Publications

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2014
Onstott, TC, Magnabosco C, Aubrey AD, Burton AS, Dworkin JP, Elsila JE, Grunsfeld S, Cao BH, Hein JE, Glavin DP, Kieft TL, Silver BJ, Phelps TJ, van Heerden E, Opperman DJ, Bada JL.  2014.  Does aspartic acid racemization constrain the depth limit of the subsurface biosphere? Geobiology. 12:1-19.   10.1111/gbi.12069   AbstractWebsite

Previous studies of the subsurface biosphere have deduced average cellular doubling times of hundreds to thousands of years based upon geochemical models. We have directly constrained the in situ average cellular protein turnover or doubling times for metabolically active micro-organisms based on cellular amino acid abundances, D/L values of cellular aspartic acid, and the in vivo aspartic acid racemization rate. Application of this method to planktonic microbial communities collected from deep fractures in South Africa yielded maximum cellular amino acid turnover times of similar to 89years for 1km depth and 27 degrees C and 1-2years for 3km depth and 54 degrees C. The latter turnover times are much shorter than previously estimated cellular turnover times based upon geochemical arguments. The aspartic acid racemization rate at higher temperatures yields cellular protein doubling times that are consistent with the survival times of hyperthermophilic strains and predicts that at temperatures of 85 degrees C, cells must replace proteins every couple of days to maintain enzymatic activity. Such a high maintenance requirement may be the principal limit on the abundance of living micro-organisms in the deep, hot subsurface biosphere, as well as a potential limit on their activity. The measurement of the D/L of aspartic acid in biological samples is a potentially powerful tool for deep, fractured continental and oceanic crustal settings where geochemical models of carbon turnover times are poorly constrained. Experimental observations on the racemization rates of aspartic acid in living thermophiles and hyperthermophiles could test this hypothesis. The development of corrections for cell wall peptides and spores will be required, however, to improve the accuracy of these estimates for environmental samples.

2002
Botta, O, Bada JL.  2002.  Extraterrestrial organic compounds in meteorites. Surveys in Geophysics. 23:411-467.   10.1023/a:1020139302770   AbstractWebsite

Many organic compounds or their precursors found in meteorites originated in the interstellar or circumstellar medium and were later incorporated into planetesimals during the formation of the solar system. There they either survived intact or underwent further processing to synthesize secondary products on the meteorite parent body. The most distinct feature of CI and CM carbonaceous chondrites, two types of stony meteorites, is their high carbon content (up to 3% of weight), either in the form of carbonates or of organic compounds. The bulk of the organic carbon consists of an insoluble macromolecular material with a complex structure. Also present is a soluble organic fraction, which has been analyzed by several separation and analytical procedures. Low detection limits can be achieved by derivatization of the organic molecules with reagents that allow for analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy and high performance liquid chromatography. The CM meteorite Murchison has been found to contain more than 70 extraterrestrial amino acids and several other classes of compounds including carboxylic acids, hydroxy carboxylic acids, sulphonic and phosphonic acids, aliphatic, aromatic and polar hydrocarbons, fullerenes, heterocycles as well as carbonyl compounds, alcohols, amines and amides. The organic matter was found to be enriched in deuterium, and distinct organic compounds show isotopic enrichments of carbon and nitrogen relative to terrestrial matter.

1999
Ambler, RP, Bada JL, Finch P, Grocke DR, Eglinton G, Macko SA.  1999.  Preservation of key biomolecules in the fossil record: current knowledge and future challenges - Discussion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences. 354:86-87.Website