A working group consisting of colleagues of the Mars Simulation Facility (MSF), the Raman-Lab and colleagues of the University of Hohenheim (Stuttgart), the GFZ in Potsdam, the BIOMEX-team (23 international institutes), TU and FU Berlin are working on the characterization and definition of “biosignatures/biotraces”.
Biosignatures or biotraces are typical molecules which are supposed to be produced only by life forms. But to distinguish between so called pre-biotic molecules which might have produced abiotically and biogenic molecules, disciplines of micro- and molecular biology, organic and anorganic chemistry as well as geology are working together. An additional challenge is the differentiation between molecules which might have their source due to fossilization and can be used for the detection of fossilized life (extinct life) and molecules which might have been produced by recent still living life forms (extant life). In case of fossilization it is important to discriminate the so-called bio-molecules from the mineralogical background formation (Böttger et al. 2012, Böttger et al. 2013a,b, de Vera et al. 2012, Serrano et al. 2013). In case of hidden extant life a hint to find life could be the detection of CO2 and water consummation or methane production (Schirmack et al. 2013).
Our institute is systematically working out a strategy including simulation experiments together with the use of specific sensor technology and detection devices combining the capacities of our labs like MSF with Raman-Lab. The outcome will be relevant for the correct interpretation of data obtained by the future ExoMars mission or even data from the Curiosity Rover.