Microbial Analysis of Australian Dry Lake Cores; Analogs For Biogeochemical Processes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Alina Vy Nguyen, Saint Marys College of California, Walnut Creek, CA, United States, Alice M Baldridge, St. Mary's College of California, Environmental and Earth Science, Moraga, CA, United States and Bradley J Thomson, Boston University, Center for Remote Sensing, Boston, MA, United States
Lake Gilmore in Western Australia is an acidic ephemeral lake that is analogous to Martian geochemical processes represented by interbedded phyllosilicates and sulfates. These areas demonstrate remnants of a global-scale change on Mars during the late Noachian era from a neutral to alkaline pH to relatively lower pH in the Hesperian era that continues to persist today. The geochemistry of these areas could possibly be caused by small-scale changes such as microbial metabolism. Two approaches were used to determine the presence of microbes in the Australian dry lake cores: DNA analysis and lipid analysis. Detecting DNA or lipids in the cores will provide evidence of living or deceased organisms since they provide distinct markers for life. Basic DNA analysis consists of extraction, amplification through PCR, plasmid cloning, and DNA sequencing. Once the sequence of unknown DNA is known, an online program, BLAST, will be used to identify the microbes for further analysis. The lipid analysis approach consists of phospholipid fatty acid analysis that is done by Microbial ID, which will provide direct identification any microbes from the presence of lipids. Identified microbes are then compared to mineralogy results from the x-ray diffraction of the core samples to determine if the types of metabolic reactions are consistent with the variation in composition in these analog deposits. If so, it provides intriguing implications for the presence of life in similar Martian deposits.