Implications For Mars Sample Return

The results presented in this case study indicate that any sample returned from Mars should be investigated for the presence of biofilm remnants. Our findings confirm the relevance of searching impact-induced hydrothermal deposits for evidence of microbial life on Mars. Impact-induced hydrothermal deposits have been shown to be exposed at the surface after an impact (Osinski et al., 2001; Newsom et al., 2001), which means that it would be possible to access the outer regions of impact structures where life could have resided (Hode et al., 2003). Given the availability of necessary microanalytical tools and a sample preparation procedure designed to reveal traces of life trapped inside hydrothermal mineral matrices, it is likely that traces of microbial life, if it has existed on Mars, could be revealed in even a very limited sample set from the red planet. For example, confocal (Schopf et al., 2006) microscopy and Raman spectroscopy (Schopf et al., 2005) can reveal preserved cells in a transparent mineral matrix, and as shown here, Rutherford backscattering and SEM can reveal preserved traces of biofilms in mineral etched samples.

6. Summary

We have shown that ancient impact-induced hydrothermal systems are favorable sites for the preservation of remnants of biofilm-forming microbial communities. At least two possibilities exist. First, an impact-induced hydrothermal system can supported a subsurface biofilm-forming community in the extensive fracture system through which hydrothermal fluids circulated. Mineralization of microbial biofilm remnants would be expected under such conditions. Second, the eventual infilling of the fractures by mineral precipitates can entrap any remnant biofilms, whether autochtonous or allocthonous. Our findings confirm the relevance of searching impact-induced hydrothermal deposits for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars (Newsom et al., 2001).

7. Acknowledgements

Frances Westall, Stefan Bengtson and Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz are acknowledged for fruitful discussions. Financial support was provided to TH by the Swedish National Space Board and to SLC by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under Grant Award No. NNG04GJ84G issued through the Exobiology Program.

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Biodata of Carrine E. Blank, author of "Phylogenomic Dating and the Relative Ancestry of Prokaryotic Metabolisms"

Dr. Carrine E. Blank is currently a research Assistant Professor of Molecular Geobiology at the University of Montana, Missoula. She obtained her Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley in 2002. Her research interests are in the areas of microbial evolution and the co-evolution of early earth and early life.

E-mail: [email protected]

Carrine E. Blank
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