ORIGIN: a novel and compact Laser Desorption – Mass Spectrometry system for sensitive in situ detection of amino acids on extraterrestrial surfaces

Ligterink, Niels F.W.; Grimaudo, Valentine; Moreno‐García, Pavel; Lukmanov, Rustam; Tulej, Marek; Leya, Ingo; Lindner, Robert; Wurz, Peter; Cockell, Charles S.; Ehrenfreund, Pascale; Riedo, Andreas (2020). ORIGIN: a novel and compact Laser Desorption – Mass Spectrometry system for sensitive in situ detection of amino acids on extraterrestrial surfaces. Scientific reports, 10(1) Springer Nature 10.1038/s41598-020-66240-1

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For the last four decades space exploration missions have searched for molecular life on planetary surfaces beyond Earth. Often pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry has been used as payload on such space exploration missions. These instruments have relatively low detection sensitivity and their measurements are often undermined by the presence of chloride salts and minerals. Currently, ocean worlds in the outer Solar System, such as the icy moons Europa and Enceladus, represent potentially habitable environments and are therefore prime targets for the search for biosignatures. For future space exploration missions, novel measurement concepts, capable of detecting low concentration of biomolecules with significantly improved sensitivity and specificity are required. Here we report on a novel analytical technique for the detection of extremely low concentrations of amino acids using ORIGIN, a compact and lightweight laser desorption ionization – mass spectrometer designed and developed for in situ space exploration missions. The identified unique mass fragmentation pattern of amino acids coupled to a multi-position laser scan, allows for a robust identification and quantification of amino acids. With a detection limit of a few fmol mm⁻², and the possibility for sub-fmol detection sensitivity, this measurement technique excels current space exploration systems by three orders of magnitude. Moreover, our detection method is not affected by chemical alterations through surface minerals and/or salts, such as NaCl that is expected to be present at the percent level on ocean worlds. Our results demonstrate that ORIGIN is a promising instrument for the detection of signatures of life and ready for upcoming space missions, such as the Europa Lander.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Space Research and Planetary Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences (DCBP)
10 Strategic Research Centers > Center for Space and Habitability (CSH)

UniBE Contributor:

Ligterink, Niels Frank Willem, Riedo, Valentine, Moreno, Pavel, Lukmanov, Rustam, Tulej, Marek, Leya, Ingo, Wurz, Peter, Riedo, Andreas


500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 520 Astronomy
600 Technology > 620 Engineering
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 540 Chemistry




Springer Nature




Andreas Riedo

Date Deposited:

13 Jan 2020 07:42

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:33

Publisher DOI:






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