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Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2019.00091

Morphological biosignatures in volcanic rocks – applications for life detection on Mars

 Magnus Ivarsson1, 2*, Therese Sallstedt1 and  Diana-Thean Carlsson1, 3
  • 1Swedish Museum of Natural History, Sweden
  • 2University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
  • 3Universität Hamburg, Germany

The exploration of Mars is largely based on comparisons with Earth analogue environments and processes. The up-coming NASA Mars mission 2020 and ExoMars 2020 has the explicit aim to search for signs of life on Mars. During preparations for the missions, glaring gaps in one specific field was pointed out: the lack of a fossil record in igneous and volcanic rock. Earth´s fossil record is almost exclusively based on findings in sedimentary rocks, while igneous rocks have been considered barren of life, including a fossil record of past life. Since martian volcanic rocks will be targeted in the search for biosignatures, the lack of a terrestrial analogue fossil record is an obvious impediment to the scientific aim of the mission.
Here we will briefly review the knowledge of microscopic life in deep rock and deep time. Focus will be on underexplored environments in subseafloor crustal rocks, and on ancient environments harbouring early prokaryotic and eukaryotic lineages. We will highlight some of the aspects that need immediate attention and further investigations to meet the scientific goals of the missions. The current paper is a first step towards the long-term aim is to establish an atlas of the fossil record in volcanic rocks, which can be of use for the up-coming space missions.

Keywords: deep biosphere, biosignature, Astrobiology, microfossils, Mars

Received: 14 Sep 2018; Accepted: 11 Apr 2019.

Edited by:

Bradley M. Tebo, Oregon Health & Science University, United States

Reviewed by:

Kai W. Finster, Aarhus University, Denmark
Nancy Hinman, University of Montana, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Ivarsson, Sallstedt and Carlsson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Magnus Ivarsson, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden, magnus.ivarsson@nrm.se