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2008
Botta, O, Bada JL, Gomez-Elvira J, Javaux E, Selsis F, Summons R.  2008.  "Strategies of life detection": Summary and outlook. Space Science Reviews. 135:371-380.   10.1007/s11214-008-9357-9   Website
Bada, JL, Ehrenfreund P, Grunthaner F, Blaney D, Coleman M, Farrington A, Yen A, Mathies R, Amudson R, Quinn R, Zent A, Ride S, Barron L, Botta O, Clark B, Glavin D, Hofmann B, Josset JL, Rettberg P, Robert F, Sephton M.  2008.  Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector. Space Science Reviews. 135:269-279.   10.1007/s11214-007-9213-3   AbstractWebsite

One of the fundamental challenges facing the scientific community as we enter this new century of Mars research is to understand, in a rigorous manner, the biotic potential both past and present of this outermost terrestrial-like planet in our solar system. Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector has been selected for the Pasteur payload of the European Space Agency's (ESA's) ExoMars rover mission and is considered a fundamental instrument to achieve the mission's scientific objectives. The instrument is named Urey in recognition of Harold Clayton Urey's seminal contributions to cosmochemistry, geochemistry, and the study of the origin of life. The overall goal of Urey is to search for organic compounds directly in the regolith of Mars and to assess their origin. Urey will perform a groundbreaking investigation of the Martian environment that will involve searching for organic compounds indicative of life and prebiotic chemistry at a sensitivity many orders of magnitude greater than Viking or other in situ organic detection systems. Urey will perform the first in situ search for key classes of organic molecules using state-of-the-art analytical methods that provide part-per-trillion sensitivity. It will ascertain whether any of these molecules are abiotic or biotic in origin and will evaluate the survival potential of organic compounds in the environment using state-of-the-art chemoresistor oxidant sensors.

Cleaves, HJ, Chalmers JH, Lazcano A, Miller SL, Bada JL.  2008.  A reassessment of prebiotic organic synthesis in neutral planetary atmospheres. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 38:105-115.   10.1007/s11084-007-9120-3   AbstractWebsite

The action of an electric discharge on reduced gas mixtures such as H(2)O, CH(4) and NH(3) (or N(2)) results in the production of several biologically important organic compounds including amino acids. However, it is now generally held that the early Earth's atmosphere was likely not reducing, but was dominated by N(2) and CO(2). The synthesis of organic compounds by the action of electric discharges on neutral gas mixtures has been shown to be much less efficient. We show here that contrary to previous reports, significant amounts of amino acids are produced from neutral gas mixtures. The low yields previously reported appear to be the outcome of oxidation of the organic compounds during hydrolytic workup by nitrite and nitrate produced in the reactions. The yield of amino acids is greatly increased when oxidation inhibitors, such as ferrous iron, are added prior to hydrolysis. Organic synthesis from neutral atmospheres may have depended on the oceanic availability of oxidation inhibitors as well as on the nature of the primitive atmosphere itself. The results reported here suggest that endogenous synthesis from neutral atmospheres may be more important than previously thought.

2007
Skelley, AM, Aubrey AD, Willis PA, Amashukeli X, Ehrenfreund P, Bada JL, Grunthaner FJ, Mathies RA.  2007.  Organic amine biomarker detection in the Yungay region of the Atacama Desert with the Urey instrument. Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences. 112   10.1029/2006jg000329   AbstractWebsite

The Urey in situ organic compound analysis instrument, consisting of a subcritical water extractor ( SCWE) and a portable microchip capillary electrophoresis instrument called the Mars Organic Analyzer ( MOA), was field tested in the Atacama Desert, Chile, in June 2005. Soil samples from the most arid Yungay region were collected, biomarkers were extracted by the SCWE, and organic amine composition and amino acid chirality analysis was performed by the MOA. Samples collected from the top 1 cm of duracrust soil but shielded from the ambient environment by rocks were compared to the exposed duracrust. The shielded duracrust yielded amines and amino acids ranging from 50 to 100 ppb, while amino acid signals from the exposed duracrust were below blank levels. Samples from buried gypsum deposits located directly above a water flow channel contained amino acids ranging from 13 to 90 ppb. Chiral analysis revealed D/L ratios of 0.39 +/- 0.08 and 0.34 +/- 0.07 for alanine/serine and 0.78 +/- 0.06 for aspartic acid, indicating significant racemization of biologically produced amino acids. On the basis of the D/L ratios, we estimate sample ages ranging from 10(3) to 10(5) years. These results demonstrate the successful field testing of the Urey instrument, as well as the detection of biomarkers from past terrestrial life in one of the most arid and Mars-like regions on Earth.

2006
Kminek, G, Bada JL.  2006.  The effect of ionizing radiation on the preservation of amino acids on Mars. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 245:1-5.   10.1016/j.epsl.2006.03.008   AbstractWebsite

Amino acids are excellent biomarkers in the search for life on Mars because they are essential for biology as we know it and they are robust enough to survive for billions of years in the cold and dry Martian environment. However, amino acids and other organic compounds on Mars are exposed to the ionizing radiation from space and from the decay of radionuclides. This process and its role in the preservation of organic compounds has not been adequately addressed in the past. Based on measured radiolysis constants of amino acids and radiation dose estimates for Mars we show that the detection of an amino acid signature derived from an early Martian biosphere is not limited by its radiolytic decomposition as long as the amino acids are shielded adequately from space radiation. This indicates clearly the need to access the Martian subsurface in the search for molecular traces of an extinct Martian biosphere. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Aubrey, A, Cleaves HJ, Chalmers JH, Skelley AM, Mathies RA, Grunthaner FJ, Ehrenfreund P, Bada JL.  2006.  Sulfate minerals and organic compounds on Mars. Geology. 34:357-360.   10.1130/g22316.1   AbstractWebsite

Strong evidence for evaporitic sulfate minerals such as gypsum and jarosite has recently been found on Mars. Although organic molecules are often codeposited with terrestrial evaporitic minerals, there have been no systematic investigations of organic components in sulfate minerals. We report here the detection of organic material, including amino acids and their amine degradation products, in ancient terrestrial sulfate minerals. Amino acids and amines appear to be preserved for geologically long periods in sulfate mineral matrices. This suggests that sulfate minerals should be prime targets in the search for organic compounds, including those of biological origin, on Mars.

2004
Glavin, DP, Cleaves HJ, Schubert M, Aubrey A, Bada JL.  2004.  New method for estimating bacterial cell abundances in natural samples by use of sublimation. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 70:5923-5928.   10.1128/aem.70.10.5923-5928.2004   AbstractWebsite

We have developed a new method based on the sublimation of adenine from Escherichia coli to estimate bacterial cell counts in natural samples. To demonstrate this technique, several types of natural samples, including beach sand, seawater, deep-sea sediment, and two soil samples from the Atacama Desert, were heated to a temperature of 500degreesC for several seconds under reduced pressure. The sublimate was collected on a cold finger, and the amount of adenine released from the samples was then determined by high-performance liquid chromatography with UV absorbance detection. Based on the total amount of adenine recovered from DNA and RNA in these samples, we estimated bacterial cell counts ranging from similar to10(5) to 10(9) E. coli cell equivalents per gram. For most of these samples, the sublimation-based cell counts were in agreement with total bacterial counts obtained by traditional DA-PI (4,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) staining.

2001
Bada, JL.  2001.  State-of-the-art instruments for detecting extraterrestrial life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 98:797-800.   10.1073/pnas.98.3.797   Website
Glavin, DP, Schubert M, Botta O, Kminek G, Bada JL.  2001.  Detecting pyrolysis products from bacteria on Mars. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 185:1-5.   10.1016/s0012-821x(00)00370-8   AbstractWebsite

A pyrolysis/sublimation technique was developed to isolate volatile amine compounds from a Mars soil analogue inoculated with similar to 10 billion Escherichia coli cells. In this technique, the inoculated soil is heated to 500 degreesC for several seconds at Martian ambient pressure and the sublimate, collected by a cold finger, then analyzed using high performance liquid chromatography. Methylamine and ethylamine, produced from glycine and alanine decarboxylation, were the most abundant amine compounds detected after pyrolysis of the cells. A heating cycle similar to that utilized in our experiment was also used to release organic compounds from the Martian soil in the 1976 Viking gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) pyrolysis experiment. The Viking GC/MS did not detect any organic compounds of Martian origin above a level of a few parts per billion in the Martian surface soil. Although the Viking GC/MS instruments were not specifically designed to search for the presence of living cells on Mars, our experimental results indicate that at the part per billion level, the degradation products generated from several million bacterial cells per gram of Martian soil would not have been detected. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

1999
Hutt, LD, Glavin DP, Bada JL, Mathies RA.  1999.  Microfabricated capillary electrophoresis amino acid chirality analyzer for extraterrestrial exploration. Analytical Chemistry. 71:4000-4006.   10.1021/ac9903959   AbstractWebsite

Chiral separations of fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled amino acids have been performed on a microfabricated capillary electrophoresis chip to explore the feasibility of using such devices to analyze for extinct or extant life signs in extraterrestrial environments. The test system consists of a folded electrophoresis channel (19.0 cm long x 150 mu m wide x 20 mu m deep) that was photolithographically fabricated in a 10-cm-diameter glass wafer sandwich, coupled to a laser-excited confocal fluorescence detection apparatus providing subattomole sensitivity. Using a sodium dodecyl sulfate/gamma-cyclodextrin pH 10.0 carbonate electrophoresis buffer and a separation voltage of 550 V/cm at 10 degrees C, baseline resolution was observed for Val, Ala, Glu, and Asp enantiomers and Gly in only 4 min. Enantiomeric ratios were determined for amino acids extracted from the Murchison meteorite, and these values closely matched values determined by HPLC. These results demonstrate the feasibility of using microfabricated lab-on-a-chip systems to analyze extraterrestrial samples for amino acids.

Becker, L, Popp B, Rust T, Bada JL.  1999.  The origin of organic matter in the Martian meteorite ALH84001. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 167:71-79.   10.1016/s0012-821x(99)00014-x   AbstractWebsite

Stable carbon isotope measurements of the organic matter associated with the carbonate globules and the bulk matrix material in the ALH84001 Martian meteorite indicate that two distinct sources are present in the sample. The delta(13)C values for the organic matter associated with the carbonate globules averaged -26 parts per thousand and is attributed to terrestrial contamination, In contrast, the delta(13)C values for the organic matter associated with the bulk matrix material yielded a value of -15 parts per thousand. The only common sources of carbon on the Earth that yield similar delta(13)C values, other then some diagenetically altered marine carbonates, are C(4) plants. A delta(13)C value of -15 parts per thousand, on the other hand, is consistent with a kerogen-like component, the most ubiquitous form of organic matter found in carbonaceous chondrites such as the Murchison meteorite. Examination of the carbonate globules and bulk matrix material using laser desorption mass spectrometry (LDMS) indicates the presence of a high molecular weight organic component which appears to be extraterrestrial in origin, possibly derived from the exogenous delivery of meteoritic or cometary debris to the surface of Mars. (C) 1999 Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Becker, L, Popp B, Rust T, Bada JL.  1999.  The origin of organic matter in the Martian meteorite ALH84001. Life Sciences: New Insights into Complex Organics in Space. 24( Ehrenfreund P, Robert F, Eds.).:477-488., Oxford: Pergamon Press Ltd   10.1016/s0273-1177(99)00090-3   Abstract

Stable carbon isotope measurements of the organic matter associated with the carbonate globules and the bulk matrix material in the ALH84001 Martian meteorite indicate that two distinct sources are present in the sample. The delta(13) C values for the organic matter associated with the carbonate globules averaged -26 parts per thousand and is attributed to terrestrial contamination. In contrast, the delta(13)C values for the organic matter associated with the bulk matrix material yielded a value of -15 parts per thousand. The only common carbon sources on the Earth that yield similar delta(13) values, other then some diagenetically altered marine carbonates, are C(4) plants. A delta(13)C value of -15 parts per thousand, on the other hand, is consistent with a kerogen-like component, the most ubiquitous form of organic matter found in carbonaceous chondrites such as the Murchison meteorite. Examination of the carbonate globules and bull; matrix material using laser desorption mass spectrometry (LDMS) indicates the presence of a high molecular weight organic component which appears to be extraterrestrial in origin, possibly derived from the exogenous delivery of meteoritic or cometary debris to the surface of Mars. (C) 1999 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.

1998
Bada, JL, Glavin DP, McDonald GD, Becker L.  1998.  A search for endogenous amino acids in martian meteorite ALH84001. Science. 279:362-365.   10.1126/science.279.5349.362   AbstractWebsite

Trace amounts of glycine, serine, and alanine were detected in the carbonate component of the martian meteorite ALH84001 by high-performance liquid chromatography. The detected amino acids were not uniformly distributed in the carbonate component and ranged in concentration from 0.1 to 7 parts per million. Although the detected alanine consists primarily of the L enantiomer, low concentrations (<0.1 parts per million) of endogenous D-alanine may be present in the ALH84001 carbonates. The amino acids present in this sample of ALH84001 appear to be terrestrial in origin and similar to those in Allan Hills ice, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that minute amounts of some amino acids such as D-alanine are preserved in the meteorite.