Assignment: Biological Astronaut

Imagine you are an exploratory astronaut looking for life throughout the universe. One day you encounter a planet that has no carbon present on its surface. However, your instruments register movement and a variety of other signs that make you think life exists on the surface.

  • Part 1: Before taking a potentially dangerous trip to the surface, you must outline a theoretical framework in which another element can serve as a backbone for macromolecules. (Hint: look for an element on the periodic table that would act similarly to carbon.) Begin by describing this new backbone, including how compounds and macromolecules would form. Detail at least 2 chemical reactions forming macromolecules with this backbone. You may wish add supporting diagrams (created or obtained). Be sure to include references as appropriate.
  • Part 2: Your theoretical framework is deemed strong enough to justify a trip landside. Once there, you are authorized to collect a simple “organism” for experimental use. Collect your specimen(s) and then design a full experiment that will test at least two characteristics that define biological life on Earth. Be sure to include all the relevant parts of an experiment and describe how you would analyze and present the data, results and conclusions.

Take a look at this breakdown for hints on completing this assignment.

Basic Requirements (the assignment will not be accepted or assessed unless the follow criteria have been met):

  • Assignment has been proofread and does not contain any major spelling or grammatical errors
  • Assignment includes appropriate references

Rubric

Outcomes: Define biology and apply its principles. Identify the principles of chemistry that are integral to biology.

Rubric for Biological Astronaut Assignment
Criteria Ratings Max Points
Define atoms and elements through the identification of an element capable of replacing carbon as the backbone atom in macromolecules. Illustrations are encouraged here. Submission identified element that can replace carbon as a backbone element. Illustrations and descriptions included that directly compare the two elements.
5.0 pts
Submission identifies element that can replace carbon as a backbone element. Description directly compares two elements.
4.0 pts
No or wrong element chosen or justification provided is inaccurate/insufficient for identifying replacement backbone element.
0.0 pts
5 pts
Discuss the role electrons play in enabling chosen element to replace carbon. Electrons are discussed in terms of atomic bonding behaviors. Direct comparison is provided between carbon and new element. Illustrations are included to show similarities in bonding activity.
5.0 pts
Electrons are discussed in terms of atomic bonding behaviors. Direct comparison is provided between carbon and new element.
4.0 pts
Electrons are not discussed or are discussed inaccurately in terms of bonding behaviors.
0.0 pts
5 pts
Identify the components of two macromolecule formation reactions and the macromolecules formed. Illustrations/diagrams are encouraged here. Two macromolecules discussed with the new backbone element; all components in the formation of these molecules are correctly identified. Illustrations are included. There is a direct comparison between new macromolecules and traditional macromolecules.
5.0 pts
Two macromolecules discussed with the new backbone element; all components in the formation of these molecules are correctly identified. Illustrations may be included.
4.0 pts
Less than two formation reactions are included or all the components are not properly identified.
0.0 pts
5 pts
Identify at least 4 altered functional groups formed without the use of carbon. At least 4 functional groups identified that would form without carbon. Descriptions are detailed and well diagrammed images/figures included to illustrate these groups.
5.0 pts
At least 4 new functional groups identified that would form without carbon. Descriptions are adequate or basic illustrations included.
4.0 pts
Less than 4 functional groups identified/discussed or new functional groups are inaccurate.
0.0 pts
5 pts
Demonstrate the critical thinking required to conduct a scientific experiment by designing a full experiment to test if an organism is ‘alive’. This experiment contains all the required components of an experiment. All components of an experiment are included and clearly discussed. At least 3 standardized variables included. Hypothesis is clear and testable. Potential compounding factors or areas of uncertainty identified.
5.0 pts
All components of an experiment are included. At least 3 standardized variables included. Hypothesis is clear and testable.
4.0 pts
Experiment does not include all the required components of an experiment or components are inaccurately identified/labeled. Hypothesis is not testable.
0.0 pts
5 pts
The designed experiment tests at least one characteristic that defines biological life. Experiment tests at least one characteristic of biological life and the way this is tested is clearly explained.
5.0 pts
Experiment tests at least one characteristic of biological life.
4.0 pts
Experiment does not test characteristic of biological life.
0.0 pts
5 pts
Possible results from the experiment are discussed, and how it would be concluded this organism is living or not. Organism is also identified as analogous to either prokaryotic or eukaryotic organism. Potential results are discussed and the discussed results logically follow from outlined experiment. Nuances of possible conclusions discussed. Organism identified by cell type.
5.0 pts
Potential results are discussed and the discussed results logically follow from outlined experiment. Organism identified by cell type.
4.0 pts
Potential results are not discussed or the discussed results do not logically follow from outlined experiment. Organism not identified by cell type.
0.0 pts
5 pts
Total points: 35