The capability of detecting biomarkers, such as amino acids, in chemically complex field samples is essential to establishing the knowledge required to search for chemical signatures of life in future planetary explorations. However, due to the complexities of in situ investigations, it is important to establish a new analytical scheme that utilizes a minimal amount of sample preparation. This paper reports the feasibility of a novel and sensitive technique, which has been established to quantitate amino acids in terrestrial crust samples directly without derivatization using volatile ion-pairing liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry equipped with an electrospray ionization source. Adequate separation of 20 underivatized amino acids was achieved on a C18 capillary column within 26 min with nonafluoropentanoic acid (NFPA) as ion-pairing reagent. Each amino acid was identified from its retention time as well as from its characteristic parent-to-daughter ion transition. Using tandem mass spectrometry as a detection technique allows co-elution of some amino acids, as it is more specific than traditional spectrophotometric methods. In the present study, terrestrial samples collected from 3 different locations were analyzed for their water-extractable free amino acid contents, following the removal of metal and organic interferences via ion exchange procedures. This is the first time that amino acids in geological samples were directly determined quantitatively without complicated derivatization steps. Depending on the amino acid, the detection limits varied from 0.02 to 5.7 pmol with the use of a 1 _l sample injection loop. Astrobiology 8, 229-241.
Astrobiology April 1, 2008, 8(2): 229-241.