canonical versus Silver-Mediated Base-Pairing on Single Molecule Conductance in Poly-cytosine dsDNA. J. Phys. Chem. C 120:7804-9. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.5b11968 

Verseux, C., Acevedo-Rocha, C.G., Chizzolini, F., Rothschild, L.J. 2016. Misconceptions of synthetic biology: Lessons from an interdisciplinary summer school. NanoEthics: Studies of New and Emerging TechnologiesDOI 10.1007/s11569-016-0264-3  

Verseux, C., Baqué, M., Lehto, K., de Vera, J-P., Rothschild, L.J. & Billi, D. 2015. Sustainable life support on Mars – the potential roles of cyanobacteria. Internatl. J. Astrobiology, 28 pp. doi:10.1017/S147355041500021X

Fujishima, K., Venter, C., Wang, K. & Rothschild, L.J. 2015. An overhang-based DNA block shuffling method for creating a customized random library. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group (DOI: 10.1038/srep09740)

Hegde, S., Paulino-Lima, I., Kent, R., Kaltenegger, L. & Rothschild, L.J.  2015. Surface biosignatures of exo-­‐Earths: Remote detection of extraterrestrial life. Proc. Natl. Academy Science, USA. 112(13): 3886-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1421237112. 

 Cumbers, J. & Rothschild, L.J., 2014. Salt Tolerance and Polyphyly in the Cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis (Pleurocapsales). J. Phycol. 50: 472–482.

Horikawa, D.D., Cumbers, J…. et al. Rothschild, L.J. 2013. Analysis of DNA Repair and Protection in the Tardigrade Ramazzottius varieornatus and Hypsibius dujardini after Exposure to UVC Radiation.  PLoS One 8(6): e64793. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064793.

Paulitsch-Fuchs, A.H., Fuchs, E.C., Wexler, A.D., Freund, F.T., Rothschild, L.J., Cherukupally, A. & Euverink, GJ.W. 2012. Prokaryotic transport in electrohydrodynamic structures. Physical Biology 9: 11 pp, doi:10.1088/1478-3975/9/2/026006

Horikawa, D.D., Yamaguchi, A., Sakashita, T., Tanaka, D., Hamada, N., Yukuhiro, F., Kuwahara, H.,  Kunieda, T., Watanabe, M., Nakahara, Y., Wada, S., Funayama, T., Katagiri, C., Higashi, S., Yokobori, S-I., Kuwabara, M., Rothschild, L.J., Okuda, T., Hashimoto, H., & Y.  Kobayashi. 2012. Tolerance of Anhydrobiotic Eggs of the Tardigrade Ramazzottius varieornatus to Extreme Environments. Astrobiology12: 283-9.

Leuko, S., Neilan, B.A., Burns, B.P., Walter, M.R. & Rothschild, L.J. 2011. Molecular Assessment of UVC Radiation-Induced DNA Damage Repair in the Stromatolitic Halophilic Archaeon, Halococcus hamelinensisPhotochem. Photobiol. 102: 140-5.

Johnson, A.P., Pratt, L.M., Vishnivetskaya, T., Pfiffner, S., Bryan, R.A., Dadachova, E., Whyte, L., Radtke, K., Chan, E., Tronick, S., Borgonie, G., Mancinelli, R.M., Rothschild, L.J., Rogoff, D.A., Horikawa, D.D. & Onstott, T.C. 2010. Extended survival of several organisms and amino acids under simulated Martian surface conditions.  Icarus 211: 1162-1178.

Rothschild, L.J. 2010. A powerful toolkit for synthetic biology: over 3.8 billion years of evolution. BioEssays 32:304–313.

Leuko, S., Rothschild, L.J. & Burns, B.P.  2010. Halophilic Archaea and the Search for Extinct and Extant Life on Mars. J. Cosomology 5: 940-50. (

Balk, M., Bose, M., Ertem, G., Rogoff, D.A., Rothschild, L.J. & Freund, F.T.  2009. Oxidation of water to hydrogen peroxide at the rock-water interface due to stress-activated electric currents in rocks.  Earth and Planetary Letters 283: 87-92.

Rothschild, L.J.  2008. The evolution of photosynthesis….again?  Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. B.  363: 2787–2801. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0056.  pp. 1-15.

 Foster, J.S., Singh, A.K., Rothschild, L.J. & Sherman, L.A. 2006. Growth-Phase Dependent Differential Gene Expression in Synechocystis sp. Strain PCC 6803 and Regulation by a Group 2 Sigma Factor. (online, DOI 10.1007/s00203-006-0193-6; Archives of Microbiology)

Bishop, J.L., Louris, S.K., Rogoff, D.A. & Rothschild, L.J. 2006. Iron Oxide: An Early Sunscreen for Photosynthetic Microbes? Internatl. J. Astrobiology 5: 1-12.

Rothschild, L.J. 2004. Protozoology (Protistology) at the dawn of the 21st Century.  J. Eukaryotic Microbiol. 51: 3-7.

Schuerger, A.C., Mancinelli, R.L., Kern, R.G., Rothschild, L.J. & McKay, C.P.  2003. Survival of Bacillus subtilis on Spacecraft Surfaces under Simulated Martian Environments: Implications for the Forward Contamination of Mars.  Icarus 165: 253-276.

Rothschild, L.J. 2003. The Sun: The Impetus of Life in Evolution on Planet Earth: The Impact of the Physical Environment, L. Rothschild and A. Lister, eds.  Academic Press, London. Pp. 87-107.

Rothschild, L.J. & Giver, L.J. 2003. Photosynthesis below the surface in a cryptic microbial mat. Intl. J. Astrobiology 1: 295-304.Rothschild, L.J. & Mancinelli, R.L. 2001. Life in extreme environments. Nature (London) 409: 1092-1101.

Rothschild, L.J. 1990. Earth analogs for Martian life.  Microbes in evaporites, a new model system for life on Mars.  Icarus 88: 246-260.

Rothschild, L.J. 1999. The Influence of UV Radiation on Protistan Evolution. J. Euk. Microbiol. 46: 548-555.

Rothschild, L.J. 1989. Protozoa, Protista, Protoctista: What’s in a name?  J. Hist. Biol. 22: 277-305.

Rothschild, L.J. & DesMarais, D. 1989. Carbon isotope fractionation and the search for life on Mars.  Adv. Space Res. 9: 159-165.

Kite, G.C., Rothschild, L.J. & Dodge, J.D. 1988. Nuclear and plastid DNA’s from the binucleate dinoflagellates Glenodinium (Peridinium) foliaceum and Peridinium balticum. BioSystems 21:151-63.

Rothschild, L.J. & Heywood, P. 1988. “Protistan” nomenclature: Analysis and refutation of some potential objections.  BioSystems 21: 197-202.

Accepted Proposals

2018-9           “Myco-architecture off planet: growing surface structures at destination” (NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) phase 1, Rothschild, PI)

2018-20         “Biological Solutions for Sustainable Mining” (USGS; Rothschild Co-I)

2016-9           “Low cost, disposable and field-deployable biosensors for real-time detection of wildlife diseases” (USGS Innovation Award)

NASA Missions: PI, PowerCell Payload on EuCROPIS

Awards & Others

2018                NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) Fellow, NASA

2018                VanZant Endowed Lectureship sponsored by Rice Bioscience Graduate students

2016                2016 Gagliardi Family Distinguished Lecture, Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI

2016                2016 Colston Symposium Public Lecture, Bristol, UK (7 September)

2016                NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) Fellow, NASA

2016                Vice-Chancellor Award Public Lecture, University of Southern Queensland, Australia

2015                Horace Mann Medal, Brown University Graduate School

2015                American Humanist Association’s Isaac Asimov award (awarded at Annual Meeting; citation:

acceptance speech at

2014                TEDx talk, March 9, Life as we (now) know  (

2013                NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) Fellow, NASA

2013                Lecture, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences-Molecular Frontiers, May

2012                CEO Award, Gen9 G-Prize

2010                Distinguished Planetary Science Lecture, University of Western Ontario (Canada)

2009                Tim Mutch Memorial Lecturer, Brown University

2005                Elected Corresponding Member, International Academy of Astronautics (Life Sciences)

2004                Elected Fellow, California Academy of Sciences 

2004                Elected Fellow, The Explorer’s Club

2004                NASA Outstanding Achievement Award 

2002                Keynote Speaker, Vatican, and Windsor Castle

2002-3             President, Society of Protozoologists

2001                Auger Fellow, Hotchkiss School

2000                NASA Group Achievement Award, Astrobiology Team 

1999                Elected Fellow, Linnean Society of London

1990, 1998      Jack N. Nielson Award, NASA Ames Research Center

1987-90           National Academy of Sciences NRC Research Associate 

1987                National Research Council Fellowship, Canada (declined to accept NAS NRC)

1979                University Fellowship, Indiana University

iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) competition

2018                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown-RISD iGEM team, “Mycotecture” (

2017                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown iGEM team, “Mars: getting there and staying there” (

2016                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown iGEM team, “BioBalloon” ( Blue ribbon sustainability, Maker Faire, winner, best measurement, gold medal, runner-up for best in manufacturing) (see

2015                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown iGEM team, “Self-folding Origami”  (, winner, manufacturing track, gold medal, nominated for best poster, best composite biobrick and best biobrick collection) (see,

2014                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown-Spelman iGEM team, “Towards a biodegradable UAV” (gold medal). Projects: Biomaterials, Waterproofing, Cellulose linker, Amberless Hell Cell, Biodegradation. This project has generated enormous attention, from Discovery Canada to Popular Mechanics, Tech Times, Tech WeekEurope UK, Fast Company, Ubergizmo, Mirror UK, Toronto Star, Autoevolution, Le Monde, Olhar Digital, International Business Times Italia, Endgadget, Forbes, Atlantic Tech, Wired UK, Exec Gov, Washington Post, CNN tech

2013                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown iGEM team, “Synthetic BioCommunication” (gold medal, finalist). Projects: BioWires, CrisprCas, De-Extinction, EuCROPIS

2012                Faculty advisor, Stanford-Brown iGEM team, “Synthetic Astrobiology” (winner, “Best New Part”, Western Regionals; “Top 16” World Championship; honorable mention “Human Practices” Western Regional and World). Projects: Hell Cell, Biomining, Venus Life (

2011                Faculty advisor, Brown-Stanford iGEM team, “Mars BioTools: Synthetic Biology for Space Exploration” (winner, two Editors Choice blue ribbons, Maker Faire Sept. 2011, iGEM gold medal, “Best Presentation” and final four, Americas; sweet 16 and Best New Application, World Championship). Projects: RegoBrick, PowerCell (also see


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