Raman spectroscopic detection of key biomarkers of cyanobacteria and lichen symbiosis in extreme Antarctic habitats: Evaluation for Mars Lander missions

With proposals that micro-miniaturised Raman spectrometers could soon be part of a suite of analytical instrumentation on the surface of Mars, it is critically important to examine the spectral information that could be forthcoming from attempts to determine key molecular biosignatures under the hostile conditions of extra-terrestrial planetary exploration. Current approaches include the analysis of genuine martian geological material in the form of the SNC class meteorites, the formulation of simulated martian regoliths and the examination of putative martian terrestrial analogues; the latter provide the basis of this paper in the form of Antarctic extremophile habitats. In particular, specimens of epilithic, chasmolithic and endolithic lichen and cyanobacterial colonies sampled along a progressively worsening transect towards a “limits of life” situation, beyond which survival of organisms becomes impossible, provide what is arguably the best terrestrial proving-ground for prototype Raman spectrometers for martian exploration. Here, we report the results of experiments on these extant Antarctic extremophile colonies using a range of Raman excitation wavelengths and experimental conditions and also include a compilation of molecular spectral biosignatures, which may be considered as a suitable database for recognition of bioorganic modification of geological strata.


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Authors: Edwards, Howell G.M., Moody, Caroline D., Jorge Villar, Susana E., Wynn-Williams, David D.

1 January, 2005
Icarus / 174
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