Edinburgh Research Explorer

The significance of microbe-mineral-biomarker interactions in the detection of life on mars and beyond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Wilfred F M Röling
  • Joost W. Aerts
  • C. H Lucas Patty
  • Inge Loes Ten Kate
  • Pascale Ehrenfreund
  • Susana O L Direito

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-507
Number of pages16
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


The detection of biomarkers plays a central role in our effort to establish whether there is, or was, life beyond Earth. In this review, we address the importance of considering mineralogy in relation to the selection of locations and biomarker detection methodologies with characteristics most promising for exploration. We review relevant mineral-biomarker and mineral-microbe interactions. The local mineralogy on a particular planet reflects its past and current environmental conditions and allows a habitability assessment by comparison with life under extreme conditions on Earth. The type of mineral significantly influences the potential abundances and types of biomarkers and microorganisms containing these biomarkers. The strong adsorptive power of some minerals aids in the preservation of biomarkers and may have been important in the origin of life. On the other hand, this strong adsorption as well as oxidizing properties of minerals can interfere with efficient extraction and detection of biomarkers. Differences in mechanisms of adsorption and in properties of minerals and biomarkers suggest that it will be difficult to design a single extraction procedure for a wide range of biomarkers. While on Mars samples can be used for direct detection of biomarkers such as nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids, on other planetary bodies remote spectrometric detection of biosignatures has to be relied upon. The interpretation of spectral signatures of photosynthesis can also be affected by local mineralogy. We identify current gaps in our knowledge and indicate how they may be filled to improve the chances of detecting biomarkers on Mars and beyond. Key Words: DNA - Lipids - Photosynthesis - Extremophiles - Mineralogy - Subsurface. Astrobiology 15, 492-507.

ID: 21492106