The Complex Molecules Detector (CMOLD): A Fluidic-Based Instrument Suite to Search for (Bio)chemical Complexity on Mars and Icy Moons

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Alberto G. Fairén, Javier Gómez-Elvira, Carlos Briones, Olga Prieto-Ballesteros, José Antonio Rodríguez-Manfredi, Raquel López Heredero, Tomás Belenguer, Andoni G. Moral, Mercedes Moreno-Paz, Víctor Parro. 2020. The Complex Molecules Detector (CMOLD): A Fluidic-Based Instrument Suite to Search for (Bio)chemical Complexity on Mars and Icy Moons. Astrobiology 20, 9, https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2019.2167

Organic chemistry is ubiquitous in the Solar System, and both Mars and a number of icy satellites of the outer Solar System show substantial promise for having hosted or hosting life. Here, we propose a novel astrobiologically focused instrument suite that could be included as scientific payload in future missions to Mars or the icy moons: the Complex Molecules Detector, or CMOLD. CMOLD is devoted to determining different levels of prebiotic/biotic chemical and structural targets following a chemically general approach (i.e., valid for both terrestrial and nonterrestrial life), as well as their compatibility with terrestrial life. CMOLD is based on a microfluidic block that distributes a liquid suspension sample to three instruments by using complementary technologies: (1) novel microscopic techniques for identifying ultrastructures and cell-like morphologies, (2) Raman spectroscopy for detecting universal intramolecular complexity that leads to biochemical functionality, and (3) bioaffinity-based systems (including antibodies and aptamers as capture probes) for finding life-related and nonlife-related molecular structures. We highlight our current developments to make this type of instruments flight-ready for upcoming Mars missions: the Raman spectrometer included in the science payload of the ESAs Rosalind Franklin rover (Raman Laser Spectrometer instrument) to be launched in 2022, and the biomarker detector that was included as payload in the NASA Icebreaker lander mission proposal (SOLID instrument). CMOLD is a robust solution that builds on the combination of three complementary, existing techniques to cover a wide spectrum of targets in the search for (bio)chemical complexity in the Solar System.

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