Back To Schedule
Thursday, October 18 • 4:05pm - 4:25pm
Searching for life in our solar system: development of the MICRO Life Detection Platform

Log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

Astrobiology is a major focus of space exploration. The search for life in our solar system is primarily focused on Mars, Europa and Enceladus, which are characterized by extremely cold temperatures. Current life detection instruments are focused on identification of habitable environments or detection of biosignatures, but not unambiguous signs of life. The overall goal of our research is the development of a small, portable, low cost, and low energy life detection platform known as the MICRO Life Detection Platform (MLDP) that could be incorporated into future astrobiology missions. Given that life in our solar system is very likely to be microbial in nature, the focus of this project is the testing and optimization of pre-existing, automated, and miniaturized robust instruments for the direct detection of extinct or extant microbial life. Our team is testing and optimizing four components of the MLDP: the Oxford Nanopore MinION, a Nucleic Acid Extraction Platform (NAEP), a Microbial Activity MicroAssay (MAMA), and the Cryo-iChip. Applying these instruments in a novel astrobiology context, they have been tested in two types of analogue sites: inverted paleochannels in the Utah desert and Canadian high Arctic cryoenvironments (e.g. permafrost and cold saline springs). The MinION, an ultra-small portable sequencer, can detect DNA, RNA, and proteins. Sequencing with the MinION has been performed on Utah paleochannel samples from diverse microbial habitats. Results have shown shifts in dominant bacterial phylum between high biomass and desiccated samples in addition to the detection of biogeochemical and astrobiology-significant compounds (perchlorate). We are currently testing multiple Extraction Platforms that can prepare biomolecules for MinION analysis. We have successfully used an automated NAEP system with high flight technology readiness for extraction and sequencing of cryoenvironment analogue samples. MAMA instruments are ideal for the detection and characterization of extant microbial communities. Wells inside the MAMA plates, incubated with a specific carbon source, will change colour in the presence of active microbes, thus demonstrating their metabolic activity. We are currently working to optimize the MAMA for high salinity, pH and perchlorate rich samples characteristic of Martian environments. Currently, a minimum of 4250 bacterial or 1225 yeast cells are required to detect metabolic activity, similar to Arctic analogue environments. The Cryo-iPlate is a novel culturing method used to isolate microorganisms from analogue sites. The isolates obtained are characterized for their adaptations, physiology and metabolism, all these provide insights into requirements for microbial life in extreme environments and identify potential biosignatures for astrobiology. Cryo-iPlates deployed in the Canadian high Arctic have to date lead to the isolation of hundreds of bacterial strains, among which four are putatively novel.


Olivia Blenner-Hassett

Graduate Student, McGill University

Catherine Maggiori

PhD Student, McGill University

Dr. Isabelle Raymond-Bouchard

Post Doctoral Fellow, McGill University
I am a postdoctoral fellow with the McGill Space Institute working in the laboratory of Dr. Lyle Whyte. Dr. Whyte’s research program focuses on examining microbial biodiversity and ecology in the Canadian high Arctic. These habitats include unique cold saline springs, permafrost... Read More →

David Touchette

M.Sc. student, McGill University

Thursday October 18, 2018 4:05pm - 4:25pm EDT
Room CD Concordia Conference Center, MB Building 9th floor, 1450 Guy St, Montreal, QC H3H 0A1