Principle Investigator: Dr. Betul Kacar
Betul Kacar (pron. BE-tuel KUH-charr) is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona Departments of Cell Biology, Astronomy and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. She is also an associate professor (adjunct) at Earth-Life Science Institute of Tokyo Institute of Technology.
She received her PhD from Emory University working jointly in the Department of Chemistry and the Emory School of Medicine. She was awarded a NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2012 to bring abstractly reconstructed ancestral DNA sequences into the lab for physical, chemical and biological characterization by expressing inferred DNA sequences in modern organisms. Between 2014 and 2017 she lead an independent research group at Harvard University as a Research Associate at the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department. In 2018, she joined University of Arizona where she is focusing on reconstructing key enzymatic intermediates between biological activity and global geochemical reservoirs throughout the Earth’s deep history.
Betul is named a NASA Early Career Faculty Fellow in 2019, and a Scialog Fellow for the Search for life in the Universe in 2020 by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Kavli Foundation. She was awarded grants from the John Templeton Foundation, the National Science Foundation, NASA Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Programs, as well as Harvard Origins Initiative and the University of Arizona to continue this work deeper into the past and to resurrect greater portions of the universally shared ancestral genome. She is interested in understanding life’s origins, evolution and possible existence elsewhere in the Universe.
Only one history of life has been recorded on our planet, but can we reconstruct the contributing metabolic factors of this biological past? Is life a result of a fluke accident? What is the likelihood of life occurring elsewhere in the Universe? To answer these questions, she combines computational and experimental tools and travels backwards in evolutionary time in the laboratory. She follows the evolutionary history of our DNA to unravel how the harsh conditions of our ancient planet shaped life to be the way it is today, and explores the varying roles of chance and necessity in life’s evolution.
Betul Kacar’s work has been recognized by various media outlets, such as European Union Delegation on Education, the UN Women, NOVA Science, BBC, New Scientist, WGBH, MIT Technology Review, The Scientist, SETI Institute, Astrobiology Magazine, Wired, Popular Science, PBS, CNN and Quanta Magazine. In 2012 she co- founded SAGANet: The Online STEM Mentorship and Education Network, she serves on the Board of Advisory Committee of the MIT BioBuilder Foundation and was named “Way Cool Scientist” by the Science Club for Girls, USA in 2016.
Betul Kacar United Nations I am Generation Equality Campaign
Watch a PBS documentary featuring her work: Origins of Life
Watch a recent interview with the WGBH Boston: Reconstructing Evolution
Listen to her interview with the SETI Institute Podcast: Cells, Planets, Astrobiology
NASA Early Career Spotlight Series: Dr. Betul Kacar (University of Arizona)
Betul Kacar Interview Turk of America Magazine
For Turkish please visit Betul Kacar Kimdir?
Betul can be reached at betul (at) arizona (dot) edu or via Twitter.