An innovative scientific tool, the Compact Color Biofinder, developed by a team from the University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers, could change the game in the search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Most biological materials, for example, amino acids, fossils, sedimentary rocks, plants, microbes, proteins and lipids, have strong organic fluorescence signals that can be detected by specialized scanning cameras. In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports Recently, the research team reported that the biofinder is sensitive enough to accurately detect bio-residues in fish fossils from the Green River Formation, 34-56 million years old.
“The biofinder is the first system of its kind,” said Anupam Mishra, principal instrument developer and researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). “Currently, there is no other instrument that can detect microscopic amounts of bio-residues on a rock during the day. Additional strengths of the biofinder are that it operates from a distance of several meters, takes video and captures a large Can scan the area quickly.”
Although the BioFinder was first developed by Misra in 2012, advances supported by the NASA Picasso program culminated in the latest color version of the Compact BioFinder.
Finding evidence of organic remains in a giant planet landscape is a huge challenge. Therefore, the team tested the Biofinder’s detection capabilities on ancient Green River fish fossils and confirmed the results through laboratory spectroscopy analysis, scanning electron microscopy and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy.
“There is some unknown about how quickly bio-residues are replaced by minerals in the fossilization process,” Mishra said. “However, our findings once again confirm that biological remains can survive for millions of years, and the use of biofluorescence imaging effectively detects these trace residues in real time.”
The search for life – which may be existing or extinct – on planetary bodies is one of the major goals of planetary exploration missions undertaken by NASA and other international space agencies.
“If the biofinder were placed on a rover on Mars or another planet, we would be able to rapidly scan large areas to detect evidence of past life, even if the organism was small, not easy to see with our eyes. “We anticipate that fluorescence imaging will be important in future NASA missions to detect organisms and the existence of life on other planetary bodies,” Mishra said.
“The biofinder’s capabilities will be critical to NASA’s Planetary Protection Program for the accurate and non-invasive detection of contaminants such as microbes or extraterrestrial biohazards to or from planet Earth,” said team biologist and co-author Sonia J. Rowley said. the study.
Misra and colleagues are applying for the opportunity to send a biofinder on a future NASA mission.
“Detection of such biomarkers will be important evidence for life outside planet Earth,” Mishra said.
material provided by University of Hawaii at Manoa, Original written by Marcy Grabowski. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.