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Published Online: 30 June 2009

A Field-Based Cleaning Protocol for Sampling Devices Used in Life-Detection Studies

Publication: Astrobiology
Volume 9, Issue Number 5


Analytical approaches to extant and extinct life detection involve molecular detection often at trace levels. Thus, removal of biological materials and other organic molecules from the surfaces of devices used for sampling is essential for ascertaining meaningful results. Organic decontamination to levels consistent with null values on life-detection instruments is particularly challenging at remote field locations where Mars analog field investigations are carried out. Here, we present a seven-step, multi-reagent decontamination method that can be applied to sampling devices while in the field. In situ lipopolysaccharide detection via low-level endotoxin assays and molecular detection via gas chromatography–mass spectrometry were used to test the effectiveness of the decontamination protocol for sampling of glacial ice with a coring device and for sampling of sediments with a rover scoop during deployment at Arctic Mars-analog sites in Svalbard, Norway. Our results indicate that the protocols and detection technique sufficiently remove and detect low levels of molecular constituents necessary for life-detection tests. Key Words: Organic decontamination—Sterilization—Life detection—Biosignature contaminants—Mars analog—Ice coring. Astrobiology 9, 455–465.

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Published In

cover image Astrobiology
Volume 9Issue Number 5June 2009
Pages: 455 - 465
PubMed: 19496672


Published online: 30 June 2009
Published ahead of print: 4 June 2009
Published in print: June 2009


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Jennifer Eigenbrode
Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
Liane G. Benning
Earth and Biosphere Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK.
Jake Maule
Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC.
Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development (LOCAD) Group, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama.
Norm Wainwright
Charles River Laboratories, Inc., Charleston, South Carolina.
Andrew Steele
Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC.
Hans E.F. Amundsen on behalf of the AMASE 2006 Team
Earth and Planetary Exploration, Oslo, Norway.


Address correspondence to:
Jennifer Eigenbrode
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Code 699
Greenbelt, MD 20771
E-mail: [email protected]

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