1 PhD position on Detection of lipid biosignatures (molecular and isotopic) in extreme environments with analogy to Mars

Application deadline:

Centro de Astrobiología offers a PhD position associated with lipidic biomarkers in Martian terrestrial analogs through the "Aid for predoc contracts for the training of doctors" (Ministry of Science and Innovation).

Project description:

The detection of life beyond the Earth is one of the main motivations in planetary exploration, in particular, the search for a biosphere (present or past) in the Martian sub-surface. Given the complexity of conducting in situ studies, the search for evidences of Martian life may benefit from the study of terrestrial extreme environments that are analogous to certain scenarios on Mars. The use of Martian analogues on Earth offers great potential for making progress on understanding  how life has been able to emerge and/or co-evolve with the system and its environmental factors. Furthermore, the search for evidence of life in other planetary bodies requires a deep understanding of the variety of biomolecules (i.e. with different chemical nature, preservation potential or biological specificity) that may be found in an environment.

In this project we propose to make progress in the study of the possible life-environment co-evolution on Mars, by searching for biomarkers and their interrelation with environmental conditions in three extreme environments with astrobiological and early life interest:

1. Andean Altiplano: hyper arid, wide daily thermal oscillation, high UV radiation;
2. Antarctic Peninsula: cold and dry environments, oligotrophic soils;
3. Siberian Arctic: hydrothermal upwelling in Arctic water column (hydrothermal-polar interface, interest in possible primordial life conditions).

We propose the use of molecular and isotopic biomarkers (compound-specific isotopic analysis) with high preservation potential (i.e. lipids) in fresh and fossil environmental samples (stromatolites, soil, sediment and biofilms) to recreate origins, sources, metabolisms and environmental conditions, in combination with the analysis of other biomolecules (e.g. proteins, DNA, or antibodies) with complementary value for the assignment of taxonomic and/or metabolic sources. The ultimate objective is to define biological traces of simple life forms (i.e. prokaryota) with certain potential to be found on Mars, in case life arose  there, as well as to contribute defining what (compounds) and where (mineralogy, type of surface, geological niche, physical-chemical conditions, etc.) future missions should target for searching for extant or extinct life on Mars.

Expected results:

- Identifying bio/geo-signatures present or preserved in the three extreme environments.
- Reconstructing sources and dominant metabolisms.
- Identifying patterns of life-environment interrelationships.
- Defining the most characteristic biosignatures on each environment according to the most influential variables (temperature, UV radiation, aridity, cold/heat interface, etc).
- Elaborating libraries of biomarkers of simple forms of life (prokaryota) with more possibilities of being found on Mars.

Group: Biomolecules and Planetary exploration (https://cab.inta-csic.es/es/lineasdeinvestigacion/19/grupo-de-biomolecu…)

For more information contact researcher: Laura Sánchez García (lsanchez@cab.inta-csic.es)

*Due to the migration of our webpage to a new one, we are unable to announce this offer directly in our page at the moment.