Mercedes Moreno-Paz, Ana Gómez-Cifuentes, Marta Ruiz-Bermejo, Oliver Hofstetter, Ángel Maquieira, Juan M. Manchado, Sergi Morais, Mark A. Sephton, Reinhard Niessner, Dietmar Knopp, and Victor Parro. 2018. Detecting Nonvolatile Life- and Nonlife-Derived Organics in a Carbonaceous Chondrite Analogue with a New Multiplex Immunoassay and Its Relevance for Planetary Exploration. Astrobiology 18, 8, 1041-1056 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2017.1747
Potential martian molecular targets include those supplied by meteoritic carbonaceous chondrites such as amino acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and true biomarkers stemming from any hypothetical martian biota (organic architectures that can be directly related to once living organisms). Heat extraction and pyrolysis-based methods currently used in planetary exploration are highly aggressive and very often modify the target molecules making their identification a cumbersome task. We have developed and validated a mild, nondestructive, multiplex inhibitory microarray immunoassay and demonstrated its implementation in the SOLID (Signs of Life Detector) instrument for simultaneous detection of several nonvolatile life- and nonlife-derived organic molecules relevant in planetary exploration and environmental monitoring. By utilizing a set of highly specific antibodies that recognize D- or L- aromatic amino acids (Phe, Tyr, Trp), benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), pentachlorophenol, and sulfone-containing aromatic compounds, respectively, the assay was validated in the SOLID instrument for the analysis of carbon-rich samples used as analogues of the organic material in carbonaceous chondrites or even Mars samples. Most of the antibodies enabled sensitivities at the 1-10ppb level and some even at the ppt level. The multiplex immunoassay allowed the detection of B[a]P as well as aromatic sulfones in a water/methanol extract of an Early Cretaceous lignite sample (c.a., 140 Ma) representing type IV kerogen. No L- or D-aromatic amino acids were detected, reflecting the advanced diagenetic stage and the fossil nature of the sample. The results demonstrate the ability of the liquid extraction by ultrasonication and the versatility of the multiplex inhibitory immunoassays in the SOLID instrument to discriminate between organic matter derived from life and nonlife processes, an essential step toward life detection outside Earth.