BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) -- It's not quite "Guardian of the Galaxy." But an astrobiologist from Indiana University is NASA's newest defender of Earth. 

Lisa Pratt is a Provost Professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.  NASA chose her from thousands of applicants to been the head of Planetary Protection Office at NASA. 

The new position gives her the authority to protect Earth from potential contamination by extraterrestrial life forms. That includes  microorganisms that could live in the ice or groundwater of Mars. Or keeping Earth's microbes from traveling the solar system through interplanetary probes or on the boots of astronauts. 

Pratt has been a member of the IU faculty since 1987, where her research focuses on understanding how microorganisms adapt to extreme environments.

In a release, Pratt said, "I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to the mission of planetary protection at a defining moment in human evolution and the advancement of science." 

"We are on the verge of becoming a spacefaring species, and I feel privileged to be invited into an extraordinary conversation, pushing the frontiers of science, exploration and discovery at NASA. This position plays a direct role in seeking evidence to address a profound question: Are we alone?"she said. 

Pratt holds a Ph.D. in geology from Princeton University, a master's degree in geology from the University of North Carolina and a master's degree in botany from the University of Illinois.

Her position with NASA, at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., is effective Feb. 5. She will become a professor emerita at IU.

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