Seyler, L., Kujawinski, E. B., Azua Bustos, A., Lee, M. D., Marlow, J., Perl, S. M., Cleaves, H. J. (2020). Metabolomics As an Emerging Tool in the Search for Astrobiologically Relevant Biomarkers. Astrobiology DOI: 10.1089/ast.2019.2135
It is now routinely possible to sequence and recover microbial genomes from environmental samples. To the degree it is feasible to assign transcriptional and translational functions to these genomes, it should be possible, in principle, to largely understand the complete molecular inputs and outputs of a microbial community. However, gene-based tools alone are presently insufficient to describe the full suite of chemical reactions and small molecules that compose a living cell. Metabolomic tools have developed quickly and now enable rapid detection and identification of small molecules within biological and environmental samples. The convergence of these technologies will soon facilitate the detection of novel enzymatic activities, novel organisms, and potentially extraterrestrial life-forms on solar system bodies. This review explores the methodological problems and scientific opportunities facing researchers who hope to apply metabolomic methods in astrobiology-related fields, and how present challenges might be overcome.