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Astrobiology. 2011 Jan-Feb;11(1):15-28. doi: 10.1089/ast.2010.0501. Epub 2011 Feb 6.

SOLID3: a multiplex antibody microarray-based optical sensor instrument for in situ life detection in planetary exploration.

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Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC), Madrid, Spain.


The search for unequivocal signs of life on other planetary bodies is one of the major challenges for astrobiology. The failure to detect organic molecules on the surface of Mars by measuring volatile compounds after sample heating, together with the new knowledge of martian soil chemistry, has prompted the astrobiological community to develop new methods and technologies. Based on protein microarray technology, we have designed and built a series of instruments called SOLID (for "Signs Of LIfe Detector") for automatic in situ detection and identification of substances or analytes from liquid and solid samples (soil, sediments, or powder). Here, we present the SOLID3 instrument, which is able to perform both sandwich and competitive immunoassays and consists of two separate functional units: a Sample Preparation Unit (SPU) for 10 different extractions by ultrasonication and a Sample Analysis Unit (SAU) for fluorescent immunoassays. The SAU consists of five different flow cells, with an antibody microarray in each one (2000 spots). It is also equipped with an exclusive optical package and a charge-coupled device (CCD) for fluorescent detection. We demonstrated the performance of SOLID3 in the detection of a broad range of molecular-sized compounds, which range from peptides and proteins to whole cells and spores, with sensitivities at 1-2 ppb (ng mL⁻¹) for biomolecules and 10⁴ to 10³ spores per milliliter. We report its application in the detection of acidophilic microorganisms in the Río Tinto Mars analogue and report the absence of substantial negative effects on the immunoassay in the presence of 50 mM perchlorate (20 times higher than that found at the Phoenix landing site). Our SOLID instrument concept is an excellent option with which to detect biomolecules because it avoids the high-temperature treatments that may destroy organic matter in the presence of martian oxidants.

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