Raman spectroscopic detection of biomolecular markers from Antarctic materials: evaluation for putative Martian habitats

The vital UV-protective and photosynthetic pigments of cyanobacteria and lichens (microbial symbioses) that dominate primary production in Antarctic desert ecosystems auto-fluoresce at short-wavelengths. A long wavelength (1064 nm) near infra-red laser has been used for non-intrusive Ramanspectroscopic analysis of their ecologically significant compounds. There is now much interest in the construction of portable Raman systems for the analysis of cyanobacterial and lichen communities in the field; to this extent, Raman spectra obtained with laboratory-based systems operating at wavelengths of 852 and 1064 nm have been evaluated for potential fieldwork applications of miniaturised units. Selected test specimens of the cyanobacterial Nostoc commune, epilithic lichens Acarospora chlorophana, Xanthoria elegans and Caloplaca saxicola and the endolithic Chroococcidiopsis from Antarctic sites have been examined in the present study. Although some organisms gave useable Raman spectra with short-wavelength lasers, 1064 nm was the only excitation that was consistently excellent for all organisms. We conclude that a 1064 nm Raman spectrometer, miniaturised using an InGaAs detector, is the optimal instrument for in situ studies of pigmented communities at the limits of life on Earth. This has practical potential for the quest for biomolecules residual from any former surface or subsurface life on Mars.


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Authors: Edwards, Howell G.M., Newton, Emma M., Dickensheets, David L., Wynn-Williams, David D.

1 January, 2003
Spectrochimica Acta Part A / 59
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