The Kacar Lab investigates key questions regarding molecular mechanisms of evolution, the origins of life and the distribution of life throughout our universe. We are interested in understanding life’s working strategies at the molecular level and how the ancestral behaviors of proteins and their host systems change through time.
We use a new approach that reconstructs ancient DNA using phylogenetics, then we engineer this ancient DNA inside microbial genomes, and finally we reanimate these ancient sequences as revenant genes to produce ancient enzymes with phenotypes that can be studied. Our overarching goal is to use this paleophenotype reconstruction method to interpret ancient biosignatures. We ask
- What can the phenotypes of inferred ancient proteins tell us about the origins of critical metabolic pathways?
- How can we reconstruct ancient biological functions representing key evolutionary innovations of our planet’s past?
- Did life in the past function or evolve similarly to life today?
To answer these questions, we attempt to combine evidence from the Earth’s environmental and biological past. We use revenant genes as a proxy to understand critical elements of life’s origins and early evolution.
Our work has been recognized and covered by numerous media outlets including NOVA Science, BBC Focus, New Scientist, MIT Technology Review and the SETI Institute. Dr. Kacar cares deeply about science education, outreach and communication, and in 2012 co-founded SAGANet: The Online STEM Mentorship and Education Network. She currently serves on the Board of Advisory Committee of the MIT BioBuilder Foundation and was named “Way Cool Scientist” by the Science Club for Girls in 2016.
To learn more about our activities:
- Watch a PBS documentary featuring our work: Origins of Life
- Watch a recent interview of Dr. Kacar with the WGBH Boston: Reconstructing Evolution
- Listen to Betul Kacar interview with the SETI Institute Podcast: Cells, Planets, Astrobiology
- NASA Astrobiology - Early Career Spotlight Series: Dr. Betul Kacar