The role of habitat structure for biomolecule integrity and microbial survival under extreme environmental stress in Antarctica (and Mars?): ecology and technology

The integrity of cells and biomolecules in stressed environments is enhanced within microhabitats. Despite desiccation and low temperatures in Antarctic deserts, the greatest near-surface factor is solar radiation. Photosynthetic microbial communities that pioneer polar deserts harness photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) whilst concurrently adopting protective strategies against UVB with screening pigments or avoidance in stratified habitats. To analyse whole communities in situ, we use laser Raman spectroscopy as a non-intrusive technique for organic compounds and mineral substrata. We use the distinctive spectra of cyanobacterial and lichen UV-screening pigments, and energy-quenching carotenoids to define their functional locations. Their occurrence in extreme habitats and in the fossil record permits extrapolation to conditions on early Earth and analogous habitats on early Mars. We describe our Raman spectral database accumulated with a laboratory FT Raman spectrometer and expansion to Antarctic fieldwork and astrobiology with a novel miniature 1064 nm laser system with an Indium-Gallium-Arsenide detector.


Publication status:
Authors: Wynn-Williams, D.D., Newton, E.M., Edwards, H.G.M.

Editors: Ehrenfreund, P., Angerer, O., Battrick, B.

1 January, 2001
In: Ehrenfreund, P., Angerer, O., Battrick, B. (eds.). Exo-/astro-biology. Proceedings of the First European Workshop, 21 - 23 May 2001, ESRIN, Frascati, Italy, Noordwijk, European Space Agency, 225-237.