Constraining the preservation of organic compounds in Mars analog nontronites after exposure to acid and alkaline fluids

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Gil Lozano, C., Fairén, A. G., Muñoz Iglesias, V., Fernández Sampedro, Mª., Prieto Ballesteros, O., Gago Duport, L., Losa Adams, E., Carrizo, D., Bishop, J. L., Fornaro, T., Mateo Martí, E. 2020. Constraining the preservation of organic compounds in Mars analog nontronites after exposure to acid and alkaline fluids. Scientific Reports 10, 15097. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-71657-9

The presence of organic matter in lacustrine mudstone sediments at Gale crater was revealed by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, which also identified smectite clay minerals. Analogue experiments on phyllosilicates formed under low temperature aqueous conditons have illustrated that these are excellent reservoirs to host organic compounds against the harsh surface conditions of Mars. Here, we evaluate whether the capacity of smectites to preserve organic compounds can be influenced by a short exposure to different diagenetic fluids. We analyzed the stability of glycine embedded within nontronite samples previously exposed to either acidic or alkaline fluids (hereafter referred to as “treated nontronites”) under Mars-like surface conditions. Analyses performed using multiple techniques showed higher photodegradation of glycine in the acid-treated nontronite, triggered by decarboxylation and deamination processes. In constrast, our experiments showed that glycine molecules were preferably incorporated by ion exchange in the interlayer region of the alkali-treated nontronite, conferring them a better protection against the external conditions. Our results demonstrate that smectite previously exposed to fluids with different pH values influences how glycine is adsorbed into their interlayer regions, affecting their potential for preservation of organic compounds under contemporary Mars surface conditions.

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