Detection and study of biomolecules in the Nunataks of Isla Livingston, Antarctica


Under the name of terrestrial analogous environments of Mars it is possible to find a great variety of ecosystems, from rivers with a high concentration of dissolved heavy metals and a very acid pH, such as case of Rio Tinto (Huelva), to deserts of extreme aridity such as that of Atacama (Chile). These places resemble some of the environmental conditions present today or at some past time of Mars, so their study can provide clues about how Martian ecosystems could have developed.

< div style = "text-align: justify;"> A very special type of these terrestrial analogues are those environments in which the temperature is low, the ultraviolet radiation (A and B) is high and the water available is mainly in the form of ice, similar to what could be found about 3.8 billion years ago on Mars, during the time known as 'Early Mars' or Early Mars. On our planet these conditions only occur in certain areas near the poles or in high mountain regions. Antarctica is one of the regions that best reflect the environmental conditions of this Martian stage.

On the occasion of the project 'Detection of Biomolecules in Planetary Exploration' (IP Victor Parro), the researchers of the Center for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA) Miriam García Villadangos and Miguel Ángel Fernández Martínez traveled in January 2018 to Antarctica to carry out the study of the Nunataks (Inuit word that can be translated as 'parts of the mountain range that protrude from the permanent ice sheet') of Livingston Island, in the South Shetland Islands. They stayed there for several weeks in the Spanish Antarctic Base 'Juan Carlos I', managed by the CSIC.

These Nunataks are most of the year without a layer of snow covering them completely, causing their rocky surface to be exposed to the external climatic conditions almost continuously that presents the Antarctic region. Therefore, the study of existing microbial communities in these soils, as well as their adaptations to these conditions and the presence and preservation of biomarkers under them, is of great interest to understand the possible characteristics that a hypothetical microbial community would have had in the time of Early Mars. Similarly, its study is very useful to evaluate the current capacity to detect molecules of biological origin in these environments in which a very low concentration of organic matter can be expected.

In order to find as many possible differences between microenvironments and locations, researchers' field work has consisted of the collection and analysis of soil samples (on the surface, 5 and 10 cm deep) and rocks, at three different altitudes and in opposite directions, from the Nunataks McGregor, Moores and Napier ( Hurd Peninsula, Livingston Island). Preliminary results derived from the cultivation of microorganisms, DNA extraction from soils and rocks and detection of biomarkers with the 'Life Detector Chip' immunosensor, (an antibody-based sensor coupled to the SOLID instrument ('Signs Of Life Detector') of life ', both developed in the CAB) are quite promising.Even under these conditions, a priori so extreme for life, it has been possible to detect live microorganisms and a large number of biomarkers that will focus the following analyzes to be carried out on the laboratories of the Astrobiology Center.

Figure: Inside the circle, CAB researchers can be seen performing sample collection tasks in Antarctica © M García and M.Á. Fernández.


Fuente: UCC-CAB y Miguel Ángel Fernández y Miriam García (CAB)

Fecha: 2018-02-07


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