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Astrobiology. 2013 Jan;13(1):68-78. doi: 10.1089/ast.2012.0869.

Radiation resistance of biological reagents for in situ life detection.

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Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


Life on Mars, if it exists, may share a common ancestry with life on Earth derived from meteoritic transfer of microbes between the planets. One means to test this hypothesis is to isolate, detect, and sequence nucleic acids in situ on Mars, then search for similarities to known common features of life on Earth. Such an instrument would require biological and chemical components, such as polymerase and fluorescent dye molecules. We show that reagents necessary for detection and sequencing of DNA survive several analogues of the radiation expected during a 2-year mission to Mars, including proton (H-1), heavy ion (Fe-56, O-18), and neutron bombardment. Some reagents have reduced performance or fail at higher doses. Overall, our findings suggest it is feasible to utilize space instruments with biological components, particularly for mission durations of up to several years in environments without large accumulations of charged particles, such as the surface of Mars, and have implications for the meteoritic transfer of microbes between planets.

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