At this institution 3 projects in astrobiology will be carried out in co-operation with teams in the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
Co-operation with NASA Ames Research Center (Dr. Niki Parenteau, Dr. Linda Jahnke) and Dr. Sherry Cady (Portland State University). The project examines the production and preservation of microbial biosignatures in silica-depositing hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. It specifically focuses on the preservation of organics (lipid biomarkers) in the microbial mats as they become silicified. The lipid biomarkes are characterised using both traditional gas chromatography mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) and a novel application of time of flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). The project will be extended to include acidic silica-depositing hot springs, iron-depositing hot springs, and acidic clays. Examining the preservation of microbial biosignatures in these modern analogues is relevant to the search for evidence of extinct microbial life in similar deposits on Mars, such as the amorphous silica deposits (opal-A) at Home Plate in Gusev Crater.
Co-operation with Carnegie Institution of Washington (Dr.Andrew Steele). Study of organics in Martian meteorites using different techniques including ToF-SIMS as a way to constrain the carbon cycle on Mars. This include identifying and mapping the organics in relation to different mineral phases in the meteorites.
Co-operation with University of Washington (Dr. Roger Buick). Study of single oil-bearing fluid inclusions as way constraining early evolution of life. Oil-bearing fluidinclusions, which are small amount oil trapped inside a mineral matrix, is studied in search of organic biomarkers. Organic biomarkers are organic molecules that be used to study evolution of life in the geological record.