Astrobiology August 2007, 7(4): 605-615
A key issue in astrobiological research is identifying target molecules that are unambiguously biological in origin and can be easily detected and recognized. We suggest porphyrin derivatives as an ideal target, because these chromophores are global in distribution and found in virtually all living organisms on Earth, including microorganisms that may approximate the early evolution of life on Earth. We discuss the inherent qualities that make porphyrin ideally suited for astrobiological research and discuss methods for detecting porphyrin molecules in terrestrial sedimentary environments. We present preliminary data to support the use of ToFSIMS as a powerful technique in the identification of porphyrins.