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Aaron Steven Burton

Planetary Scientist

Contact Information

Phone: 281.244.2773
Fax: 281-483-1573

ARES Aaron Steven Burton


Aaron Burton is a planetary scientist within the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at the Johnson Space Center. His research seeks to understand how prebiotic chemical reactions could have led to the origins of life. Such research includes the analysis of organic material in astromaterials such as meteorites. Burton also studies how informational polymers serve as biomarkers in the search for life beyond Earth. He is a member of the SHERLOC team, who will utilize a spectrometer to characterize organics and minerals on Martian surfaces during the Mars 2020 mission. The goals of this mission study past aqueous history, detect the presence of potential biosignatures, and to support the selection, collection and preservation of samples that may be returned to Earth. Another facet of Burton's work is directed towards the maintenance of crew health during spaceflight. An example of this is the Biomolecule Sequencer project, which successfully sequenced DNA in space for the first time in August of 2016.


DegreeArea of StudySchoolYear
Ph.D.ChemistryPortland State University2010
B.S.BiochemistryPortland State University2005
Post DocPostdoctoral FellowNASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt MD(2010 - 2013)

Selected Publications

Elsila JE, Aponte JC, Blackmon DG, Burton AS, Dworkin JP and Glavin DP (2016) Meteoritic Amino Acids: Diversity in Compositions Reflects Parent Body Histories. ACS Central Science 2, 370 – 379.

McIntyre ABR, Rizzardi L, Alexander N, Yu A, Rosen GL, Botkin DJ, Stahl SE, John KK, Castro-Wallace SL, McGrath K, Burton AS, Feinberg AP and Mason CE (2016) Nanopore sequencing in microgravity. NPJ Microgravity . 2, 16035.

Burton AS, Di Stefano M, Lehman N, Orland H, and Micheletti C (2016) The elusive quest for RNA knots. RNA Biology 13, 134 – 139.

Burton AS, McLain H, Glavin DP, Elsila JE, Davidson J, Miller KE, Andronikos AV, Lauretta D and Dworkin JP. (2015) Amino acid analyses of R and CK chondrites. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 50, 470 – 482.

Righter K et al (2015) Mineralogy, petrology, chronology and exposure history of the Chelyabinsk meteorite and parent body. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 50, 1790 – 1819.

Butcher RJ, Brewer G, Burton AS and Dworkin JP. (2014) 1-Azaniumylcyclobutane-1-carboxylic acid hydrate. Acta Crystallographica E70, o217 – o218.

Onstott TC, Magnabosco C, Aubrey AD, Burton AS et al. (2014) Does aspartic acid racemization constrain the depth limit of the subsurface biosphere? Geobiology 12, 1 - 19.

Burton AS, Glavin DP, Elsila JE, Dworkin JP, Jenniskens P and Yin QZ. (2014) The amino acid composition of the Sutter's Mill CM2 Carbonaceous. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 49, 2074 – 2086.

Parker ET, Zhou M, Burton AS, Glavin DP, Dworkin JP, Krishnamurthy R., Fernandez FM, and Bada JL. (2014) A plausible simultaneous synthesis of amino acids and simple peptides on the primordial Earth. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 53, 8132 – 8136.

Burton AS, Grunsfeld S, Elsila JE, Glavin DP and Dworkin JP. (2014) The effects of parent-body hydrothermal heating on amino acid abundances in CI-like chondrites. Polar Science 8, 255 – 263.

Callahan MP, Martin MG, Burton AS, Glavin DP, Dworkin JP. (2014) Amino acid analysis of a microgram meteorite sample by nano liquid chromatography high resolution Orbitrap mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography A 1332, 30 – 34.

Butcher RJ, Brewer G, Burton AS and Dworkin JP. (2013) Isovaline hydrate. Acta Crystallographica E69, o1829 – o1830

Brewer G, Burton AS, Dworkin JP and Butcher RJ. (2013) 2-Methylaspartic acid Hydrate. Acta Crystallographica E69, o1856 – o1857.

Callahan MP, Burton AS, Elsila JE, Baker EM, Smith KE, Glavin DP and Dworkin JP. (2013) A search for amino acids and nucleobases in the Martian meteorite Roberts Massif 04262 using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 48, 786 - 795.

Burton AS, Elsila JE, Hein JE, Glavin DP and Dworkin JP. (2013) Extraterrestrial amino acids identified in metal-rich CH and CB carbonaceous chondrites from Antarctica. Meteorites & Planetary Science 48, 390 - 402.

Jenniskens P et al. (2012) Radar enabled recovery of Sutter's Mill, a unique carbonaceous chondrite regolith breccia. Science 338, 1583 – 1587.

Elsila JE, Charnley SB, Burton AS, Glavin DP and Dworkin JP. (2012) Compound-specific carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen isotopic ratios for amino acids in CM and CR chondrites and their use in evaluating potential formation pathways. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 47, 1517 - 1536.

Glavin DP, Elsila JE, Burton AS, Callahan MP, Dworkin JP, Hilts RW, and Herd CDK. (2012) Unusual non-terrestrial L-proteinogenic amino acid excesses in the Tagish Lake meteorite. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 47, 1347 - 1364. Note: featured on the cover of the August 2012 issue.

Burton AS, Stern JC, Elsila JE, Glavin DP and Dworkin JP. (2012) Understanding prebiotic chemistry through the analysis of extraterrestrial amino acids and nucleobases. Chemical Society Reviews 41, 5459 - 5472.

Burton AS, Elsila JE, Callahan MP, Martin MG, Glavin DP, Johnson NM, and Dworkin JP. (2012) A propensity for n- -amino acids in thermally-altered Antarctic meteorites. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 47, 374 - 386.

Burton AS. (2012) A "warm formamide" scenario for the origins of life might not be so hot. Physics of Life Reviews 9, 114 - 115.

Burton AS, Glavin DP, Callahan MP, Dworkin JP, Jenniskens P, and Shaded MH. (2011) Heterogeneous distributions of amino acids provide evidence of multiple sources within the Almahata Sitta parent body, asteroid 2008 TC3. Meteoritics & Planetary Sciences 46, 1703 – 1712.

Burton AS and Lehman N. (2010) Enhancing the prebiotic relevance of a set of covalently self-assembling, autorecombining RNAs through in vitro selection. Journal of Molecular Evolution 70, 233-240.

Burton AS, Madix RA, Vaidya N, Riley CA, Hayden EJ, Chepetan A, Arenas CD, Larson BC and Lehman N. (2009) Gel purification of radiolabeled nucleic acids via phosphorimaging: Dip-N-Dot. Analytical Biochemistry 388, 351-352.

Burton AS and Lehman N. (2009) DNA before proteins? Recent discoveries in nucleic acid catalysis strengthen the case. Astrobiology 9, 125-130.

Burton AS and Lehman N. (2006) Calcium (II)-dependent catalytic activity of the Azoarcus ribozyme: testing the limits of resolution for in vitro selection. Biochimie 88, 819-825.

Hayden EJ, Riley CA, Burton AS and Lehman N. (2005) RNA-directed construction of structurally complex and active ligase ribozymes through recombination. RNA 11, 1678-1687.

Parker ET, Cleaves, HJ, Burton AS, Glavin DP, Dworkin JP, Zhou M, Bada JL, and Fernández FM. (In press) Conducting Miller-Urey experiments. Journal of Visualized Experiments.