MIT EAPS Directory

Roger Summons

Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology

Roger Summons has wide ranging interests in biogeochemistry and geobiology. His research group studies the co-evolution of Earth’s early life and environment, microbially dominated ecosystems, the structure and biosynthesis of membrane lipids, biological mass extinction events and the origins of fossil fuels. Specific areas of interest include lipid chemistry of geologically significant microbes, organic and isotopic indicators of climate change, biomarkers in sediments and petroleum, origins of life and early life on the Earth.

As PI of the MIT NASA Astrobiology Institute, Summons leads a team that studies the Foundations of Complex Life.

He is also a member of the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) instrument team. SAM is a key part of the instrument payload aboard NASA’s Curiosity Rover and is being used to study organic matter within the rocks on Mars. He joined the MIT faculty in 2001.



Genming Luo, Shuhei Ono, Nicolas J. Beukes, David T. Wang, Shucheng Xie and Roger E. Summons (2016), Rapid oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere 2.33 billion years ago, Science Advances  13 May 2016: Vol. 2, no. 5, e1600134, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600134

Robert B. Miller, Stacia M. Gordon, Samuel Bowring, Brigid Doran, Noah McLean, Zachary Michels, Erin Shea, and Donna L. Whitney (2016), Linking deep and shallow crustal processes during regional transtension in an exhumed continental arc, North Cascades, northwestern Cordillera (USA), Geosphere accepted 27 April, doi: 10.1130/GES01262.1

Liu, X.-L., De Santiago Torio, A., Bosak, T., and Summons, R. E. (2016) Novel archaeal tetraether lipids with a cyclohexyl ring identified in Fayetteville Green Lake, NY, and other sulfidic lacustrine settings, Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom., 30: 1197–1205, doi: 10.1002/rcm.7549

David A. Gold, Jonathan Grabenstatter, Alex de Mendoza, Ana Riesgo, Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo, and Roger E. Summons (2016), Sterol and genomic analyses validate the sponge biomarker hypothesis, PNAS; published ahead of print February 22, 2016, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1512614113

Beaupre, S. R. and Roberts, M. L. and Burton, J. R. and Summons, R. E. (2015) Rapid, high-resolution C-14 chronology of ooids Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 159, pp. 126-138, doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2015.03.009

Bender, M. and Schmidtmann, M. and Summons, R. E. and Rullkotter, J. and Christoffers, J. (2015) A Geomimetic Approach to the Formation and Identification of Fossil Sterane Biomarkers in Crude Oil: 18-nor-D-homo-Androstane and 5 alpha,14 beta-Androstane Chemistry-a European Journal, vol. 21, no. 35, pp. 12501-12508, doi: 10.1002/chem.201502148

Escobedo-Hinojosa, W. I. and Vences-Guzman, M. A. and Schubotz, F. and Sandoval-Calderon, M. and Summons, R. E. and Lopez-Lara, I. M. and Geiger, O. and Sohlenkamp, C. (2015) OlsG (Sinac_1600) Is an Ornithine Lipid N-Methyltransferase from the Planctomycete Singulisphaera acidiphila Journal of Biological Chemistry, vol. 290, no. 24, pp. 15102-15111, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.639575

Freissinet, C. and Glavin, D. P. and Mahaffy, P. R. and Miller, K. E., et al. (2015) Organic molecules in the Sheepbed Mudstone, Gale Crater, Mars Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, vol. 120, no. 3, pp. 495-514, doi: 10.1002/2014je004737

French, K. L. and Hallmann, C. and Hope, J. M. and Schoon, P. L., et al. (2015) Reappraisal of hydrocarbon biomarkers in Archean rocks Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 112, no. 19, pp. 5915-5920, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1419563112

French, K. L. and Rocher, D. and Zumberge, J. E. and Summons, R. E. (2015) Assessing the distribution of sedimentary C-40 carotenoids through time Geobiology, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 139-151, doi: 10.1111/gbi.12126

Kasprak, A. H. and Sepulveda, J. and Price-Waldman, R. and Williford, K. H. and Schoepfer, S. D. and Haggart, J. W. and Ward, P. D. and Summons, R. E. and Whiteside, J. H. (2015) Episodic photic zone euxinia in the northeastern Panthalassic Ocean during the end-Triassic extinctionGeology, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 307-310, doi: 10.1130/g36371.1

Love, G. D. and Summons, R. E. (2015) The molecular record of Cryogenian sponges - a response to Antcliffe (2013) Palaeontology, vol. 58, no. 6, pp. 1131-1136, doi: 10.1111/pala.12196

Luo, G. M. and Hallmann, C. and Xie, S. C. and Ruan, X. Y. and Summons, R. E. (2015)Comparative microbial diversity and redox environments of black shale and stromatolite facies in the Mesoproterozoic Xiamaling Formation Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 151, pp. 150-167, doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2014.12.022

Martindale, R. C. and Strauss, J. V. and Sperling, E. A. and Johnson, J. E., et al. (2015) Sedimentology, chemostratigraphy, and stromatolites of lower Paleoproterozoic carbonates, Turee Creek Group, Western Australia Precambrian Research, vol. 266, pp. 194-211, doi: 10.1016/j.precamres.2015.05.021

Miller, K. E. and Kotrc, B. and Summons, R. E. and Belmahdi, I. and Buch, A. and Eigenbrode, J. L. and Freissinet, C. and Glavin, D. P. and Szopa, C. (2015) Evaluation of the Tenax trap in the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite on the Curiosity rover as a potential hydrocarbon source for chlorinated organics detected in Gale Crater Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, vol. 120, no. 8, pp. 1446-1459, doi: 10.1002/2015je004825

Schmerk, C. L. and Welander, P. V. and Hamad, M. A. and Bain, K. L. and Bernards, M. A. and Summons, R. E. and Valvano, M. A. (2015) Elucidation of the Burkholderia cenocepacia hopanoid biosynthesis pathway uncovers functions for conserved proteins in hopanoid-producing bacteria Environmental Microbiology, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 735-750, doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12509

Schubotz, F. and Hays, L. E. and Meyer-Dombard, D. R. and Gillespie, A. and Shock, E. L. and Summons, R. E. (2015) Stable isotope labeling confirms mixotrophic nature of streamer biofilm communities at alkaline hot springs Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 6, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00042

Sistiaga, A. and Wrangham, R. and Rothman, J. M. and Summons, R. E. (2015) New Insights into the Evolution of the Human Diet from Faecal Biomarker Analysis in Wild Chimpanzee and Gorilla Faeces Plos One, vol. 10, no. 6, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128931

Srain, B. and Pantoja, S. and Sepulveda, J. and Lange, C. B. and Munoz, P. and Summons, R. E. and McKay, J. and Salamanca, M. (2015) Interdecadal changes in intensity of the oxygen minimum zone off Concepcion, Chile ( similar to 36 degrees S), over the last century Biogeosciences, vol. 12, no. 20, pp. 6045-6058, doi: 10.5194/bg-12-6045-2015

Srain, B. and Sepulveda, J. and Pantoja, S. and Summons, R. E. and Quinones, R. A. and Levipan, H. A. (2015) Archaeal and bacterial assemblages in the Oxygen Minimum Zone of the upwelling ecosystem off Central Chile as determined by organic biomarkers Gayana, vol. 79, no. 1, pp. 26-44, doi: 10.4067/S0717-65382015000100005

Tulipani, S. and Grice, K. and Greenwood, P. F. and Haines, P. W. and Sauer, P. E. and Schimmelmann, A. and Summons, R. E. and Foster, C. B. and Bottcher, M. E. and Playton, T. and Schwark, L. (2015) Changes of palaeoenvironmental conditions recorded in Late Devonian reef systems from the Canning Basin, Western Australia: A biomarker and stable isotope approach Gondwana Research, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 1500-1515, doi: 10.1016/

Tulipani, S. and Grice, K. and Greenwood, P. F. and Schwark, L. and Bottcher, M. E. and Summons, R. E. and Foster, C. B. (2015) Molecular proxies as indicators of freshwater incursion-driven salinity stratification Chemical Geology, vol. 409, pp. 61-68, doi: 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2015.05.009

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Cox Visiting Professor, Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California (2015-6) | Honorary Fellow of the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany (2013) | Inaugural Fellow, Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry (2012) | Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology (2012) | Visiting Professorial Fellow, University of NSW (2011) | Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, University of Wollongong (2009) | Moore Scholar, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology (2008) | Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London (2008) | Fellow, Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (2008) | Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize (2008) | Elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (2006) | Halpern Lecturer and Inaugural Halpern Medallist University of Wollongong (2005) | Alfred E Treibs Medal of the Geochemical Society (2003) | Australian Organic Geochemistry Medal (2002) | Morrison Lecturer, Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry (2001) | Elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science (1998) | PESA Australian Lecturer, Petroleum Explorationists Society of Australia (1998)| Australian Academy and Royal Society Guest Fellowship, Bristol University (1989) | Best paper Award by the Organic Geochemistry Division, Geochemical Society (1988) | Elected as Fellow, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (1987) | Wollongong College - University of NSW Comm. Postgraduate Scholarship (1969-1972) | Wollongong College - University of NSW Peter Beckmann Memorial Prize, Chemistry III & NSW Geological Survey Prize, Geology I (1968)

Contact Information

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Ph.D., Chemistry, University of New South Wales, Wollongong University College, 1972
B.Sc., Chemistry (Honors Class 1), University of NSW, Wollongong University College, 1968

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