Mineralogical biosignatures and the search for life on Mars

Banfield, J. F., Moreau, J. W. , Chan, C. S., Welch, S. A. and Little, B. (2001) Mineralogical biosignatures and the search for life on Mars. Astrobiology, 1(4), pp. 447-465. (doi: 10.1089/153110701753593856) (PMID:12448978)

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If life ever existed, or still exists, on Mars, its record is likely to be found in minerals formed by, or in association with, microorganisms. An important concept regarding interpretation of the mineralogical record for evidence of life is that, broadly defined, life perturbs disequilibria that arise due to kinetic barriers and can impart unexpected structure to an abiotic system. Many features of minerals and mineral assemblages may serve as biosignatures even if life does not have a familiar terrestrial chemical basis. Biological impacts on minerals and mineral assemblages may be direct or indirect. Crystalline or amorphous biominerals, an important category of mineralogical biosignatures, precipitate under direct cellular control as part of the life cycle of the organism (shells, tests, phytoliths) or indirectly when cell surface layers provide sites for heterogeneous nucleation. Biominerals also form indirectly as byproducts of metabolism due to changing mineral solubility. Mineralogical biosignatures include distinctive mineral surface structures or chemistry that arise when dissolution and/or crystal growth kinetics are influenced by metabolic by-products. Mineral assemblages themselves may be diagnostic of the prior activity of organisms where barriers to precipitation or dissolution of specific phases have been overcome. Critical to resolving the question of whether life exists, or existed, on Mars is knowing how to distinguish biologically induced structure and organization patterns from inorganic phenomena and inorganic self-organization. This task assumes special significance when it is acknowledged that the majority of, and perhaps the only, material to be returned from Mars will be mineralogical.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Moreau, Dr John
Authors: Banfield, J. F., Moreau, J. W., Chan, C. S., Welch, S. A., and Little, B.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences > Earth Sciences
Journal Name:Astrobiology
Publisher:Mary Ann Liebert
ISSN (Online):1557-8070

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