Application of the mars organic analyzer to nucleobase and amine biomarker detection

Skelley, AM, Cleaves HJ, Jayarajah CN, Bada JL, Mathies RA.  2006.  Application of the mars organic analyzer to nucleobase and amine biomarker detection. Astrobiology. 6:824-837.

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acids, bacterial biomarkers, capillary electrophoresis, capillary-electrophoresis, hydrogen-cyanide, lab-on-a-chip, martian, meridiani-planum, meteorites, microfabrication, natural samples, nucleobase detection, polycyclic aromatic-hydrocarbons, prebiotic synthesis, primitive earth conditions, separation, sublimation


The Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA), a portable microfabricated capillary electrophoresis instrument being developed for planetary exploration, is used to analyze a wide variety of fluorescamine-labeled amine-containing biomarker compounds, including amino acids, mono-and diaminoalkanes, amino sugars, nucleobases, and nucleobase degradation products. The nucleobases cytosine and adenine, which contain an exocyclic primary amine, were effectively labeled, separated, and detected at concentrations < 500 nM. To test the general applicability of the MOA for biomarker detection, amino acids and mono- and diamines were extracted from bacterial cells using both hydrolysis and sublimation followed by analysis. The extrapolated limit of detection provided by the valine biomarker was similar to 4 x 10(3) cells per sample. Products of an NH4CN polymerization that simulate a prebiotic synthesis were also successfully isolated via sublimation and analyzed. Adenine and alanine/serine were detected with no additional sample cleanup at 120 +/- 13 mu M and 4.1 +/- mu M, respectively, corresponding to a reaction yield of 0.04% and 0.0003%, respectively. This study demonstrates that the MOA provides sensitive detection and analysis of low levels of a wide variety of amine-containing organic compounds from both biological and abiotic sources.