Detection of Biological Bricks in Space. The Case of Adenine in Silica Aerogel

Life (Basel). 2019 Oct 26;9(4):82. doi: 10.3390/life9040082.


Space missions using probes to return dust samples are becoming more frequent. Dust collectors made of silica aerogel blocks are used to trap and bring back extraterrestrial particles for analysis. In this work, we show that it is possible to detect traces of adenine using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). The method was first optimized using adenine deposition on glass slides and in glass wells. After this preliminary step, adenine solution was injected into the silica aerogel. Finally, gaseous adenine was successfully trapped in the aerogel. The presence of traces of adenine was monitored by SERS through its characteristic bands at 732, 1323, and 1458 cm-1 after the addition of the silver Creighton colloid. Such a method can be extended in the frame of Tanpopo missions for studying the interplanetary transfer of prebiotic organic compounds of biological interest.

Keywords: SERS; Tanpopo mission; adenine; aerogel; origins of life.