DNA sequencing at the picogram level to investigate life on Mars and Earth

Sci Rep. 2023 Sep 15;13(1):15277. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-42170-6.


DNA is an incontrovertible biosignature whose sequencing aids in species identification, genome functionality, and evolutionary relationships. To study life within the rocks of Earth and Mars, we demonstrate, in an ISO5 clean room, a procedure based on nanopore technology that correctly identifies organisms at picogram levels of DNA without amplification. Our study with E. coli and S. cerevisiae DNA samples showed that MinION sequencer (Oxford Nanopore Technologies) can unequivocally detect and characterise microbes with as little as 2 pg of input with just 50 active nanopores. This result is an excellent advancement in sensitivity, immediately applicable to investigating low biomass samples. This value is also at the level of possible background contamination associated with the reagents and the environment. Cultivation of natural and heat-treated Martian analogue (MMS-2) regolith samples, exposed to atmospheric water vapour or in increasing water concentrations, led to the extraction of 600-1000 pg of DNA from 500 mg of soil. Applying the low detectability technology enabled through MinION sequencer for a natural low biomass setting, we characterised the dry MMS-2 and found few soil-related organisms and airborne contaminants. The picogram detection level and the procedure presented here, may be of interest for the future Mars sample Return program, and the life research and planetary protection studies that will be implemented through the sample safety assessment.

PMID:37714862 | PMC:PMC10504319 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-42170-6


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