Researchers demonstrate for the first time the potential of existing technology to directly detect and characterize life on Mars and other planets. The study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, used miniaturized scientific instruments and new microbiology techniques to identify and examine microorganisms in the Canadian high Arctic - one of the closest analogs to Mars on Earth. By avoiding delays that come with having to return samples to a laboratory for analysis, the methodology could also be used on Earth to detect and identify pathogens during epidemics in remote areas.
...At present, most instruments on astrobiology missions look for habitable conditions, small organic molecules and other "biosignatures" that generally could not be formed without life. However, these provide only indirect evidence of life. Moreover, current instruments are relatively large and heavy with high energy requirements. This makes them unsuitable for missions to Europa and Enceladus - moons of Jupiter and Saturn which, along with Mars, are the primary targets in the search for life in our solar system.
Dr [Jacqueline] Goordial, together with Professor Lyle Whyte and other scientists from Canada's McGill University, took a different approach: the use of multiple, miniature instruments to directly detect and analyze life. Using existing low-cost and low-weight technology in new ways, the team created a modular "life detection platform" able to culture microorganisms from soil samples, assess microbial activity, and sequence DNA and RNA.
How Canadian scientists are turning to the Arctic in the hope of finding life on Mars. McGill researchers successfully test DNA sequencing machine they hope to integrate into a lander. Read article on CBCNews
Next Stop, Mars? Life-Detection Gear Passes Test on Earth. Read more in Space.com