Subcritical water extraction of amino acids from Mars analog soils

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  • Published: Feb 9, 2018
  • Author: Aaron C. Noell, Anita M. Fisher, Kisa Fors‐Francis, Stewart Sherrit
  • Journal: ELECTROPHORESIS

Abstract

For decades, the Martian regolith has stymied robotic mission efforts to catalog the organic molecules present. Perchlorate salts, found widely throughout Mars, are the main culprit as they breakdown and react with organics liberated from the regolith during pyrolysis, the primary extraction technique attempted to date on Mars. This work further develops subcritical water extraction (SCWE) as a technique for extraction of amino acids on future missions. The effect of SCWE temperature (185, 200, and 215°C) and duration of extraction (10–120 min) on the total amount and distribution of amino acids recovered was explored for three Mars analog soils (JSC Mars‐1A simulant, an Atacama desert soil, and an Antarctic Dry Valleys soil) and bovine serum albumin (as a control solution of known amino acid content). Total amounts of amino acids extracted increased with both time and temperature; however, the distribution shifted notably due to the destruction of the amino acids with charged or polar side chains at the higher temperatures. The pure bovine serum albumin solution and JSC Mars 1A also showed lower yields than the Atacama and Antarctic extractions suggesting that SCWE may be less effective at hydrolyzing large or aggregated proteins. Changing solvent from water to a dilute (10 mM) HCl solution allowed total extraction efficiencies comparable to the higher temperature/time combinations while using the lowest temperature/time (185°C/20 min). The dilute HCl extractions also did not lead to the shift in amino acid distribution observed at the higher temperatures. Additionally, adding sodium perchlorate salt to the extraction did not interfere with recoveries. Native magnetite in the JSC Mars‐1A may have been responsible for destruction of glycine, as evidenced by its uncharacteristic decrease as the temperature/time of extraction increased. This work shows that SCWE can extract high yields of native amino acids out of Mars analog soils with minimal disruption of the distribution of those amino acids, even in the presence of a perchlorate salt.

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