We are interested in understanding the underlying forces of molecular evolution and how Earth’s history may have shaped the way life is today. We engineer microbes with synthetic genes and study their co-adaptation in the laboratory. We care deeply about science communication and outreach.

Principle Investigator: Betul Kacar

Assistant Professor
Molecular and Cellular Biology & Astronomy
NASA Early Career Fellow
Email: betul AT arizona DOT edu
Curriculum Vitae

Laboratory Manager: Madison Levinson


Madison Levinson spent her formative years in Scranton, PA where she learned about astrobiology from an ex-astronaut. During high school, she measured the rate of photosynthesis at various distances from the sun, representing planets in our solar system. An explorer at heart, she traveled to Portland to complete a bachelor’s degree in biology at Lewis and Clark College. To sharpen her research skills she joined the Cohen Lab at OHSU where she helped elucidate functions of PARPs (Poly-ADP Ribose Polymerases). Now she finds herself at her dream job doing astrobiology research in the Kacar Lab. Here she researches the evolutionary paths of ancient proteins and determines the effects of foreign genes in host genomes. In the future she hopes to pursue a PhD in molecular and cellular biology to continue research in the astrobiology field.

Graduate Student: Pearl Lam (ABBS)


Pearl Lam is interested in studying the evolution of the Rubisco enzyme, one of Earth’s ancient proteins heavily implicated in the rise of oxygen in our planet’s early atmosphere. By integrating phylogenetics, genome engineering, and laboratory evolution, she travels back in time and engineers ancient Rubisco proteins into modern cyanobacteria to resurrect an ancient photosynthetic system and study its unique metabolic properties in vivo. Ultimately, she aims to elucidate the kinetics, functionality, and evolutionary history of ancient Rubisco. To learn more about her research,  contact her by email –

Undergraduate Students:

Hanon McShea (Harvard OEB)


Ryan Ward (Harvard CHEM)


Honorary Members: Hope Dang, Zach Adam

Join us!

We accept students through Molecular and Cell Biology and Astronomy Programs. Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows interested in astrobiology, origins of life and experimental evolution, please contact Betul.[Email]