Fingerprinting molecular and isotopic biosignatures on different hydrothermal scenarios of Iceland, an acidic and sulfur-rich Mars analog

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Sánchez García, L., Carrizo, D., Molina, A., Muñoz Iglesias, V., Ángeles Lezcano, M., Fernández Sampedro, M., Parro, V., Prieto Ballesteros, O. 2020. Fingerprinting molecular and isotopic biosignatures on different hydrothermal scenarios of Iceland, an acidic and sulfur-rich Mars analog. Scientific Reports 10, 21196 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78240-2

Detecting signs of potential extant/extinct life on Mars is challenging because the presence of organics on that planet is expected to be very low and most likely linked to radiation-protected refugia and/or preservative strategies (e.g., organo-mineral complexes). With scarcity of organics, accounting for biomineralization and potential relationships between biomarkers, mineralogy, and geochemistry is key in the search for extraterrestrial life. Here we explored microbial fingerprints and their associated mineralogy in Icelandic hydrothermal systems analog to Mars (i.e., high sulfur content, or amorphous silica), to identify potentially habitable locations on that planet. The mineralogical assemblage of four hydrothermal substrates (hot springs biofilms, mud pots, and steaming and inactive fumaroles) was analyzed concerning the distribution of biomarkers. Molecular and isotopic composition of lipids revealed quantitative and compositional differences apparently impacted by surface geothermal alteration and environmental factors. pH and water showed an influence (i.e., greatest biomass in circumneutral settings with highest supply and turnover of water), whereas temperature conditioned the mineralogy that supported specific microbial metabolisms related with sulfur. Raman spectra suggested the possible coexistence of abiotic and biomediated sources of minerals (i.e., sulfur or hematite). These findings may help to interpret future Raman or GC–MS signals in forthcoming Martian missions.

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