LMC development for ExoMars

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: Cranfield Health

Abstract

Broad and diverse sections of society engage with the question 'are we, that is Life on Earth, unique or if given appropriate conditions, does Life appear throughout the Universe?' Within our Solar System, we have the opportunity to address this question by visiting locations such as Mars that within our current understanding offer possible environments conducive to Life. Finding of evidence of Life on Mars that is independent of Life on Earth would give a strong indication that Life should be commonplace throughout the Universe. Such a finding would change forever humankind's view of our place in the cosmos. The use of space missions to place scientific instruments on the surface of Mars to search for evidence of Life, both preserved evidence of ancient Life and possible present Life gives us a way to address this question. The European Space Agency's ExoMars mission plans to place a rover on the Martian surface by the middle of the next decade with a primary goal of understanding the possibility of Life on Mars and searching for evidence of such. As part of the instrument suite within the proposed ExoMars rover are a number of instruments that are focused at detecting evidence of Life by searching for certain organic molecules possibly present at trace levels in the Martian environment. The nature of such molecules is that if present in the Martian environment, their presence could only be explained by the existence of Life to produce them: such molecules are called biomarkers. Therefore detection of such molecules would be a very strong indication of the presence of Life. One of the possible instruments within the instrument suite is a novel instrument in the context of space exploration and called the Life Marker Chip (LMC). The LMC exploits of a number of technologies that have been developed within other non-space applications and especially within the healthcare sector. Within healthcare, the detection of trace organic molecules is commonplace in the diagnosis of disease and is often reliant upon the use of biological assay such as those exploiting protein molecules such an antibodies. Well-known examples of such an approach are pregnancy testing kits. Such an approach, suitably developed for use on the surface of Mars, would enable a diverse range of organic molecule biomarkers to be detected in a compact and low mass instrument if multiple antibodies could be incorporated. A UK led international team has been exploring such an LMC technology and has been chosen in a separate review process by ESA to develop a LMC instrument for the ExoMars mission. Thus the overall objective of this project is to ultimately build a LMC instrument to be delivered to ESA and flown on the ExoMars mission. The programme of work will comprise (i) designing and developing the instrument hardware, (ii) production of antibodies required to detect biomarkers, (iii) using the antibodies in developing antibody assays that detect biomarkers, (iv) integrating the assays into the LMC hardware, (v) designing and producing a sample processing module that will extract the biomarkers from Martian rock and soil samples delivered by the rover to the LMC, (vi) validating the LMC instrument in laboratory and field trials and (vii) demonstrating the LMC instrument can be produced in a clean and sterile form that will not take Earth Life to Mars and contaminate the Martian environment and give false signal of Life on Mars. The instrument should have a mass of less than 2kg. Outputs of the LMC instrument together with the outputs from the other instrument within the rover will address specific scientific objectives such as is there (i) evidence of preserved ancient Life, (ii) evidence of short-lived biomarkers associated with current Martian Life and (iii) presence of other organic molecules that are not produced by Life but that will inform us about other aspects of the history and current nature of the Martian environment.

Publications

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Court R (2010) Novel solvent systems for in situ extraterrestrial sample analysis in Planetary and Space Science

 
Description The Life Marker Chip (LMC) experiment comprises an instrument and the associated science case for detecting molecular evidence of Life on Mars. The project was jointly lead by this PI and a PI at University of Leicester. The STFC funding for this project started in late 2007 and finished in mid 2013 and comprised at Cranfield an overlapping series of 10 awards. This submission represents the whole project but is submitted only associated with the first of the series of awards.

The key developments can be briefly summarised in four areas:

SCIENCE CASE: The work has advanced and refined the science case associated with the use of organic molecular markers to understand the evolution of Mars with a special focus on the potential for, evolution of and fate of Life on Mars.

SOLVENT EXTRACTION: The ability to gain analytical access to organic molecular markers from Martian rock and regolith (soil) samples has been advanced by the development of a new solvent extraction technique able to extract both hydrophobic (historically achievable by other techniques on Mars) and hydrophilic (historically not achievable by other techniques on Mars) molecules and which avoids problem associated with new discovered Martian perchlorate chemistry which now plague the current Martian extraction techniques.

ANTIBODY DEVELOPMENT: The key organic molecular markers to be detected are challenging targets for antibody-based detection (the heart of the LMC) and therefore a series of advanced protocols have been developed to use phage-displayed recombinant antibody libraries to identify new antibodies to these targets.

LMC FLIGHT MODEL DESIGN: The LMC requires a level of sample handling and especially fluid handling that is at the leading edge of planetary exploration design. Therefore the development of the LMC flight instrument has advanced such technology to beyond the established state-of-the-art.
Exploitation Route The Life Marker Chip (LMC) experiment comprises an instrument and the associated science case for detecting molecular evidence of Life on Mars. The project was jointly lead by this PI and a PI at University of Leicester. The STFC funding for this project started in late 2007 and finished in mid 2013 and comprised at Cranfield an overlapping series of 10 awards. This submission represents the whole project but is submitted only associated with the first of the series of awards.

The key developments can be briefly summarised in four areas:

SCIENCE CASE: The work has advanced and refined the science case associated with the use of organic molecular markers to understand the evolution of Mars with a special focus on the potential for, evolution of and fate of Life on Mars.

SOLVENT EXTRACTION: The ability to gain analytical access to organic molecular markers from Martian rock and regolith (soil) samples has been advanced by the development of a new solvent extraction technique able to extract both hydrophobic (historically achievable by other techniques on Mars) and hydrophilic (historically not achievable by other techniques on Mars) molecules and which avoids problem associated with new discovered Martian perchlorate chemistry which now plague the current Martian extraction techniques.

ANTIBODY DEVELOPMENT: The key organic molecular markers to be detected are challenging targets for antibody-based detection (the heart of the LMC) and therefore a series of advanced protocols have been developed to use phage-displayed recombinant antibody libraries to identify new antibodies to these targets.

LMC FLIGHT MODEL DESIGN: The LMC requires a level of sample handling and especially fluid handling that is at the leading edge of planetary exploration design. Therefore the development of the LMC flight instrument has advanced such technology to beyond the established state-of-the-art.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Other

 
Description The LMC project has provided the following: Input into the on-going UK (via UK Space Agency) support for the ESA ExoMars mission. Used to propose LMC-like instruments to other planetary exploration missions including the NASA 2020 Rover mission and on-going (Nov 2014) to the NASA Icebreaker lander mission. Peer-reviewed publication of the LMC developed science case for organics on Mars associated with the search for evidence of Life has been widely cited by the astrobiology community (64 citations to Nov 2014) in support of the wider research into possibility of life on Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System. The knowledge gained has been applied to relevant non-space applications - for example in the on-going development of automated biomarker extraction from solid-tissue biopsy samples associated with cancer diagnostics. Various outreach activities including with local schools, national schools meetings, local museum exhibits and coverage in local, national and international media - TV, radio, online and print media.
First Year Of Impact 2007
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
 
Description Cranfield EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £27,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2015 
End 06/2015
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation EADS Astrium
Country France 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation Imperial College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation LioniX
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation Lund University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation Magna Parva
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation MedImmune
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation Scotia Biologics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The Life Marker Chip international consortium 
Organisation University of Leicester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Cranfield was one of two lead organisations (other U. Leicester) of the LMC Consortium and therefore we assembled and managed the consortium to deliver various sub-systems and materials for the LMC
Collaborator Contribution Partners provided a broad range of inputs and included: antibody development, hardware development, hardware integration, methodology development.
Impact The overall development of the LMC was contributed to by all partners in a highly multidisciplinary collaboration ranging from antibody development, analytical science, sample extraction, optics, microfludics, biogeochemistry, space science, radiation science, space and instrument engineering among the various disciplines used.
Start Year 2007
 
Title AQUEOUS SOLVENTS FOR HYDROCARBONS AND OTHER HYDROPHOBIC COMPOUNDS 
Description The present invention provides a method of solubilising in an aqueous medium a hydrocarbon or a hydrophobic compound having a hydrocarbon skeleton that carries one or more heteroatom-containing functional groups, e.g. hydroxyl, carboxylic acid or aldehyde (CHO) groups. The method comprises contacting the hydrocarbon or the hydrophobic compound with the aqueous medium that includes at least one non-ionic surfactant containing a hydrophilic part and a hydrophobic part, the hydrophilic part comprising a polyhydroxylated moiety and the hydrophobic part comprising a hydrocarbon chain containing at least 12 carbon atoms, e.g. ethoxylated sorbitol. The amount of surfactant used is sufficient to form micelles including a core formed of the hydrocarbon or the hydrophobic compound. This was developed for the extraction of organic molecules from crushed Martian samples as part of the Life Marker Chip instrument development for the ESA ExoMars mission and funded via various relevant STFC grants 
IP Reference WO2010122295 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2010
Licensed No
Impact Nothing significant
 
Description Exhibition at Bedford Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A 3-month exhibit at our local museum of the LMC project

Better networking into the local community which has resulted in an invitation to present to the local astronomy club and public lectures at other local museum space events
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Schools lecture at UK Space Confernece 2011, Warwick 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Engagement of >> 100 late junior school pupils

Due to nature of the event, clear feedback was difficult to achieve
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Various presentations to local schools during National Science and Engineering Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Promoted great interest in audience of typically 9-11 years olds

Repeated invites to further presentations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008,2009,2010,2011