Principal Investigator: Dr. Betul Kacar
Betul Kacar (pron. BE-tuel KUH-charr) is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Bacteriology. She received her Ph.D. in Biomolecular Chemistry from Emory University, and completed her postdoctoral studies at NASA Astrobiology Institute and Harvard University on Origins of Life and Evolutionary Biology. Her research group investigates the coevolution of cellular life and environment in lifeforms extinct and extant, using experimental and computational systems. Dr. Kaçar was selected to receive a Stanley Miller Early Career Award in 2022, a Scialog fellow for Search for Life in the Universe in 2021, and was named a NASA Early Career Fellow in 2020. She partnered with the 2020 UN Women Generation Equality Campaign to support education of girls and women globally and was named a Way Cool Scientist by the Science Club for Girls in 2017. In 2021, she was selected to direct a new NASA-funded multimillion-dollar astrobiology research center focusing on life’s early evolution with emphasis on the natural selection elements over geologic time. In 2022, she was appointed as one of the leaders of a new NASA Research Coordination Network (RCN) on Early Cellular Evolution. In 2022 she delivered a TED talk on the mainstage discussing the chemical cocktail of life in the cosmos.
Our lab is interested in origins of life, the biology of early Earth and how understanding life’s emergence and early mechanisms may assist finding life beyond Earth. We are pioneering the field of molecular paleobiology, her research group builds molecular time machines to explore and attempt to resurrect lost histories to understand why life is the way it is today and to compare biosignatures to potential signatures detected elsewhere in the universe.
Prof. Betul Kacar 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 was a fellow at the Harvard University Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department as a part of Harvard Origins Initiative. In 2018, she joined the University of Arizona as a professor where focused on reconstructing key enzymatic intermediates between biological activity and global geochemical reservoirs throughout the Earth’s deep history together with Molecular Biology, Astronomy and Lunar and Planetary Departments. In 2021, she moved her laboratory to the UW-Madison. She is currently directing a NASA astrobiology research center at the UW-Madison Department of Bacteriology.
Dr. Kacar was 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, Human Frontiers in Science Program, NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Programs, and the NASA Astrobiology Institute, as well as Harvard Origins Initiative, the University of Arizona and the UW-Madison Alumni Foundation to continue this work deeper into the past.
Dr. Kacar’s work has been recognized by various media outlets, such as the UN Women, UNICEF, European Union Delegation on Education, NOVA Science, BBC, NPR Science Friday, MIT Technology Review, Vice News, Wired, PBS, CNN and others. 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 between and was named “Way Cool Scientist” by the Science Club for Girls, USA in 2016.
Betul Kacar TED talk
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
John Templeton Foundation Q&A: Five Questions with Betül Kaçar
Dr. Kacar can be reached at bkacar (at) wisc (dot) edu and on Twitter.