Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Immunological detection of small organic molecules in the presence of perchlorates: relevance to the life marker chip and life detection on Mars.

By Catherine S. Rix, Mark R. Sims and David C. Cullen


The proposed ExoMars mission, due to launch in 2018, aims to look for evidence of extant and extinct life in martian rocks and regolith. Previous attempts to detect organic molecules of biological or abiotic origin on Mars have been unsuccessful, which may be attributable to destruction of these molecules by perchlorate salts during pyrolysis sample extraction techniques. Organic molecules can also be extracted and measured with solvent-based systems. The ExoMars payload includes the Life Marker Chip (LMC) instrument, capable of detecting biomarker molecules of extant and extinct Earth-like life in liquid extracts of martian samples with an antibody microarray assay. The aim of the work reported here was to investigate whether the presence of perchlorate salts, at levels similar to those at the NASA Phoenix landing site, would compromise the LMC extraction and detection method. To test this, we implemented an LMC- representative sample extraction process with an LMC-representative antibody assay and used these to extract and analyze a model sample that consisted of a Mars analog sample matrix (JSC Mars-1) spiked with a representative organic molecular target (pyrene, an example of abiotic meteoritic infall targets) in the presence of perchlorate salts. We found no significant change in immunoassay function when using pyrene standards with added perchlorate salts. When model samples spiked with perchlorate salts were subjected to an LMC-representative liquid extraction, immunoassays functioned in a liquid extract and detected extracted pyrene. For the same model sample matrix without perchlorate salts, we observed anomalous assay signals that coincided with yellow coloration of the extracts. This unexpected observation is being studied further. This initial study indicates that the presence of perchlorate salts, at levels similar to those detected at the NASA Phoenix landing site, is unlikely to prevent the LMC from extracting and detecting organic molecules from martian samples

Publisher: Mary Ann Leibert
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1089/ast.2011.0662
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Cranfield CERES

Suggested articles


  1. (2007). A possible biogenic origin for hydrogen peroxide on Mars: the Viking results reinterpreted. doi
  2. (2007). Appropriate calibration curve fitting in ligand binding assays. doi
  3. (2009). Detection of perchlorate and the soluble chemistry of martian soil at the Phoenix lander site. doi
  4. (2005). Development of a highly sensitive monoclonal antibody based ELISA for detection of benzo[a]pyrene in potable water. doi
  5. (2008). Development of a low power, high mass range spectrometer for Mars surface analysis. doi
  6. (2010). Growing prospects for life on Mars divide astrobiologists. doi
  7. (2010). Habitability of the Phoenix landing site. doi
  8. (1997). JSC Mars-1: martian regolith simulant [abstract 1797]. doi
  9. (2009). Lateral flow (immuno)assay: its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A literature survey. doi
  10. (2011). Low pressure and dessication effects on methanogens: implications for life on Mars. Planet Space Sci 59:264–270. doi
  11. (1972). Mass spectrometric analysis of organic compounds, doi
  12. (2010). Methane adsorption on a martian soil analogue: an abiogenic explanation for methane variability in the martian atmosphere. doi
  13. (2008). Phoenix Mars mission—the Thermal Evolved Gas Analyzer. doi
  14. (2007). Putting together an exobiology mission: the ExoMars example. doi
  15. (2010). Reanalysis of the Viking results suggests perchlorate and organics at midlatitudes on Mars. doi
  16. (2005). Recognizing life in the Solar System: guidance from meteoritic organic matter. doi
  17. (2007). Searching for life on Mars: selection of molecular targets for ESA’s Aurora ExoMars mission. doi
  18. (2011). SOLID3: a multiplex antibody microarray-based optical sensor instrument for in situ life detection in planetary exploration. doi
  19. (2011). The ExoMars Rover Instrument Suite. MOMA—Mars Organics Molecule Analyser. European Space Agency, Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Available online at http:/ / science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=45103&fbodylo ngid=2132.
  20. (2005). The Specific Molecular Identification of Life Experiment (SMILE). Planet Space Sci 53:781–791. doi
  21. (2010). Wet chemistry experiments on the doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.