Morphological Biosignatures from Subsurface Environments: Recognition on Planetary Missions

  • B. A. HofmannEmail author
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 25)


The Earth is inhabited by life not just at its surface, but down to a depth of kms. Like surface life, this deep subsurface life produces a fossil record, traces of which may be found in the pore space of practically all rock types. The (palaeo)subsurface of other planetary bodies is therefore a promising target in the search for another example of life. Subsurface filamentous fabrics (SFFs), i.e. mineral encrustations of a filament-based textural framework, occur in many terrestrial rocks representing present or ancient subsurface settings. SFF are interpreted as mineral encrustations on masses of filaments/pseudofilaments of microbial origin. SFF are a common example of the fossil record of subsurface life. Macroscopic (pseudostalactites, U-shapes) and microscopic (filaments) characteristics make SFF’s a biosignature that can be identified with relative ease. SFF in the subsurface are probably about as common and easily recognizable as are stromatolites in surface environments. Close-up imagers (∼50 micron/pixel resolution) and microscopes (∼3 micron/pixel resolution) on upcoming Mars lander missions are crucial instruments that will allow the recognition of biofabrics of surface- and subsurface origin. The resolution available however will not allow the recognition of small (∼1 micron) individual mineralized microbial cells. The microscopy of unprepared rock surfaces would benefit from the use of polarizing filters to reduce surface reflectance and enhance internally reflected light. Tests demonstrate the potential to visualize mineralized filaments using this procedure.


Biosignatures Subsurface biosphere Mars 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. C.M. Aitken, D.M. Jones, S.R. Larter, Nature 431, 291–294 (2004) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  2. P.S. Amy, D.L. Haldeman, The Microbiology of the Terrestrial Deep Subsurface (Lewis, Boca Raton, 1997), 356 pp Google Scholar
  3. J.M. Baele, Ann. Soc. Géol. Nord 6(2), 127–133 (1998) Google Scholar
  4. J.-P. Bibring, Y. Langevin, J.F. Mustard, F. Poulet, R. Arvidson, A. Gendrin, B. Gondet, N. Mangold, P. Pinet, F. Forget, T.O. Team, Science 312, 400–404 (2006) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  5. P.J. Boston, M.N. Spilde, D.E. Northup, L.A. Melim, Lunar planetary Science Conference XXXII. Paper 2015, 2001a Google Scholar
  6. P.J. Boston, M.N. Spilde, D.E. Northup, L.A. Melim, D.S. Soroka, L.G. Kleina, K.H. Lavoie, L.D. Hose, L.M. Mallory, C.N. Dahm, L.J. Crossey, R.T. Schelble, Astrobiology 1(1), 25–55 (2001b) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  7. J.S. Bowerbank, Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 10(1842), 9–18, 84–91 (1842) Google Scholar
  8. A. Brack, B. Fitton, F. Raulin, ESA SP-1231, 1999, p. 188 Google Scholar
  9. D.M. Burr, J.A. Grier, A.S. Mcewen, L.P. Keszthelyi, Icarus 159, 53–73 (2002) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  10. S.M. Clifford, T.J. Parker, Icarus 154, 40–79 (2001) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  11. D.R. Cullimore, L. Johnston, Can. Chem. News Nov/Dec, 14–15 (2000) Google Scholar
  12. L.J.M. Daubenton, Mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences, 1782, pp. 667–673 Google Scholar
  13. M. Feldmann, J. Neher, W. Jung, F. Graf, Ecologae Geologicae Helvetiae 90, 541–556 (1997) Google Scholar
  14. C. Feucht, B. Hüsser, B.A. Hofmann, 5th European workshop on Astrobiology, Budapest, Oct. 2005. Int. J. Astrobiol. 5(86) (2006) Google Scholar
  15. D. Fortin, F.G. Ferris, S.D. Scott, Am. Mineral. 83, 1399–1408 (1998) Google Scholar
  16. H. Furnes, K. Muehlenbachs, O. Tumyr, T. Torsvik, I.H. Thorseth, Terra Nova 11(5), 228–233 (1999) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. H. Furnes, H. Staudigel, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 166, 97–103 (1999) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  18. J.M. Garcia-Ruiz, A. Carnerup, A.G. Christy, N.J. Welham, S.T. Hyde, Astrobiology 2(3), 335–351 (2002) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. J.M. Garcia-Ruiz, S.T. Hyde, A.M. Carnerup, A.G. Christy, M.J. Van Kranendonk, N.J. Welham, Science 302, 1194–1197 (2003) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  20. T. Gold, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89, 6045–6049 (1992) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  21. K.B. Hallberg, K. Coupland, S. Kimura, D.B. Johnson, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 72(3), 2022–2030 (2006) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. B. Hofmann, Nagra Technical Report 88-30, Baden, Switzerland, 195 pp., 1989 Google Scholar
  23. B.A. Hofmann, J.D. Farmer, Planet. Space Sci. 48, 1077–1086 (2000) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  24. B.A. Hofmann, Y. Krüger, A.E. Fallick, M. Eggimann, M.J. Van Kranendonk, 6th European Workshop on Astrobiology, Lyon, 16–18 October 2006. Int. J. Astrobiol. 2006 (in press). Google Scholar
  25. L.D. Hose, A.N. Palmer, M.V. Palmer, D.E. Northup, P.J. Boston, H.R. Duchene, Chem. Geol. 169, 399–423 (2000) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. B. Jones, K.O. Konhauser, R.W. Renaut, R.S. Wheeler, J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 161, 983–993 (2004) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. S.K. Juniper, J. Sarrazin, in Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems, ed. by S.E. Humphris, R.A. Zierenberg, L.S. Mullineaux, R.E. Thomson (American Geophysical Union, Washington, 1995), pp. 178–193 Google Scholar
  28. K. Kashevi, D.R. Lovley, Science 301, 934 (2003) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. M. Kretzschmar, Facies 7, 237–260 (1982) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. J.P. McKinley, T.O. Stevens, F. Westall, Geomicrobiol. J. 17, 43–54 (2000) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. D.P. Moser, T.M. Gihring, F.J. Brockman, J.K. Fredrickson, D.L. Balkwill, M.E. Dollhopf, B.S. Lollar, L.M. Pratt, E. Boice, G. Southam, G. Wanger, B.J. Baker, S.M. Pfiffner, L.-H. Lin, T.C. Onstott, App. Environ. Microbiol. 71(12), 8773–8783 (2005) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. R.J. Parkes, G. Webster, B.A. Cragg, A.J. Weightman, C.J. Newberry, T.G. Ferdelman, J. Kallmeyer, B.B. Jørgensen, I.W. Aiello, J. Fry, Nature 436, 390–394 (2005) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  33. B. Rasmussen, Nature 405, 676–679 (2000) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  34. G. Razumovsky, Bull. Géol. Soc. Fr. 6, 165–168 (1835) Google Scholar
  35. J. Reitner, in Geobiologie. 74. Jahrestagung der Paläonto-logischen Gesellschaft, Göttingen, 02. bis 08. Oktober 2004. Kurzfassungen der Vorträge und Poster, ed. by J. Reitner, M. Reich, G. Schmidt (Universitätdrucke Göttingen, Göttingen, 2004) Google Scholar
  36. G. Schumann, W. Manz, J. Reitner, M. Lustrino, Geomicrobiol. J. 21, 241–246 (2004) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. T.O. Stevens, in The Microbiology of the Terrestrial Deep Subsurface, ed. by A. Penny, D. Haldeman (Lewis, Boca Raton, New York, 1997), pp. 205–223 Google Scholar
  38. T.O. Stevens, J.P. McKinley, Science 270, 450–454 (1995) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  39. N. Thomas, B.S. Lüthi, S.F. Hviid, H.U. Keller, W.J. Markiewicz, T. Blümchen, A.T. Basilevsky, P.H. Smith, R. Tanner, C. Oquest, R. Reynolds, J.-L. Josset, S. Beauvivre, B. Hofmann, P. Rüffer, C.T. Pillinger, Planet. Space Sci. 52, 853–866 (2004) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  40. N.H. Trewin, A.H. Knoll, Palaios 14, 288–294 (1999) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. J.N. Walsh, Precambr. Res. 54, 271–293 (1992) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  42. M.M. Walsh, Astrobiology 4(4), 429–437 (2004) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  43. F. Westall, A. Brack, B. Hofmann, G. Horneck, G. Kurat, J. Maxwell, G.G. Ori, C. Pillinger, F. Raulin, N. Thomas, B. Fitton, P. Clancy, D. Prieur, D. Vassaux, Planet. Space Sci. 48, 181–202 (2000a) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  44. F. Westall, C.E.J. De Ronde, G. Southam, N. Grassineau, M. Colas, C. Cockell, H. Lammer, Philos. Trans. Roy. Soc. B 361, 1857–1875 (2006a) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. F. Westall, S.T. De Vries, W. Nijman, V. Rouchon, B. Orberger, V.K. Pearson, J. Watson, A. Verchovsky, I. Wright, J.-N. Rouzaud, D. Marchesini, A. Severine, Geol. Soc. Am. Spec. Pap. 405, 105–131 (2006b) Google Scholar
  46. F. Westall, A. Steele, J. Toporski, M. Walsh, C. Allen, S. Guidry, D. Mckay, E. Gibson, H. Chafetz, J. Geophys. Res. 105(E10), 24511–24527 (2000b) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, BV 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural History Museum BernBernSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations