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Biofinder advances detection of extraterrestrial life

Biofinder improves detection of extraterrestrial life

Biofinder detection of biological remains in fish fossil. (a) White light image of a fish fossil from the Green River formation (b) Fluorescence image of the fish fossil obtained by the Biofinder (c) Close-up white light image of the cross-section of the fish fossil (d) Fluorescence image showing strong biofluorescence of the fish remains. Credit: Misra, et al., 2022

An innovative scientific tool, the Compact Color Biofinder, developed by a team of researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, could change the game in the search for signs of alien life.

Most biological materials, for example amino acids, fossils, sedimentary rocks, plants, microbes, proteins and lipids, have strong organic fluorescence signals that can be detected by specialized scanning cameras. In a study published in Scientific reports recently, the research team reported that the Biofinder is so sensitive that it can accurately detect the bioresidue in fish fossils from the 34-56 million-year-old Green River formation.

“The Biofinder is the first system of its kind,” said Anupam Misra, principal instrument developer and researcher at the Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). “At the moment there is no other equipment that can detect miniscule amounts of bio-residue on a rock during the day. Additional strengths of the Biofinder are that it works from a distance of several meters, records video and can quickly scan a large area.”

Although the Biofinder was first developed in 2012 by Misra, the advancements supported by the NASA PICASSO program culminated in the latest color version of the compact Biofinder.

Finding evidence of biological remains in a vast planetary landscape is a huge challenge. So the team tested the Biofinder’s detection capabilities on Green River’s ancient fish fossils and confirmed the results through lab spectroscopy analysis, scanning electron microscopy and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy.

Biofinder improves detection of extraterrestrial life

Biofinder works on batteries and looks at fossil samples from 50 cm away. Credit: Anupam Misra, UH SOEST.

“There are some unknowns as to how quickly bio-residues are replaced by minerals in the fossilization process,” Misra said. “However, our findings reaffirm that biological residues can survive for millions of years, and that the use of biofluorescence imaging effectively detects these trace residues in real time.”

The search for life – which may exist or may be extinct – on planetary bodies is one of the main goals of planetary exploration missions conducted by NASA and other international space agencies.

“If the Biofinder were mounted on a rover on Mars or another planet, we could quickly scan large areas to detect evidence of past life, even if the organism was small, not easy to see with our eyes, and death to many.” millions of years,” Misra said. “We expect that fluorescence imaging will be critical in future NASA missions to detect organic matter and the existence of life on other planetary bodies.”

“The Biofinder’s capabilities would be critical to NASA’s Planetary Protection program for the accurate and non-invasive detection of contaminants such as microbes or alien biological hazards to or from planet Earth,” said Sonia J. Rowley, the team biologist and co-author of the study.

Misra and colleagues ask for the opportunity to send the Biofinder on a future NASA mission.

“The detection of such biomarkers would provide groundbreaking evidence for life beyond planet Earth,” Misra said.

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More information:
Anupam K. Misra et al, Biofinder detects biological remains in Eocene-era Green River fish fossils at video speed, Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-14410-8

Provided by the University of Hawaii at Manoa

Quote: Biofinder Improves Alien Life Detection (2022, June 25) Retrieved June 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-biofinder-advances-extraterrestrial-life.html

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