Technology to detect life in Atacama rocks could be replicated

Researchers from Spain and Chile have used modern technology to detect remains of life in rocks over 200 million years old in the Chilean Atacama desert and have verified that this methodology could be replicated in future missions to Mars.

Researchers from the Astrobiology Center (CAB) of Spain (a joint center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research of the Ministry of Science and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) of the Ministry of Defense) and the Catholic University of Norte (Chile), which have applied a powerful “multi-analytic” platform to detect these remains of life.

Searching for remains of life in ancient rocks is a challenge, since time and the different processes of formation of these rocks contribute to destroying and recycling any direct evidence of life, the Center for Astrobiology stressed in a note released today, after the publication of the results of this research in the journal Astrobiology.

And he has pointed out that that is why the use of chemical fossils, such as certain molecules or isotopic compositions is more useful for the search for life in ancient environments, where the accumulated impact of various destructive factors such as ultraviolet radiation, erosion, pressure or the temperature could have caused the gradual degradation of possible biological remains.

In this case, scientists have investigated with this technology the profile of chemical fossils (molecular and isotopic biomarkers) preserved in ancient rocks of the Atacama desert, and specifically samples of three sedimentary rocks (carbonates) from the Triassic-Jurassic period, with the goal of identifying remains of life over the last 200 million years.

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In the study, a multi-analytical platform was applied to detect various types of biomolecules with different resistance to degradation and with different capacity to diagnose their biological sources, and the techniques made it possible in some cases to infer the metabolism and diversity of the most recent life forms. and in others to identify biological sources from older periods, as well as to recreate the environmental conditions that have prevailed in the last 200 million years.

The study authors have stressed that the detection of extraterrestrial life can benefit from this approach, since biomarkers can be detected at different levels of chemical complexity, which allows to overcome the limitations of the diagnosis due to the lack of specificity or degradation to throughout geological time.

In this way, scientists have underlined that similar strategies can be considered both to interpret the results of the current missions on Mars, as well as for future astrobiological missions to the red planet, in which the use of detection techniques such as those that have been used is envisaged. in this research work.

EFE

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