One of NASA’s goals is to determine if past or present life exists outside of Earth. Ocean worlds, bodies that contain liquid oceans, contain many of the key ingredients thought to be necessary for life. Ocean worlds such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus, are all ocean worlds that are considered prospects for harboring life. NASA is currently funding efforts to develop technologies capable of detecting molecular signatures of life. Giner proposes to assist in these efforts with the invention of a life detection instrument called the Biosignature Life Chip. This instrument utilizes an antibody microarray with antibodies specific to conserved molecular markers that are widely represented in life on Earth. This approach is compatible with NASA’s definition of life, which seeks organisms capable of evolution. Such organisms will likely have similar molecular features including proteins encoded by DNA and cell membranes which encapsulate organelles. Although similar microarray life detection instruments have been proposed, Giner’s Biosignature Detection Chip is unique in that it utilizes surface plasmon resonance (SPR) for detection rather than fluorescent detection with labeled secondary antibodies. This allows for a simplified instrument which carriers fewer reagents and buffers and utilizes fewer steps than other similar devices. Giner’s Phase I efforts will be directed toward achieving TLR3 by developing an SPR assay capable of selective and specific detection of target antigens. With the completion of Phase I, we will report on the performance of the antibody microarray including sensitivity, specificity, and selectivity for each antibody in the array. Phase II efforts will expand the number of evaluated antibodies and will include the development of a prototype SPR device.
NASA has several programs that utilize protein or nucleic acid microarrays for commercial applications. Examples include a protein microarray to monitor bioreactor bioproducts, a portable sensor for the measurement of trace toxic metals in water, and the monitoring of microbes in a spacecraft environment. While the microbe monitoring project utilizes mass spectrometry to detect ribosomal RNA, we believe that Giner’s Biosignature Detection Chip can be potentially be repurposed to detect bacteria in sterile environments.
Giner’s Biosignature Detection Chip is designed to be specific for conserved markers of life. However, a portable SPR sensor instrument can potentially be employed for commercial applications including monitoring of water for contaminants including microbes and toxins, as well as biomedical monitoring of markers of disease.