Dr. Amanda Garcia

Dr. Amanda Garcia

Info & Affiliations

NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Arizona, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Ph.D., Geology, UCLA, 2018
B.S., Geology, UCLA, 2014

Excellence in Teaching Award, UCLA (2017)
Eugene B. Waggoner Scholarship, UCLA (2017)
Dean’s Scholar Award, UCLA (2014)

Amanda Garcia

Dr. Amanda Garcia began her undergraduate education determined to study fine art. Leaving her hometown of Los Angeles behind, she packed her bags and moved across the country to attend art school on the east coast. During her first semester, she developed a penchant for painting landscapes. She was constantly inspired by the plants, animals, and environments around her. As time progressed, her inspiration with nature transformed into a fascination; she found herself wanting to learn more about the natural world. She soon returned home to take biology and chemistry courses at her local community college.

It was there that she earned her associate degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in math and science. With a desire to continue her education, she transferred to the University of Los Angeles, where she began to explore the field of astrobiology, the study of life’s origin, evolution, and distribution in the universe. She started to ask questions like, “How did planets become habitable?” and “How and when did life first appear on Earth?” She chose to tackle these big questions by investigating the historical crossroads where biology and geology met. Once she began her studies in geobiology, she never looked back and has since had the opportunity to integrate her original interest in biology in new and exciting ways.

In 2019, Amanda received one of NASA’s highly competitive Astrobiology postdoctoral fellowships. Accepting the fellowship, she made her way to the University of Arizona to join Betül Kaçar’s Origins of Life laboratory. As a postdoctoral fellow, Amanda continues to fuse fields and offer unique perspectives as she works to answer questions such as, “Are we alone in the universe?” and “How did life begin on Earth?” A trained geoscientist, she now works in a molecular biology lab where she studies resurrected ancient enzymes integral to early Earth’s biogeochemical cycles and connects their properties to preserved signatures in the geologic record.

Since she put down her paintbrush and picked up a pipette, the multifaceted Dr. Garcia has become a trained paleobiologist, astrobiologist, and practicing genetic engineer of microorganisms. She emphasizes to young scientists the broad range of opportunities that the geosciences can provide. Saying it best herself, “What makes geoscience special is its ability to integrate with a wide variety of academic disciplines and career interests. There are so many facets of geoscience that are useful and approachable for people from a variety of backgrounds.” Amanda also encourages early-career scientists to meet and talk to as many people about their research and career interests as possible. You never know where your educational path may take you, so take a chance and go to that seminar that you think has nothing to do with your studies and sign up to chat with the visiting speaker!


Highlighted works:

Garcia, A.K., McShea, H., Kolaczkowski, B., and Kaçar B., 2020, Reconstructing the evolutionary history of nitrogenases: Evidence for ancestral molybdenum-cofactor utilization: Geobiology, v. 18, p. 394-411, doi:10.1111/gbi.12381

Garcia, A.K. and Kaçar B., 2019, How to resurrect ancestral proteins as proxies for ancient biogeochemistry: Free Radical Biology and Medicine, v. 140, p. 260-269, doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2019.03.033

Garcia, A.K., Schopf, J.W., Yokobori, S., Akanuma, S., Yamagishi, A., 2017, Reconstructed ancestral enzymes suggest long-term cooling of Earth’s photic zone since the Archean: PNAS, v. 114, p. 4619-4624, doi:10.1073/pnas.1702729114


astrobiology, paleobiology, paleoenzymology, women of geobiology, Latinx geobiologists, outstanding educators, postdocs

Bio written by Cathryn Sephus, September 2020