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European Space Agency

European Mars Science and Exploration Conference: Mars Express & ExoMars
ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, 12 - 16 November, 2007


EXOMARS Joop M. Houtkooper1, Dirk Schulze-Makuch2. 1Center for Psychobiology and Behavioral Medicine,
Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, De Maalkom 7, 1191LP Ouderkerk Amstel, The Netherlands. 2School of
Earth and Environmental Sciences, Washington State University, USA.

Anticipated Life on Mars: The hydrogen peroxide- organisms to hyperhydrate and perish as well. The
water hypothesis [1] offers an explanation for the excess oxidative content of organisms explains the
hitherto puzzling aspects of the Viking Lander evolved O2. Moreover, the presence of organisms
biology experiments. The lack of detected organics in may explain the diminished reponses in the "cold
the GCMS and the evolution of oxygen in the GEx sterilization" tests and the lack of response of samples
experiment point to the possibility of organisms using stored for 3 months in the dark at above zero
a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water in their temperatures, possibly because of energy use by
intracellular fluid. active cellular stabilization.
H2O2-H2O mixtures: Such mixtures have several The MSL and ExoMars instruments: MSL and
properties attractive in Martian ambient conditions: ExoMars may reveal indicators of biology. The MSL
The freezing point of the eutectic is -56.5oC, with the will have the SAM searching for carbon compounds,
tendency to supercool below that temperature, H2O2 both in soil samples and in the atmosphere. The soil
is a source of oxygen and energy, and the mixture is samples will be heated to get the GCMS to work. A
hygroscopic, enabling organisms to attract water laser spectrometer will analyze isotopic abundances.
vapor from the atmosphere well below saturated Environmental monitoring will measure humidity.
conditions. ExoMars will carry GEP to monitor the environment
The compatibility of H2O2 with biochemistry may for a few Martian years. The Pasteur package on the
be questioned, but even terran biochemistry has a rover will contain a GCMS and a microscopic
number of uses for H2O2, as a messenger molecule, as spectrometer. Organics and oxidants should be
a defence by antibodies, in the metabolism of detected and an antibody-based life-marker chip may
Acetobacter peroxidans, with the most extreme detect present life if a biochemistry similar to ours is
example known being the 25% H2O2 solution involved.
produced by the insect Brachinus crepitans. Adding water is no option: Most biology
Properties of the anticipated organisms: First, the experiments use liquid water. The resulting com-
organisms are well able to grow without liquid water bination of humidity and temperature is unmartian
at Martian ambient temperatures. Furthermore they and may cause the anticipated organisms to perish.
may well have an excess oxidative content and their The same may well have happened when heating the
ability to scavenge water vapor from the atmosphere samples in the Viking GCMS. This limits the pos-
may also be a disadvantage: Under water vapor rich sibilities of detection. Still, imaging and microscopic
conditions, such as saturation at above zero spectroscopy, in the visual and UV to detect
temperatures, they may have no defence against absorbing/photosynthetic pigments, and in the IR to
hyperhydration. Obviously, the organisms have to possibly detect a Raman signature of H2O2 are
produce their H2O2 from the atmosphere, of which possibilities. However, metabolism should not be
the H2O2 content is in the ppb range. Moreover, the neglected: Organisms which produce H2O2 from H2O
contact between the H2O2 and the proteins in the cell and CO2 using photosynthesis or thermal gradients
may require an active stabilization mechanism, have to produce reducing species such as CO, CH4
possibly in conjuction with the H2O2 production. The and CH2O. Scavenging O2 from the little present in
active stabilization mechanism may be similar in the atmosphere is another possibility. These
some way to the damage repair mechanism in Deino- metabolic processes may result in signatures in the
coccus radiodurans, which requires an active surface boundary layer of the atmosphere in the form
metabolic state. of diurnal rhythms. Monitoring of the atmospheric
Explaining the Viking results: The lack of (isotopic) composition with high precision would be
detected organics can be explained by the gradual called for.
heating to pyrolysis, by which the organisms References: [1] Houtkooper, J. M., and D. Schulze-
decomposed into CO2, H2O, O2, N2 and little else. In Makuch, (2007) IJA 6: 147-152.
the GEx experiment, the added moisture caused the doi:10.1017/S1473550407003746.