Investigating how to search for remains of life on Mars using rock analysis technology

Researchers from Spain and Chile have used modern technology to detect remains of life in rocks with more than 200 million years in the Chilean Atacama Desert and have verified that this methodology could be replicated in future missions to Mars.

Researchers from the Astrobiology Center (CAB) of Spain (a mixed center of the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations of the Ministry of Science and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) of the Ministry of Defence) and of the Catholic University of the North (Chile), which have applied a powerful "multi-analytic" platform to detect those remains of life.

Finding remains of life in ancient rocks is a challenge, since time and the different processes of formation of these rocks contribute to destroy and recycle any direct evidence of life, has underlined the Center for Astrobiology in a note released today, after the publication of the results of this research in the journal Astrobiology.

And he has pointed out that for that the use of chemical fossils, such as certain molecules or isotopic compositions is more useful for the search for life in ancient environments, where the accumulated impact of various destructive factors such as ultraviolet radiation, erosion, pressure or temperature have been able to cause the gradual degradation of possible biological remains.

In this case, scientists have investigated with this technology the profile of chemical fossils (molecular and isotopic biomarkers) preserved in ancient rocks of the Atacama desert, and specifically samples of three sedimentary rocks (carbonates) from the Triassic-Jurassic period, with the aim of identifying remains of life over the last 200 million years.

In the study, a multi-analytical platform was applied to detect various types of biomolecules with different resistance to degradation and with different capacity to diagnose their biological sources, and the techniques allowed in some cases to infer the metabolism and diversity of the most recent life forms and in others to identify biological sources of older periods, as well as recreate environmental conditions that have predominated in the last 200 million years.

The study authors have stressed that detection of extraterrestrial life can benefit from this approach, since biomarkers can be detected at different levels of chemical complexity, which allows overcoming the limitations of diagnosis due to lack of specificity or degradation over geological time.

In this way, scientists have underlined that similar strategies can be considered both to interpret the results of the current missions on Mars, as well as for future astrobiology to the red planet, in which the use of detection techniques such as those used in this research work is envisaged.


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