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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
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.

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.   10.1089/ast.2006.6.824   AbstractWebsite

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.