Carotenoids are promising targets in our quest to search for life on Mars due to their biogenic origin and easy detection by Raman spectroscopy, especially with a 532 nm excitation thanks to resonance effects. Ionizing radiations reaching the surface and subsurface of Mars are however detrimental for the long-term preservation of biomolecules. We show here that desiccation can protect carotenoid Raman signatures in the desert cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis sp. CCMEE 029 even after high-dose gamma irradiation. Indeed, while the height of the carotenoids Raman peaks was considerably reduced in hydrated cells exposed to gamma irradiation, it remained stable in dried cells irradiated with the highest tested dose of 113 kGy of gamma rays, losing only 15-20% of its non-irradiated intensity. Interestingly, even though the carotenoid Raman signal of hydrated cells lost 90% of its non-irradiated intensity, it was still detectable after exposure to 113 kGy of gamma rays. These results add insights into the preservation potential and detectability limit of carotenoid-like molecules on Mars over a prolonged period of time and are crucial in supporting future missions carrying Raman spectrometers to Mars' surface.
Keywords: Mars exploration; Raman spectroscopy; biosignatures; cyanobacteria; extremophiles; ionizing radiation.