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The search for traces of life is one of the principal objectives of Mars exploration. Central to this objective is the concept of habitability, the set of conditions that allows the appearance of life and successful establishment of microorganisms in any one location. While environmental conditions may have been conducive to the appearance of life early in martian history, habitable conditions were always heterogeneous on a spatial scale and in a geological time frame. This "punctuated" scenario of habitability would have had important consequences for the evolution of martian life, as well as for the presence and preservation of traces of life at a specific landing site. We hypothesize that, given the lack of long-term, continuous habitability, if martian life developed, it was (and may still be) chemotrophic and anaerobic. Obtaining nutrition from the same kinds of sources as early terrestrial chemotrophic life and living in the same kinds of environments, the fossilized traces of the latter serve as useful proxies for understanding the potential distribution of martian chemotrophs and their fossilized traces. Thus, comparison with analog, anaerobic, volcanic terrestrial environments (Early Archean >3.5-3.33 Ga) shows that the fossil remains of chemotrophs in such environments were common, although sparsely distributed, except in the vicinity of hydrothermal activity where nutrients were readily available. Moreover, the traces of these kinds of microorganisms can be well preserved, provided that they are rapidly mineralized and that the sediments in which they occur are rapidly cemented. We evaluate the biogenicity of these signatures by comparing them to possible abiotic features. Finally, we discuss the implications of different scenarios for life on Mars for detection by in situ exploration, ranging from its non-appearance, through preserved traces of life, to the presence of living microorganisms. KEY WORDS : Mars-Early Earth-Anaerobic chemotrophs-Biosignatures-Astrobiology missions to Mars.
The study of the evolution of organic matter subjected to space conditions, and more specifically to solar photons in the vacuum ultraviolet range (120-200 nm) has been undertaken in low Earth Orbit since the 90’s, and implemented on various space platforms. The most recent exposure facilities are BIOPAN outside the Russian automatic capsules FOTON, and EXPOSE-E & -R (1&2) outside the International Space Station. They allow the photolysis of many different samples simultaneously, and provide us with valuable data about the formation and evolution of organic matter in the Solar System (meteorites, comets, Titan’s atmosphere, the Martian surface...) and in the Interstellar Medium. They have been used by European teams in the recent past(ORGANIC on BIOPAN V-FOTON M2 and UVolution on BIOPAN VI-FOTON M3, PROCESS on EXPOSE-E, AMINO and ORGANICS on EXPOSE-R), and a new EXPOSE set is currently exposed outside the ISS (PSS on EXPOSE-R2). These existing tools are very valuable ; however, they have significant limitations that limit their capabilities and scientific return. One of the most critical issues for current studies is the lack of any in-situ analysis of the evolution of the samples as a function of time. Only two measurements are available for the experiment : one before and one after the exposure. A significant step forward has been achieved with the O/OREOS NASA nanosatellite and the OREOcube ESA project with onboard UV-visible measurements. However, for organic samples, following the evolution of the samples would be more informative and provide greater insight with infrared measurements, which display specific patterns characteristic of major organic functionalities in the mid-infrared range (4000-1000 cm-1).
Expose is a multi-user instrument for astrobiological and astrochemical experiments in space. Installed at the outer surface of the International Space Station, it enables investigators to study the impact of the open space environment on biological and biochemical test samples. Two Expose missions have been completed so far, designated as Expose-E (Rabbow et al. 2012) and Expose-R (Rabbow et al. this issue). One of the space-unique environmental factors offered by Expose is full-spectrum, ultraviolet (UV)-rich electromagnetic radiation from the Sun. This paper describes and analyses how on Expose-R, access of the test samples to Solar radiation degraded during space exposure in an unpredicted way. Several windows in front of the Sun-exposed test samples acquired a brown shade, resulting in a reduced transparency in visible light, UV and vacuum UV (VUV). Post-flight investigations revealed the discolouration to be caused by a homogenous film of cross-linked organic polymers at the inside of the windows. The chemical signature varied per sample carrier. No such films were found on windows from sealed, pressurized compartments, or on windows that had been kept out of the Sun. This suggests that volatile compounds originating from the interior of the Expose facility were cross-linked and photo-fixed by Solar irradiation at the rear side of the windows. The origin of the volatiles was not fully identified ; most probably there was a variety of sources involved including the biological test samples, adhesives, plastics and printed circuit boards. The outer surface of the windows (pointing into space) was chemically impacted as well, with a probable effect on the transparency in VUV. The reported analysis of the window contamination on Expose-R is expected to help the interpretation of the scientific results and offers possibilities to mitigate this problem on future missions – in particular Expose-R2, the direct successor of Expose-R.
In order to confirm the results of previous experiments concerning the chemical behaviour of organic molecules in the space environment, organic molecules (amino acids and a dipeptide) in pure form and embedded in meteorite powder were exposed in the AMINO experiment in the EXPOSE-R facility onboard the International Space Station. After exposure to space conditions for 24 months (2843 h of irradiation), the samples were returned to the Earth and analysed in the laboratory for reactions caused by solar ultraviolet (UV) and other electromagnetic radiation. Laboratory UV exposure was carried out in parallel in the Cologne DLR Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt). The molecules were extracted from the sample holder and then (1) derivatized by silylation and analysed by gas chromatography coupled to a mass spectrometer (GC–MS) in order to quantify the rate of degradation of the compounds and (2) analysed by high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) in order to understand the chemical reactions that occurred. The GC–MS results confirm that resistance to irradiation is a function of the chemical nature of the exposed molecules and of the wavelengths of the UV light. They also confirm the protective effect of a coating of meteorite powder. The most altered compounds were the dipeptides and aspartic acid while the most robust were compounds with a hydrocarbon chain. The MS analyses document the products of reactions, such as decarboxylation and decarbonylation of aspartic acid, taking place after UV exposure. Given the universality of chemistry in space, our results have a broader implication for the fate of organic molecules that seeded the planets as soon as they became habitable as well as for the effects of UV radiation on exposed molecules at the surface of Mars, for example.
Abstract Extraterrestrial habitability is a complex notion. We briefly review what is known about the origin of life on Earth, that is, life based on carbon chemistry and water. We then discuss habitable conditions (past and present) for established life and for the survival of microorganisms. Based on these elements, we propose to use the term habitable only for conditions necessary for the origin of life, the proliferation of life, and the survival of life. Not covered by this term would be conditions necessary for prebiotic chemistry and conditions that would allow the recognition of extinct or hibernating life. Finally, we apply this concept to the potential emergence of life on Mars where suitable conditions for life to start, proliferate, and survive have been heterogeneous throughout its history. These considerations have a profound impact on the nature and distribution of eventual traces of martian life, or any precursor, and must therefore inform our search-for-life strategies.
The PROCESS (PRebiotic Organic ChEmistry on the Space Station) experiment was part of the EXPOSE-E payload outside the European Columbus module of the International Space Station from February 2008 to August 2009. During this interval, organic samples were exposed to space conditions to simulate their evolution in various astrophysical environments. The samples used represent organic species related to the evolution of organic matter on the small bodies of the Solar System (carbonaceous asteroids and comets), the photolysis of methane in the atmosphere of Titan, and the search for organic matter at the surface of Mars. This paper describes the hardware developed for this experiment as well as the results for the glycine solid-phase samples and the gas-phase samples that were used with regard to the atmosphere of Titan. Lessons learned from this experiment are also presented for future low-Earth orbit astrochemistry investigations.
To understand the chemical behavior of organic molecules in the space environment, amino acids and a dipeptide in pure form and embedded in meteorite powder were exposed in the PROCESS experiment in the EXPOSE-E facility mounted on the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF) platform on board the International Space Station (ISS). After exposure to space conditions for 18 months, the samples were returned to Earth and analyzed in the laboratory for reactions caused by solar UV and cosmic radiation. Chemical degradation and possible racemization and oligomerization, the main reactions caused by photochemistry in the vacuum ultraviolet domain (VUV, wavelength range 100–200 nm for photon energy from 6.2 to 12.4 eV) were examined in particular. The molecules were extracted and derivatized by silylation and analyzed by gas chromatograph coupled to a mass spectrometer (GC-MS) to quantify the rate of the degradation of the compounds. Laboratory exposure in several wavelength ranges from UV to VUV was carried out in parallel in the Cologne Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) Center and Centre de biophysique moléculaire (CBM) laboratories. The results show that resistance to irradiation is a function of the chemical nature of the exposed molecules and the wavelengths of the UV light. The most altered compounds were the dipeptide, aspartic acid, and aminobutyric acid. The most resistant were alanine, valine, glycine, and aminoisobutyric acid. Our results also demonstrate the protective effect of meteorite powder, which reemphasizes the importance of exogenic contribution to the inventory of prebiotic organics on early Earth.
The delivery of extraterrestrial organic materials to primitive Earth from meteorites or micrometeorites has long been postulated to be one of the origins of the prebiotic molecules involved in the subsequent apparition of life. Here, we report on experiments in which vacuum UV photo-irradiation of interstellar/circumstellar ice analogues containing H(2)O, CH(3)OH, and NH(3) led to the production of several molecules of prebiotic interest. These were recovered at room temperature in the semi-refractory, water-soluble residues after evaporation of the ice. In particular, we detected small quantities of hydantoin (2,4-imidazolidinedione), a species suspected to play an important role in the formation of poly- and oligopeptides. In addition, hydantoin is known to form under extraterrestrial, abiotic conditions, since it has been detected, along with various other derivatives, in the soluble part of organic matter of primitive carbonaceous meteorites. This result, together with other related experiments reported recently, points to the potential importance of the photochemistry of interstellar "dirty" ices in the formation of organics in Solar System materials. Such molecules could then have been delivered to the surface of primitive Earth, as well as other telluric (exo-) planets, to help trigger first prebiotic reactions with the capacity to lead to some form of primitive biomolecular activity.
Two GC-MS methods for the enantioselective separation of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids are compared. Ethyl chloroformate and 2-chloropropanol were used to derivatize amino acid enantiomers. The diastereomers formed were separated on a non-chiral column by capillary gas chromatography. The separation performances were compared to those obtained when using non-chiral derivatization on a chiral column. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Five peptide thioesters of increasing length were fragmented using two processes, in-source and in-collision cell fragmentation, using an electrospray source coupled to a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer. Comparison of their fragmentations was made in regard to their length. The two fragmentation conditions show that the peptide length has no influence on structural information and that the fragmentation efficiency is higher for the smallest peptides than for the longest. The particularity of these peptide thioesters consists of the neutral loss of ethanethiol. The absence of the a(3) fragment ion and the presence of the (a(3)-17) ion on the collision-induced dissociation mass spectra are noted.
Leucine, alpha-methyl leucine and two peptides were exposed to space conditions on board the MIR station during the Perseus-Exobiology mission. This long duration space mission was aimed at testing the delivery of prebiotic building blocks. During this mission, two amino acids (leucine and alpha-methyl leucine) and two peptides (leucine-diketopiperazine and trileucine thioethylester) were exposed in Earth orbit for three months. Basalt, clay and meteorite powder were also mixed with the samples in order to simulate the effects of potential meteorite protection. Analysis of the material after the flight did not reveal any racemization or polymerisation but did provide information regarding photochemical pathways for the degradation of leucine and of the tripeptide.
Mineral surfaces probably participated in the chemical processes which led to life in the primitive oceans. The ordered conformations of simple acidic peptides exposed to insoluble minerals are described. Alternating poly(Glu-Leu) adopts a random coil conformation in water due to charge repulsion. The polypeptide extracts cations from insoluble crystalline CdS or molybdenum and adopts an ordered conformation. CdS leads to the formation of beta-sheets whereas molybdenum leads to alpha-helices, Peptides with at least 10-amino acids are necessary to exhibit a significative adsorption onto the surface, Under the same conditions, montmorillonite adsorbs the polypeptide but does not induce any conformational change.
Alternating poly(Glu-Leu) was synthesized by the condensation of the corresponding dipeptide p-nitrophenyl ester at high concentration. It exhibits a random coil structure in pure water at neutral pH. Addition of monovalent cations, such as NH4+ to a final 0.1 M solution, induces a transition to a water soluble beta-structure. The salt effect is quite selective since no transition was observed with Li+, Na+ or Cs+ ions. Addition of 0.5 equiv. of calcium, cobalt or manganese chlorides per glutamyl residue induces similar coil to beta-sheet transitions. No polymer precipitation was observed at these very low salt concentrations. Addition of 0.5 equiv. of Cu2+ or 0.15 equiv. of Fe3+ induces a coil to alpha-helix transition. Molecular modeling has been used to understand tentatively the main factors controlling the different conformations observed with the various metal ions. (C) Munksgaard 1997.
Sequential oligo-and polypeptides based on glutamic acid and leucine residues have been synthesized. In pure water, they exhibit a random coil conformation. Addition of very small amounts of divalent metallic cations induces the formation of ordered structure in the peptides which remain in solution. Higher salt concentrations precipitate the peptides. Polypeptides with alternating glutamic acid and leucine residues undergo a coil to beta-sheet transition in the presence of Ca2+, Ba2+ Mn2+, Co2+, Zn2+ and Hg2+. Addition of Cu2+ or Fe3+ induces the formation of an alpha-helix. Solid amorphous CdS generates water soluble beta-sheets, as well. Sequential poly(Leu-Glu-Glu-Leu) adopts an alpha-helix in the presence of divalent cations. The sequence-dependent conformational diversity was extended to poly(Asp-Leu) and poly(Leu-Asp-Asp-Leu).
Alternating poly(Glu-Leu) exhibits a random coil structure in pure water at neutral pH. The addition of 0.5 equiv of Ca2+ induces a coil-to-beta-sheet transition and the addition of 0.15 equiv of Fe3+ induces a coil-to-alpha-helix transition. Conformational competition between these two structures was studied by mixing preformed beta-sheets and alpha-helices in different proportions. Circular dichroism spectra clearly show that beta-sheets are favored at the expense of alpha-helices in beta-sheet-rich mixtures.
Ingénieur de recherche , Exobiologie