A field prototype of an antibody array-based life-detector instrument, Signs Of LIfe Detector (SOLID2), has been tested in a Mars drilling mission simulation called MARTE (Mars Astrobiology Research and Technology Experiment). As one of the analytical instruments on the MARTE robotic drilling rig, SOLID2 performed automatic sample processing and analysis of ground core samples (0.5 g) with protein microarrays that contained 157 different antibodies. Core samples from different depths (down to 5.5 m) were analyzed, and positive reactions were obtained in antibodies raised against the Gram-negative bacterium Leptospirillum ferrooxidans, a species of the genus Acidithiobacillus (both common microorganisms in the Rio Tinto area), and extracts from biofilms and other natural samples from the Rio Tinto area. These positive reactions were absent when the samples were previously subjected to a high-temperature treatment, which indicates the biological origin and structural dependency of the antibody-antigen reactions. We conclude that an antibody array-based life-detector instrument like SOLID2 can detect complex biological material, and it should be considered as a potential analytical instrument for future planetary missions that search for life. Astrobiology 8, 987-999.
Astrobiology. October 2008, 8(5): 987-999.