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Record 9 of 726
Visualization of Microbial Biomarkers by Scanning Electron Microscopy
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Author and Affiliation:
Wainwright, Norman R.(Marine Biological Lab., Woods Hole, MA United States)
Allen, Carlton C.(NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX United States)
Child, Alice(Marine Biological Lab., Woods Hole, MA United States)
Abstract: We are developing tools to link the biochemical structure of selected biomarkers with putative biogenic structures observed in mineralized samples. The detection of evidence of life on Mars and other planets will rely on methods that can discriminate compounds formed exclusively by living organisms. While biogenic compounds, such as amino acids and nucleotides have been discovered in extraterrestrial sources, such as meteorites and comets, their formation can be explained by abiotic means. The formation of cellular structures, or more elaborate organic molecules, such as complex lipids, proteins or nucleic acids, however, is strongly correlated to the presence of even the most primitive life processes. Recent evidence lends support to the hypothesis that life may have once existed on Mars. Carbonate globules and ppm concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been described in ALH84001, a meteorite originating from Mars ejecta captured by Earth over 13,000 years ago. The localized high concentration of PAHs that follow an increasing gradient from the intact fusion crust towards the interior corresponds to microgram quantities of hydrocarbon. Even though ALH84001 and other similar meteorites have withstood the forces capable of ejecting rock through Mars' escape velocity, upon entering Earth's atmosphere, their core temperatures are likely not to have been raised significantly, as evidenced by the survival of remanent magnetic signatures. Ideal biomarkers of ancient or modern biological life would include molecules that are (or were) pervasive and highly resistant to degradation. Also, requisite methods of detection should be simple, extremely sensitive and broadly inclusive (NASA SP-530). Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), peptidoglycan or pseudopeptidoglycan and beta-glucan are microbial cell wall components which together cover the entire microbial spectrum of eubacteria, archea and fungi. They are all remarkably resistant to thermal degradation. Fortunately, many antimicrobial defense systems of higher organisms require sensitive detection to combat microbial pathogens. We employ here the primitive immune system of the evolutionarily ancient horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus. This species relies on multi-enzyme signal amplification detection of cell wall molecules and they can be applied to the development of useful detectors of life. An extension of this work includes the visualization of microbial signatures by labeling LAL components with chromogenic or electron dense markers. The protein Limulus Anti-LPS Factor (LALF) has an extremely high affinity for LPS. By coupling LALF binding with colloidal gold labels we demonstrate a correlation of the structures visible by electron microscopy with biochemical evidence of microbial cell wall materials. Pure silica particles were mixed with cultures of E. coli (10(exp 6) cfu/mL). Samples were washed sequentially with buffered saline, LALF, antibody to LALF and finally colloidal gold-labeled Protein A. Negative controls were not exposed to E. coli but received identical treatment otherwise. Samples were coated with carbon and imaged on a JEOL JSM-840 scanning electron microscope with LaB6 source in the back scatter mode with the JEOL annular back scatter detector. 20 nm-scale black spots in this contrast-reversed image originate from electrons back-scattered by gold atoms. Negative controls did not give any signal. Future work will expand application of this technique to soil simulants and mineralized rock samples.
Publication Date: Apr 01, 2001
Document ID:
(Acquired Dec 28, 2001)
Subject Category: EXOBIOLOGY
Document Type: Conference Paper
Publication Information: SEE 20020002018 "General Meeting of the NASA Astrobiology Insititute"; p. 214
Financial Sponsor: NASA Johnson Space Center; Houston, TX United States
Organization Source: NASA Johnson Space Center; Houston, TX United States
Description: 2p; In English
Distribution Limits: Unclassified; Publicly available; Unlimited
Rights: No Copyright
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