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1.  Introducing a New Stratospheric Dust-Collecting System with Potential Use for Upper Atmospheric Microbiology Investigations 
Astrobiology  2014;14(8):694-705.
The stratosphere is a known host to terrestrial microbes of most major biological lineages, but it is also host to incoming meteoric dust. Our goal is to (1) introduce DUSTER (Dust in the Upper Stratosphere Tracking Experiment and Retrieval), an active collector for the nondestructive collection of nano- to micrometer particles in the stratosphere between 30 and 40 km altitude, and (2) demonstrate that even a single particle can be collected free of resident atmospheric and laboratory contaminant particles. DUSTER improves the pervasive and persistent contamination problem in the field of aerobiology research. Here, we demonstrate the collector's advances by the identification of a (terrestrial) spore particle found among a population of nanometer-scale inorganic meteoric particles. This was possible because the size, shape, morphology, and chemical composition of each particle can be determined while still on the collector surface. Particles can be removed from DUSTER for specific laboratory analyses. So far, DUSTER has not been fitted for aerobiological purposes; that is, no attempts were made to sterilize the collector other than with isopropyl alcohol. Its design and laboratory protocols, however, allow adjustments to dedicated aerobiological sampling opportunities. Key Words: Aerobiology—Upper stratosphere—Dust collector—Single particles—Sampling. Astrobiology 14, 694–705.
PMCID: PMC4126274  PMID: 25046407
2.  Characterization of Ancient DNA Supports Long-Term Survival of Haloarchaea 
Astrobiology  2014;14(7):553-560.
Bacteria and archaea isolated from crystals of halite 104 to 108 years old suggest long-term survival of halophilic microorganisms, but the results are controversial. Independent verification of the authenticity of reputed living prokaryotes in ancient salt is required because of the high potential for environmental and laboratory contamination. Low success rates of prokaryote cultivation from ancient halite, however, hamper direct replication experiments. In such cases, culture-independent approaches that use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing of 16S ribosomal DNA are a robust alternative. Here, we use amplification, cloning, and sequencing of 16S ribosomal DNA to investigate the authenticity of halophilic archaea cultured from subsurface halite, Death Valley, California, 22,000 to 34,000 years old. We recovered 16S ribosomal DNA sequences that are identical, or nearly so (>99%), to two strains, Natronomonas DV462A and Halorubrum DV427, which were previously isolated from the same halite interval. These results provide the best independent support to date for the long-term survival of halophilic archaea in ancient halite. PCR-based approaches are sensitive to small amounts of DNA and could allow investigation of even older halites, 106 to 108 years old, from which microbial cultures have been reported. Such studies of microbial life in ancient salt are particularly important as we search for microbial signatures in similar deposits on Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System. Key Words: Ancient DNA—Halite—Haloarchaea—Long-term survival. Astrobiology 14, 553–560.
PMCID: PMC4094027  PMID: 24977469
3.  Chance and Necessity in Biochemistry: Implications for the Search for Extraterrestrial Biomarkers in Earth-like Environments 
Astrobiology  2014;14(6):534-540.
In this paper, we examine a restricted subset of the question of possible alien biochemistries. That is, we look into how different life might be if it emerged in environments similar to that required for life on Earth. We advocate a principle of chance and necessity in biochemistry. According to this principle, biochemistry is in some fundamental way the sum of two processes: there is an aspect of biochemistry that is an endowment from prebiotic processes, which represents the necessity, plus an aspect that is invented by the process of evolution, which represents the chance. As a result, we predict that life originating in extraterrestrial Earth-like environments will share biochemical motifs that can be traced back to the prebiotic world but will also have intrinsic biochemical traits that are unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere as they are combinatorially path-dependent. Effective and objective strategies to search for biomarkers, and evidence for a second genesis, on planets with Earth-like environments can be built based on this principle. Key Words: Origin of life—Biomarkers—Exobiology—Extraterrestrial life—Prebiotic chemistry. Astrobiology 14, 534–540.
PMCID: PMC4060776  PMID: 24867145
4.  Self-Assembly of Phosphate Amphiphiles in Mixtures of Prebiotically Plausible Surfactants 
Astrobiology  2014;14(6):462-472.
The spontaneous formation of closed bilayer structures from prebiotically plausible amphiphiles is an essential requirement for the emergence of early cells on prebiotic Earth. The sources of amphiphiles could have been both endo- and exogenous (accretion of meteorite carbonaceous material or interstellar dust particles). Among all prebiotic possible amphiphile candidates, those containing phosphate are the least investigated species because their self-assembly occurs in a seemingly too narrow range of conditions. The self-assembly of simple phosphate amphiphiles should, however, be of great interest, as contemporary membranes predominantly contain phospholipids. In contrast to common expectations, we show that these amphiphiles can be easily synthesized under prebiotically plausible environmental conditions and can efficiently form bilayer structures in the presence of various co-surfactants across a large range of pH values. Vesiculation was even observed in crude reaction mixtures that contained 1-decanol as the amphiphile precursor. The two best co-surfactants promoted vesicle formation over the entire pH range in aqueous solutions. Expanding the pH range where bilayer membranes self-assemble and remain intact is a prerequisite for the emergence of early cell-like compartments and their preservation under fluctuating environmental conditions. These mixed bilayers also retained small charged solutes, such as dyes. These results demonstrate that alkyl phosphate amphiphiles might have played a significant role as early compartment building blocks. Key Words: Vesicles—Alkyl phosphate—Prebiotic synthesis—Amphiphile mixtures. Astrobiology 14, 462–472.
PMCID: PMC4060816  PMID: 24885934
5.  Production and Early Preservation of Lipid Biomarkers in Iron Hot Springs 
Astrobiology  2014;14(6):502-521.
The bicarbonate-buffered anoxic vent waters at Chocolate Pots hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are 51–54°C, pH 5.5–6.0, and are very high in dissolved Fe(II) at 5.8–5.9 mg/L. The aqueous Fe(II) is oxidized by a combination of biotic and abiotic mechanisms and precipitated as primary siliceous nanophase iron oxyhydroxides (ferrihydrite). Four distinct prokaryotic photosynthetic microbial mat types grow on top of these iron deposits. Lipids were used to characterize the community composition of the microbial mats, link source organisms to geologically significant biomarkers, and investigate how iron mineralization degrades the lipid signature of the community. The phospholipid and glycolipid fatty acid profiles of the highest-temperature mats indicate that they are dominated by cyanobacteria and green nonsulfur filamentous anoxygenic phototrophs (FAPs). Diagnostic lipid biomarkers of the cyanobacteria include midchain branched mono- and dimethylalkanes and, most notably, 2-methylbacteriohopanepolyol. Diagnostic lipid biomarkers of the FAPs (Chloroflexus and Roseiflexus spp.) include wax esters and a long-chain tri-unsaturated alkene. Surprisingly, the lipid biomarkers resisted the earliest stages of microbial degradation and diagenesis to survive in the iron oxides beneath the mats. Understanding the potential of particular sedimentary environments to capture and preserve fossil biosignatures is of vital importance in the selection of the best landing sites for future astrobiological missions to Mars. This study explores the nature of organic degradation processes in moderately thermal Fe(II)-rich groundwater springs—environmental conditions that have been previously identified as highly relevant for Mars exploration. Key Words: Lipid biomarkers—Photosynthesis—Iron—Hot springs—Mars. Astrobiology 14, 502–521.
PMCID: PMC4060779  PMID: 24886100
6.  Data Management in Astrobiology: Challenges and Opportunities for an Interdisciplinary Community 
Astrobiology  2014;14(6):451-461.
Data management and sharing are growing concerns for scientists and funding organizations throughout the world. Funding organizations are implementing requirements for data management plans, while scientists are establishing new infrastructures for data sharing. One of the difficulties is sharing data among a diverse set of research disciplines. Astrobiology is a unique community of researchers, containing over 110 different disciplines. The current study reports the results of a survey of data management practices among scientists involved in the astrobiology community and the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in particular. The survey was administered over a 2-month period in the first half of 2013. Fifteen percent of the NAI community responded (n=114), and additional (n=80) responses were collected from members of an astrobiology Listserv. The results of the survey show that the astrobiology community shares many of the same concerns for data sharing as other groups. The benefits of data sharing are acknowledged by many respondents, but barriers to data sharing remain, including lack of acknowledgement, citation, time, and institutional rewards. Overcoming technical, institutional, and social barriers to data sharing will be a challenge into the future. Key Words: Data management—Data sharing—Data preservation. Astrobiology 14, 451–461.
PMCID: PMC4060838  PMID: 24840364
7.  Nonphotosynthetic Pigments as Potential Biosignatures 
Astrobiology  2015;15(5):341-361.
Previous work on possible surface reflectance biosignatures for Earth-like planets has typically focused on analogues to spectral features produced by photosynthetic organisms on Earth, such as the vegetation red edge. Although oxygenic photosynthesis, facilitated by pigments evolved to capture photons, is the dominant metabolism on our planet, pigmentation has evolved for multiple purposes to adapt organisms to their environment. We present an interdisciplinary study of the diversity and detectability of nonphotosynthetic pigments as biosignatures, which includes a description of environments that host nonphotosynthetic biologically pigmented surfaces, and a lab-based experimental analysis of the spectral and broadband color diversity of pigmented organisms on Earth. We test the utility of broadband color to distinguish between Earth-like planets with significant coverage of nonphotosynthetic pigments and those with photosynthetic or nonbiological surfaces, using both 1-D and 3-D spectral models. We demonstrate that, given sufficient surface coverage, nonphotosynthetic pigments could significantly impact the disk-averaged spectrum of a planet. However, we find that due to the possible diversity of organisms and environments, and the confounding effects of the atmosphere and clouds, determination of substantial coverage by biologically produced pigments would be difficult with broadband colors alone and would likely require spectrally resolved data. Key Words: Biosignatures—Exoplanets—Halophiles—Pigmentation—Reflectance spectroscopy—Spectral models. Astrobiology 15, 341–361.
PMCID: PMC4442567  PMID: 25941875
8.  The Production of Methane, Hydrogen, and Organic Compounds in Ultramafic-Hosted Hydrothermal Vents of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge 
Astrobiology  2015;15(5):381-399.
Both hydrogen and methane are consistently discharged in large quantities in hydrothermal fluids issued from ultramafic-hosted hydrothermal fields discovered along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Considering the vast number of these fields discovered or inferred, hydrothermal fluxes represent a significant input of H2 and CH4 to the ocean. Although there are lines of evidence of their abiogenic formation from stable C and H isotope results, laboratory experiments, and thermodynamic data, neither their origin nor the reaction pathways generating these gases have been fully constrained yet. Organic compounds detected in the fluids may also be derived from abiotic reactions. Although thermodynamics are favorable and extensive experimental work has been done on Fischer-Tropsch-type reactions, for instance, nothing is clear yet about their origin and formation mechanism from actual data. Since chemolithotrophic microbial communities commonly colonize hydrothermal vents, biogenic and thermogenic processes are likely to contribute to the production of H2, CH4, and other organic compounds. There seems to be a consensus toward a mixed origin (both sources and processes) that is consistent with the ambiguous nature of the isotopic data. But the question that remains is, to what proportions? More systematic experiments as well as integrated geochemical approaches are needed to disentangle hydrothermal geochemistry. This understanding is of prime importance considering the implications of hydrothermal H2, CH4, and organic compounds for the ocean global budget, global cycles, and the origin of life. Key Words: Hydrogen—Methane—Organics—MAR—Abiotic synthesis—Serpentinization—Ultramafic-hosted hydrothermal vents. Astrobiology 15, 381–399.
PMCID: PMC4442600  PMID: 25984920
9.  Impact of a High Magnetic Field on the Orientation of Gravitactic Unicellular Organisms—A Critical Consideration about the Application of Magnetic Fields to Mimic Functional Weightlessness 
Astrobiology  2014;14(3):205-215.
The gravity-dependent behavior of Paramecium biaurelia and Euglena gracilis have previously been studied on ground and in real microgravity. To validate whether high magnetic field exposure indeed provides a ground-based facility to mimic functional weightlessness, as has been suggested earlier, both cell types were observed during exposure in a strong homogeneous magnetic field (up to 30 T) and a strong magnetic field gradient. While swimming, Paramecium cells were aligned along the magnetic field lines; orientation of Euglena was perpendicular, demonstrating that the magnetic field determines the orientation and thus prevents the organisms from the random swimming known to occur in real microgravity. Exposing Astasia longa, a flagellate that is closely related to Euglena but lacks chloroplasts and the photoreceptor, as well as the chloroplast-free mutant E. gracilis 1F, to a high magnetic field revealed no reorientation to the perpendicular direction as in the case of wild-type E. gracilis, indicating the existence of an anisotropic structure (chloroplasts) that determines the direction of passive orientation. Immobilized Euglena and Paramecium cells could not be levitated even in the highest available magnetic field gradient as sedimentation persisted with little impact of the field on the sedimentation velocities. We conclude that magnetic fields are not suited as a microgravity simulation for gravitactic unicellular organisms due to the strong effect of the magnetic field itself, which masks the effects known from experiments in real microgravity. Key Words: Levitation—Microgravity—Gravitaxis—Gravikinesis—Gravity. Astrobiology 14, 205–215.
PMCID: PMC3952527  PMID: 24621307
10.  Sulfate Minerals: A Problem for the Detection of Organic Compounds on Mars? 
Astrobiology  2015;15(3):247-258.
The search for in situ organic matter on Mars involves encounters with minerals and requires an understanding of their influence on lander and rover experiments. Inorganic host materials can be helpful by aiding the preservation of organic compounds or unhelpful by causing the destruction of organic matter during thermal extraction steps. Perchlorates are recognized as confounding minerals for thermal degradation studies. On heating, perchlorates can decompose to produce oxygen, which then oxidizes organic matter. Other common minerals on Mars, such as sulfates, may also produce oxygen upon thermal decay, presenting an additional complication. Different sulfate species decompose within a large range of temperatures. We performed a series of experiments on a sample containing the ferric sulfate jarosite. The sulfate ions within jarosite break down from 500°C. Carbon dioxide detected during heating of the sample was attributed to oxidation of organic matter. A laboratory standard of ferric sulfate hydrate released sulfur dioxide from 550°C, and an oxygen peak was detected in the products. Calcium sulfate did not decompose below 1000°C. Oxygen released from sulfate minerals may have already affected organic compound detection during in situ thermal experiments on Mars missions. A combination of preliminary mineralogical analyses and suitably selected pyrolysis temperatures may increase future success in the search for past or present life on Mars. Key Words: Mars—Life detection—Geochemistry—Organic matter—Jarosite. Astrobiology 15, 247–258.
PMCID: PMC4363818  PMID: 25695727
11.  The Moon as a Recorder of Organic Evolution in the Early Solar System: A Lunar Regolith Analog Study 
Astrobiology  2015;15(2):154-168.
The organic record of Earth older than ∼3.8 Ga has been effectively erased. Some insight is provided to us by meteorites as well as remote and direct observations of asteroids and comets left over from the formation of the Solar System. These primitive objects provide a record of early chemical evolution and a sample of material that has been delivered to Earth's surface throughout the past 4.5 billion years. Yet an effective chronicle of organic evolution on all Solar System objects, including that on planetary surfaces, is more difficult to find. Fortunately, early Earth would not have been the only recipient of organic matter–containing objects in the early Solar System. For example, a recently proposed model suggests the possibility that volatiles, including organic material, remain archived in buried paleoregolith deposits intercalated with lava flows on the Moon. Where asteroids and comets allow the study of processes before planet formation, the lunar record could extend that chronicle to early biological evolution on the planets. In this study, we use selected free and polymeric organic materials to assess the hypothesis that organic matter can survive the effects of heating in the lunar regolith by overlying lava flows. Results indicate that the presence of lunar regolith simulant appears to promote polymerization and, therefore, preservation of organic matter. Once polymerized, the mineral-hosted newly formed organic network is relatively protected from further thermal degradation. Our findings reveal the thermal conditions under which preservation of organic matter on the Moon is viable. Key Words: Moon—Regolith—Organic preservation—Biomarkers. Astrobiology 15, 154–168.
PMCID: PMC4322787  PMID: 25615648
12.  Extreme Water Loss and Abiotic O2 Buildup on Planets Throughout the Habitable Zones of M Dwarfs 
Astrobiology  2015;15(2):119-143.
We show that terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of M dwarfs older than ∼1 Gyr could have been in runaway greenhouses for several hundred million years following their formation due to the star's extended pre-main sequence phase, provided they form with abundant surface water. Such prolonged runaway greenhouses can lead to planetary evolution divergent from that of Earth. During this early runaway phase, photolysis of water vapor and hydrogen/oxygen escape to space can lead to the loss of several Earth oceans of water from planets throughout the habitable zone, regardless of whether the escape is energy-limited or diffusion-limited. We find that the amount of water lost scales with the planet mass, since the diffusion-limited hydrogen escape flux is proportional to the planet surface gravity. In addition to undergoing potential desiccation, planets with inefficient oxygen sinks at the surface may build up hundreds to thousands of bar of abiotically produced O2, resulting in potential false positives for life. The amount of O2 that builds up also scales with the planet mass; we find that O2 builds up at a constant rate that is controlled by diffusion: ∼5 bar/Myr on Earth-mass planets and up to ∼25 bar/Myr on super-Earths. As a result, some recently discovered super-Earths in the habitable zone such as GJ 667Cc could have built up as many as 2000 bar of O2 due to the loss of up to 10 Earth oceans of water. The fate of a given planet strongly depends on the extreme ultraviolet flux, the duration of the runaway regime, the initial water content, and the rate at which oxygen is absorbed by the surface. In general, we find that the initial phase of high luminosity may compromise the habitability of many terrestrial planets orbiting low-mass stars. Key Words: Astrobiology—Biosignatures—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Planetary atmospheres. Astrobiology 15, 119–143.
PMCID: PMC4323125  PMID: 25629240
13.  Mars for Earthlings: An Analog Approach to Mars in Undergraduate Education 
Astrobiology  2014;14(1):42-49.
Mars for Earthlings (MFE) is a terrestrial Earth analog pedagogical approach to teaching undergraduate geology, planetary science, and astrobiology. MFE utilizes Earth analogs to teach Mars planetary concepts, with a foundational backbone in Earth science principles. The field of planetary science is rapidly changing with new technologies and higher-resolution data sets. Thus, it is increasingly important to understand geological concepts and processes for interpreting Mars data. MFE curriculum is topically driven to facilitate easy integration of content into new or existing courses. The Earth-Mars systems approach explores planetary origins, Mars missions, rocks and minerals, active driving forces/tectonics, surface sculpting processes, astrobiology, future explorations, and hot topics in an inquiry-driven environment. Curriculum leverages heavily upon multimedia resources, software programs such as Google Mars and JMARS, as well as NASA mission data such as THEMIS, HiRISE, CRISM, and rover images.
Two years of MFE class evaluation data suggest that science literacy and general interest in Mars geology and astrobiology topics increased after participation in the MFE curriculum. Students also used newly developed skills to create a Mars mission team presentation. The MFE curriculum, learning modules, and resources are available online at Key Words: Mars—Geology—Planetary science—Astrobiology—NASA education. Astrobiology 14, 42–49.
PMCID: PMC3899945  PMID: 24359289
14.  Textural and Mineralogical Characteristics of Microbial Fossils Associated with Modern and Ancient Iron (Oxyhydr)Oxides: Terrestrial Analogue for Sediments in Gale Crater 
Astrobiology  2014;14(1):1-14.
Iron (oxyhydr)oxide microbial mats in modern to ∼100 ka tufa terraces are present in a cold spring system along Ten Mile Graben, southeastern Utah, USA. Mats exhibit morphological, chemical, and textural biosignatures and show diagenetic changes that occur over millennial scales. The Jurassic Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation in the Four Corners region of the USA also exhibits comparable microbial fossils and iron (oxyhydr)oxide biosignatures in the lacustrine unit.
Both the modern spring system and Brushy Basin Member represent alkaline, saline, groundwater-fed systems and preserve diatoms and other similar algal forms with cellular elaboration. Two distinct suites of elements (1. C, Fe, As and 2. C, S, Se, P) are associated with microbial fossils in modern and ancient iron (oxyhydr)oxides and may be potential markers for biosignatures. The presence of ferrihydrite in ∼100 ka fossil microbial mats and Jurassic rocks suggests that this thermodynamically unstable mineral may also be a potential biomarker.
One of the most extensive sedimentary records on Mars is exposed in Gale Crater and consists of non-acidic clays and sulfates possibly of lacustrine origin. These terrestrial iron (oxyhydr)oxide examples are a valuable analogue because of similar iron- and clay-rich host rock compositions and will help (1) understand diagenetic processes in a non-acidic, saline lacustrine environment such as the sedimentary rocks in Gale Crater, (2) document specific biomediated textures, (3) demonstrate how biomediated textures might persist or respond to diagenesis over time, and (4) provide a ground truth library of textures to explore and compare in extraterrestrial iron (oxyhydr)oxides, where future explorations hope to detect past evidence of life. Key Words: Biogeochemistry—Mars—Biosignatures—Diagenesis—Iron oxides. Astrobiology 14, 1–14.
PMCID: PMC3901165  PMID: 24380534
15.  Spaceflight Induces Specific Alterations in the Proteomes of Arabidopsis 
Astrobiology  2015;15(1):32-56.
Life in spaceflight demonstrates remarkable acclimation processes within the specialized habitats of vehicles subjected to the myriad of unique environmental issues associated with orbital trajectories. To examine the response processes that occur in plants in space, leaves and roots from Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) seedlings from three GFP reporter lines that were grown from seed for 12 days on the International Space Station and preserved on orbit in RNAlater were returned to Earth and analyzed by using iTRAQ broad-scale proteomics procedures. Using stringent criteria, we identified over 1500 proteins, which included 1167 leaf proteins and 1150 root proteins we were able to accurately quantify. Quantification revealed 256 leaf proteins and 358 root proteins that showed statistically significant differential abundance in the spaceflight samples compared to ground controls, with few proteins differentially regulated in common between leaves and roots. This indicates that there are measurable proteomics responses to spaceflight and that the responses are organ-specific. These proteomics data were compared with transcriptome data from similar spaceflight samples, showing that there is a positive but limited relationship between transcriptome and proteome regulation of the overall spaceflight responses of plants. These results are discussed in terms of emergence understanding of plant responses to spaceflight particularly with regard to cell wall remodeling, as well as in the context of deriving multiple omics data sets from a single on-orbit preservation and operations approach. Key Words: Space biology—Proteomics—Gene expression—ISS. Astrobiology 15, 32–56.
PMCID: PMC4290804  PMID: 25517942
16.  Explorer, Nobel Laureate, Astrobiologist: Things You Never Knew about Barry Blumberg 
Astrobiology  2015;15(1):1-14.
PMCID: PMC4291204  PMID: 25470005
17.  XUV-Exposed, Non-Hydrostatic Hydrogen-Rich Upper Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets. Part I: Atmospheric Expansion and Thermal Escape 
Astrobiology  2013;13(11):1011-1029.
The recently discovered low-density “super-Earths” Kepler-11b, Kepler-11f, Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e, and planets such as GJ 1214b represent the most likely known planets that are surrounded by dense H/He envelopes or contain deep H2O oceans also surrounded by dense hydrogen envelopes. Although these super-Earths are orbiting relatively close to their host stars, they have not lost their captured nebula-based hydrogen-rich or degassed volatile-rich steam protoatmospheres. Thus, it is interesting to estimate the maximum possible amount of atmospheric hydrogen loss from a terrestrial planet orbiting within the habitable zone of late main sequence host stars. For studying the thermosphere structure and escape, we apply a 1-D hydrodynamic upper atmosphere model that solves the equations of mass, momentum, and energy conservation for a planet with the mass and size of Earth and for a super-Earth with a size of 2 REarth and a mass of 10 MEarth. We calculate volume heating rates by the stellar soft X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) and expansion of the upper atmosphere, its temperature, density, and velocity structure and related thermal escape rates during the planet's lifetime. Moreover, we investigate under which conditions both planets enter the blow-off escape regime and may therefore experience loss rates that are close to the energy-limited escape. Finally, we discuss the results in the context of atmospheric evolution and implications for habitability of terrestrial planets in general. Key Words: Stellar activity—Low-mass stars—Early atmospheres—Earth-like exoplanets—Energetic neutral atoms—Ion escape—Habitability. Astrobiology 13, 1011–1029.
PMCID: PMC3865622  PMID: 24251443
18.  XUV-Exposed, Non-Hydrostatic Hydrogen-Rich Upper Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets. Part II: Hydrogen Coronae and Ion Escape 
Astrobiology  2013;13(11):1030-1048.
We studied the interactions between the stellar wind plasma flow of a typical M star, such as GJ 436, and the hydrogen-rich upper atmosphere of an Earth-like planet and a “super-Earth” with a radius of 2 REarth and a mass of 10 MEarth, located within the habitable zone at ∼0.24 AU. We investigated the formation of extended atomic hydrogen coronae under the influences of the stellar XUV flux (soft X-rays and EUV), stellar wind density and velocity, shape of a planetary obstacle (e.g., magnetosphere, ionopause), and the loss of planetary pickup ions on the evolution of hydrogen-dominated upper atmospheres. Stellar XUV fluxes that are 1, 10, 50, and 100 times higher compared to that of the present-day Sun were considered, and the formation of high-energy neutral hydrogen clouds around the planets due to the charge-exchange reaction under various stellar conditions was modeled. Charge-exchange between stellar wind protons with planetary hydrogen atoms, and photoionization, lead to the production of initially cold ions of planetary origin. We found that the ion production rates for the studied planets can vary over a wide range, from ∼1.0×1025 s−1 to ∼5.3×1030 s−1, depending on the stellar wind conditions and the assumed XUV exposure of the upper atmosphere. Our findings indicate that most likely the majority of these planetary ions are picked up by the stellar wind and lost from the planet. Finally, we estimated the long-time nonthermal ion pickup escape for the studied planets and compared them with the thermal escape. According to our estimates, nonthermal escape of picked-up ionized hydrogen atoms over a planet's lifetime within the habitable zone of an M dwarf varies between ∼0.4 Earth ocean equivalent amounts of hydrogen (EOH) to <3 EOH and usually is several times smaller in comparison to the thermal atmospheric escape rates. Key Words: Stellar activity—Low-mass stars—Early atmospheres—Earth-like exoplanets—Energetic neutral atoms—Ion escape—Habitability. Astrobiology 13, 1030–1048.
PMCID: PMC3865724  PMID: 24283926
19.  Natural Fumarolic Alteration of Fluorapatite, Olivine, and Basaltic Glass, and Implications for Habitable Environments on Mars 
Astrobiology  2013;13(11):1049-1064.
Fumaroles represent a very important potential habitat on Mars because they contain water and nutrients. Global deposition of volcanic sulfate aerosols may also have been an important soil-forming process affecting large areas of Mars. Here we identify alteration from the Senator fumarole, northwest Nevada, USA, and in low-temperature environments near the fumarole to help interpret fumarolic and acid vapor alteration of rocks and soils on Mars. We analyzed soil samples and fluorapatite, olivine, and basaltic glass placed at and near the fumarole in in situ mineral alteration experiments designed to measure weathering under natural field conditions.
Using synchrotron X-ray diffraction, we clearly observe hydroxyl-carbonate-bearing fluorapatite as a fumarolic alteration product of the original material, fluorapatite. The composition of apatites as well as secondary phosphates has been previously used to infer magmatic conditions as well as fumarolic conditions on Mars. To our knowledge, the observations reported here represent the first documented instance of formation of hydroxyl-carbonate-bearing apatite from fluorapatite in a field experiment. Retreat of olivine surfaces, as well as abundant NH4-containing minerals, was also characteristic of fumarolic alteration. In contrast, alteration in the nearby low-temperature environment resulted in formation of large pits on olivine surfaces, which were clearly distinguishable from the fumarolic alteration. Raman signatures of some fumarolically impacted surfaces are consistent with detection of the biological molecules chlorophyll and scytenomin, potentially useful biosignatures. Observations of altered minerals on Mars may therefore help identify the environment of formation and understand the aqueous history and potential habitability of that planet. Key Words: Fumaroles—Mars—Olivine—Acidophile—Geothermal—Search for life (biosignatures)—Synchrotron X-ray diffraction. Astrobiology 13, 1049–1064.
PMCID: PMC3865726  PMID: 24283927
20.  Transfer of Impact Ejecta Material from the Surface of Mars to Phobos and Deimos 
Astrobiology  2013;13(10):963-980.
The Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft originally planned to return a 200 g sample of surface material from Phobos to Earth. Although it was anticipated that this material would mainly be from the body of Phobos, there is a possibility that such a sample may also contain material ejected from the surface of Mars by large impacts. An analysis of this possibility is completed by using current knowledge of aspects of impact cratering on the surface of Mars and the production of high-speed ejecta that might reach Phobos or Deimos. Key Words: Impact cratering—Ejecta transfer—Phobos. Astrobiology 13, 963–980.
PMCID: PMC3807532  PMID: 24131246
21.  Raman Hyperspectral Imaging of Microfossils: Potential Pitfalls 
Astrobiology  2013;13(10):920-931.
Initially, Raman spectroscopy was a specialized technique used by vibrational spectroscopists; however, due to rapid advancements in instrumentation and imaging techniques over the last few decades, Raman spectrometers are widely available at many institutions, allowing Raman spectroscopy to become a widespread analytical tool in mineralogy and other geological sciences. Hyperspectral imaging, in particular, has become popular due to the fact that Raman spectroscopy can quickly delineate crystallographic and compositional differences in 2-D and 3-D at the micron scale. Although this rapid growth of applications to the Earth sciences has provided great insight across the geological sciences, the ease of application as the instruments become increasingly automated combined with nonspecialists using this techique has resulted in the propagation of errors and misunderstandings throughout the field. For example, the literature now includes misassigned vibration modes, inappropriate spectral processing techniques, confocal depth of laser penetration incorrectly estimated into opaque crystalline solids, and a misconstrued understanding of the anisotropic nature of sp2 carbons. Key Words: Raman spectroscopy—Raman imaging—Confocal Raman spectroscopy—Disordered sp2 carbons—Hematite—Microfossils. Astrobiology 13, 920–931.
PMCID: PMC3807534  PMID: 24088070
22.  The Dependence of the Ice-Albedo Feedback on Atmospheric Properties 
Astrobiology  2013;13(10):899-909.
Ice-albedo feedback is a potentially important destabilizing effect for the climate of terrestrial planets. It is based on the positive feedback between decreasing surface temperatures, an increase of snow and ice cover, and an associated increase in planetary albedo, which then further decreases surface temperature. A recent study shows that for M stars, the strength of the ice-albedo feedback is reduced due to the strong spectral dependence of stellar radiation and snow/ice albedos; that is, M stars primarily emit in the near IR, where the snow and ice albedo is low, and less in the visible, where the snow/ice albedo is high.
This study investigates the influence of the atmosphere (in terms of surface pressure and atmospheric composition) on this feedback, since an atmosphere was neglected in previous studies. A plane-parallel radiative transfer model was used for the calculation of planetary albedos. We varied CO2 partial pressures as well as the H2O, CH4, and O3 content in the atmosphere for planets orbiting Sun-like and M type stars.
Results suggest that, for planets around M stars, the ice-albedo effect is significantly reduced, compared to planets around Sun-like stars. Including the effects of an atmosphere further suppresses the sensitivity to the ice-albedo effect. Atmospheric key properties such as surface pressure, but also the abundance of radiative trace gases, can considerably change the strength of the ice-albedo feedback. For dense CO2 atmospheres of the order of a few to tens of bar, atmospheric rather than surface properties begin to dominate the planetary radiation budget. At high CO2 pressures, the ice-albedo feedback is strongly reduced for planets around M stars. The presence of trace amounts of H2O and CH4 in the atmosphere also weakens the ice-albedo effect for both stellar types considered. For planets around Sun-like stars, O3 could also lead to a very strong decrease of the ice-albedo feedback at high CO2 pressures. Key Words: Atmospheric compositions—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Snowball Earth—Planetary atmospheres—Radiative transfer. Astrobiology 13, 899–909.
PMCID: PMC3807702  PMID: 24111995
23.  Acidophilic Halophilic Microorganisms in Fluid Inclusions in Halite from Lake Magic, Western Australia 
Astrobiology  2013;13(9):850-860.
Lake Magic is one of the most extreme of hundreds of ephemeral acid-saline lakes in southern Western Australia. It has pH as low as 1.7, salinity as high as 32% total dissolved solids, temperatures ranging from 0°C to 50°C, and an unusually complex aqueous composition. Optical petrography, UV-vis petrography, and laser Raman spectrometry were used to detect microorganisms and organic compounds within primary fluid inclusions in modern bedded halite from Lake Magic. Rare prokaryotes appear as 1–3 μm, bright cocci that fluoresce green with UV-vis illumination. Dimpled, 5–7 μm yellow spherules that fluoresce blue with UV-vis illumination are interpreted as Dunaliella algae. Yellow-orange beta-carotene crystals, globules, and coatings are characterized by orange-red fluorescence and three distinct Raman peaks. Because acid saline lakes are good Mars analogues, the documentation of prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and organic compounds preserved in the halite here has implications for the search for life on Mars. Missions to Mars should incorporate such in situ optical and chemical examination of martian evaporites for possible microorganisms and/or organic compounds in fluid inclusions. Key Words: Acid—Extremophiles—Western Australia—Fluid inclusions—Lake Magic—Dunaliella. Astrobiology 13, 850–860.
PMCID: PMC3778947  PMID: 23971647
24.  The Effects of Modeled Microgravity on Growth Kinetics, Antibiotic Susceptibility, Cold Growth, and the Virulence Potential of a Yersinia pestis ymoA-Deficient Mutant and Its Isogenic Parental Strain 
Astrobiology  2013;13(9):821-832.
Previously, we reported that there was no enhancement in the virulence potential (as measured by cell culture infections) of the bacterial pathogen Yersinia pestis (YP) following modeled microgravity/clinorotation growth. We have now further characterized the effects of clinorotation (CR) on YP growth kinetics, antibiotic sensitivity, cold growth, and YP's virulence potential in a murine model of infection. Surprisingly, none of the aforementioned phenotypes were altered. To better understand why CR did not enhance YP's virulence potential as it did for other bacterial pathogens, a YP ΔymoA isogenic mutant in the KIM/D27 background strain that is unable to produce the histone-like YmoA protein and influences DNA topography was used in both cell culture and murine models of infection. YmoA represses type three secretion system (T3SS) virulence gene expression in the yersiniae. Similar to our CR-grown parental YP strain data, the CR-grown ΔymoA mutant induced reduced HeLa cell cytotoxicity with concomitantly decreased Yersinia outer protein E (YopE) and low calcium response V (LcrV) antigen production and secretion. Important, however, were our findings that, although no significant differences were observed in survival of mice infected intraperitoneally with either normal gravity (NG)- or CR-grown parental YP, the ΔymoA mutant induced significantly more mortality in infected mice than did the parental strain following CR growth. Taken together, our data demonstrate that CR did enhance the virulence potential of the YP ΔymoA mutant in a murine infection model (relative to the CR-grown parental strain), despite inducing less HeLa cell rounding in our cell culture infection assay due to reduced T3SS activity. Therefore, CR, which induces a unique type of bacterial stress, might be enhancing YP's virulence potential in vivo through a T3SS-independent mechanism when the histone-like YmoA protein is absent. Key Words: Type three secretion system (T3SS)—Low-shear modeled microgravity—High-aspect ratio vessel—Cell culture infection models—Mouse infection model. Astrobiology 13, 821–832.
PMCID: PMC3779001  PMID: 23988036
25.  Effects of Simulated Microgravity on Primary Human NK Cells 
Astrobiology  2013;13(8):703-714.
The deleterious effects of microgravity on lymphocytes have been demonstrated in previous studies. However, research on the effects of microgravity on human natural killer (NK) cells remains exceedingly limited. In this study, we demonstrated that NK cell cytotoxicity was significantly decreased under simulated microgravity (SMG) conditions (p<0.05). Several processes, including apoptosis, receptor expression, and cytokine secretion, were investigated in human NK cells under SMG. We observed decreased cytotoxicity, concurrent with increased apoptosis and necrosis, in NK cells after exposure to SMG (p<0.05). Additionally, interferon (IFN)-γ and perforin expression decreased significantly, and the expression of granzyme-B was only slightly reduced. Meanwhile, SMG selectively inhibited the expression of certain surface receptors on NK cells. Specifically, the expression of NKG2A and NKG2D were significantly downregulated under SMG, but the expression of NKp30 and NKp44 was not affected. We also found that interleukin (IL)–15 alone or in combination with IL-12 could counteract the inhibition of NK cell cytotoxicity under SMG. Our findings indicate that human NK cells were sensitive to SMG, as reflected by their decreased cytotoxicity. Factors such as increased early apoptosis and late apoptosis/necrosis and the decreased expression of INF-γ, cytolytic proteins, and cell surface receptors may be responsible for the loss of cytotoxicity in human NK cells under SMG. A combination of IL-12 and IL-15 may be useful as a therapeutic strategy for overcoming the effects of microgravity on human NK cells during long space missions. Key Words: Simulated microgravity (SMG)—Natural killer (NK) cells—Cytotoxicity. Astrobiology 13, 703–714.
PMCID: PMC3746215  PMID: 23919749

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