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1.  Potassium ferrate [Fe(VI)] does not mediate self-sterilization of a surrogate mars soil 
BMC Microbiology  2003;3:4.
Background
Martian soil is thought to be enriched with strong oxidants such as peroxides and/or iron in high oxidation states that might destroy biological materials. There is also a high flux of ultraviolet radiation at the surface of Mars. Thus, Mars may be inhospitable to life as we know it on Earth. We examined the hypothesis that if the soil of Mars contains ferrates [Fe(VI)], the strongest of the proposed oxidizing species, and also is exposed to high fluxes of UV radiation, it will be self-sterilizing.
Results
Under ambient conditions (25°C, oxygen and water present) K2FeO4 mixed into sand mineralized some reactive organic molecules to CO2, while less reactive compounds were not degraded. Dried endospores of Bacillus subtilis incubated in a Mars surrogate soil comprised of dry silica sand containing 20% by weight K2FeO4 and under conditions similar to those now on Mars (extreme desiccation, cold, and a CO2-dominated atmosphere) were resistant to killing by the ferrate-enriched sand. Similar results were observed with permanganate. Spores in oxidant-enriched sand exposed to high fluxes of UV light were protected from the sporocidal activity of the radiation below about 5 mm depths.
Conclusion
Based on our data and previously published descriptions of ancient but dormant life forms on Earth, we suggest that if entities resembling bacterial endospores were produced at some point by life forms on Mars, they might still be present and viable, given appropriate germination conditions. Endospores delivered to Mars on spacecraft would possibly survive and potentially compromise life detection experiments.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-3-4
PMCID: PMC153549  PMID: 12694634
2.  Measurement of microbial activity in soil by colorimetric observation of in situ dye reduction: an approach to detection of extraterrestrial life 
BMC Microbiology  2002;2:22.
Background
Detecting microbial life in extraterrestrial locations is a goal of space exploration because of ecological and health concerns about possible contamination of other planets with earthly organisms, and vice versa. Previously we suggested a method for life detection based on the fact that living entities require a continual input of energy accessed through coupled oxidations and reductions (an electron transport chain). We demonstrated using earthly soils that the identification of extracted components of electron transport chains is useful for remote detection of a chemical signature of life. The instrument package developed used supercritical carbon dioxide for soil extraction, followed by chromatography or electrophoresis to separate extracted compounds, with final detection by voltammetry and tandem mass-spectrometry.
Results
Here we used Earth-derived soils to develop a related life detection system based on direct observation of a biological redox signature. We measured the ability of soil microbial communities to reduce artificial electron acceptors. Living organisms in pure culture and those naturally found in soil were shown to reduce 2,3-dichlorophenol indophenol (DCIP) and the tetrazolium dye 2,3-bis(2-methoxy-4-nitro-5-sulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium-5-carboxanilide inner salt (XTT). Uninoculated or sterilized controls did not reduce the dyes. A soil from Antarctica that was determined by chemical signature and DNA analysis to be sterile also did not reduce the dyes.
Conclusion
Observation of dye reduction, supplemented with extraction and identification of only a few specific signature redox-active biochemicals such as porphyrins or quinones, provides a simplified means to detect a signature of life in the soils of other planets or their moons.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-2-22
PMCID: PMC119848  PMID: 12150716

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