A key issue in astrobiology research is and has been to understand the origin, evolution, and distribution of life on Earth and in the solar system. Consequently, crucial to this endeavor is the identification of means to unambiguously detect evidence of life. Efforts to identify traces of life in extraterrestrial materials or even remotely on the surface of Mars have resulted in ambiguous, non-conclusive information. As a result it has recently been proposed to pursue alternative technologies to help answer the challenge presented by the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. Here, an integration of approaches and technologies, developed and applied mainly in molecular biology and biotechnology with astrobiology is introduced. The overall concept behind this approach is to employ molecular biology tools and biotechnology to detect specific astrobiologically and geobiologically relevant target molecules. This is based around the high sensitivity, specificity, and affinity of proteins (antibodies) or DNA/RNA aptamers to a series of target molecules that define extinct and extant terrestrial life or prebiotic components. Advanced DNA and protein chip technology can be utilized to allow thousands of multiple tests in a single analytical step. Microarray technology can be combined with microfluidics to ultimately achieve high sensitivity and specificity in a lightweight automated device designed for solar system exploration.
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