The Detection of Elemental Signatures of Microbes in Martian Mudstone Analogs Using High Spatial Resolution Laser Ablation Ionization Mass Spectrometry

Riedo, Andreas; de Koning, Coen; Stevens, Adam H.; Cockell, Charles S.; McDonald, Alison; Cedeño López, Alena; Riedo, Valentine; Tulej, Marek; Wurz, Peter; Ehrenfreund, Pascale (2020). The Detection of Elemental Signatures of Microbes in Martian Mudstone Analogs Using High Spatial Resolution Laser Ablation Ionization Mass Spectrometry. Astrobiology, 20(10), pp. 1224-1235. Mary Ann Liebert 10.1089/ast.2019.2087

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The detection and identification of biosignatures on planetary bodies such as Mars in situ is extremely challenging. Current knowledge from space exploration missions suggests that a suite of complementary instruments is required in situ for a successful identification of past or present life. For future exploration missions, new and innovative instrumentation capable of high spatial resolution chemical (elemental and isotope) analysis of solids with improved measurement capabilities is of considerable interest because a multitude of potential signatures of extinct or extant life have dimensions on the micrometer scale. The aim of this study is to extend the current measurement capabilities of a miniature laser ablation ionization mass spectrometer (LIMS) designed for space exploration missions to detect signatures of microbial life. In total, 14 martian mudstone analogue samples were investigated regarding their elemental composition. Half the samples were artificially inoculated with a low number density of microbes, and half were used as abiotic controls. The samples were treated in a number of ways. Some were cultured anaerobically and some aerobically; some abiotic samples were incubated with water, and some remained dry. Some of the samples were exposed to a large dose of γ radiation, and some were left un-irradiated. While no significant elemental differences were observed between the applied sample treatments, the instrument showed the capability to detect biogenic element signatures of the inoculated microbes by monitoring biologically relevant elements, such as hydrogen, carbon, sulfur, iron, and so on. When an enrichment in carbon was measured in the samples but no simultaneous increase in other biologically relevant elements was detected, it suggests, for example, a carbon-containing inclusion; when the enrichment was in carbon and in bio-relevant elements, it suggests the presences of microbes. This study presents first results on the detection of biogenic element patterns of microbial life using a miniature LIMS system designed for space exploration missions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences (DCBP)
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Space Research and Planetary Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute

UniBE Contributor:

Riedo, Andreas, de Koning, Coenraad Pieter, Cedeño López, Alena, Riedo, Valentine, Tulej, Marek, Wurz, Peter


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




Mary Ann Liebert




Dora Ursula Zimmerer

Date Deposited:

25 Feb 2021 11:34

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:48

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Microbes—LIMS—Space exploration—Mars—Laser ablation ionization mass spectrometry—High-resolution elemental imaging




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