Chapter 6: The Breadth and Limits of Life on Earth

Thweatt, Jennifer L.
Harman, C.E.
Araújo, M.N.
Marlow, Jeffrey J.
Oliver, Gina C.
Sabuda, Mary C.
Wilpiszeki, Regina L.
Scientific ideas about the potential existence of life elsewhere in the universe are predominantly informed by knowledge about life on Earth. Over the past ∼4 billion years, life on Earth has evolved into millions of unique species. Life now inhabits nearly every environmental niche on Earth that has been explored. Despite the wide variety of species and diverse biochemistry of modern life, many features, such as energy production mechanisms and nutrient requirements, are conserved across the Tree of Life. Such conserved features help define the operational parameters required by life and therefore help direct the exploration and evaluation of habitability in extraterrestrial environments. As new diversity in the Tree of Life continues to expand, so do the known limits of life on Earth and the range of environments considered habitable elsewhere. The metabolic processes used by organisms living on the edge of habitability provide insights into the types of environments that would be most suitable to hosting extraterrestrial life, crucial for planning and developing future astrobiology missions. This chapter will introduce readers to the breadth and limits of life on Earth and show how the study of life at the extremes can inform the broader field of astrobiology.
Citation Formats
J. L. Thweatt et al., “Chapter 6: The Breadth and Limits of Life on Earth,” Astrobiology, vol. 24, pp. 0–0, 2024, Accessed: 00, 2024. [Online]. Available: