Detection of Potential Lipid Biomarkers in Oxidative Environments by Raman Spectroscopy and Implications for the ExoMars 2020-Raman Laser Spectrometer Instrument Performance

Carrizo, D., Muñoz Iglesias, V., Fernández Sampedro, Mª. T., Gil Lozano, C., Sánchez García, L., Prieto Ballesteros, O., Medina, J., Rull, F. 2020. Detection of Potential Lipid Biomarkers in Oxidative Environments by Raman Spectroscopy and Implications for the ExoMars 2020-Raman Laser Spectrometer Instrument Performance. Astrobiology 20, 3, https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2019.2100

The aim of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover mission is to search for potential traces of present or past life in the swallow subsurface (2 m depth) of Mars. The ExoMars rover mission relies on a suite of analytical instruments envisioned to identify organic compounds with biological value (biomarkers) associated with a mineralogical matrix in a highly oxidative environment. We investigated the feasibility of detecting basic organics (linear and branched lipid molecules) with Raman laser spectroscopy, an instrument onboard the ExoMars rover, when exposed to oxidant conditions. We compared the detectability of six lipid molecules (alkanes, alkanols, fatty acid, and isoprenoid) before and after an oxidation treatment (15 days with hydrogen peroxide), with and without mineral matrix support (amorphous silica rich vs. iron rich). Raman and infrared spectrometry was combined with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry to determine detection limits and technical constraints. We observed different spectral responses to degradation depending on the lipid molecule and mineral substrate, with the silica-rich material showing better preservation of organic signals. These findings will contribute to the interpretation of Raman laser spectroscopy results on cores from the ExoMars rover landing site, the hydrated silica-enriched delta fan on Cogoon Vallis (Oxia Planum).

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