Will Raman meet bacteria on Mars? An overview of the optimal Raman spectroscopic techniques for carotenoid biomarkers detection on mineral backgrounds

J. H. Hooijschuur, M. F. C. Verkaaik, G. R. Davies, F. Ariese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Raman spectroscopy appears to be an ideal technique for the initial detection of biomarkers, molecules that are potentially indicative of life on planetary bodies elsewhere in our solar system. Carotenoids are particularly useful biomarkers as they are used widely across the species, relatively resistant to breakdown and no inorganic source is known. They are used by microorganisms in their cell membranes for protection against UV radiation. In this paper we focus on the detection of carotenoids in microorganisms within a mineral matrix. We compare the Raman signatures of pure compounds with those of laboratory-made mixtures of β-carotene and minerals. Carotenoids covered by 2.5 mm of translucent calcite or 40 mm of transparent halite were detected using a conventional confocal Raman microscope. To improve sensitivity and hence detection levels, Raman measurements were successfully performed under resonant conditions. Raman analysis can be compromised by fluorescence interference. Data are presented to show how the contribution from the fluorescent background in the Raman spectra can be reduced when making use of gated detection in time-resolved Raman spectroscopy. Overall, this study demonstrates some of the potential of Raman spectroscopy as a method for the detection of (past) life signatures during future planetary missions without taking current technical limitations such as instrumental size into account as recent rapid technical developments suggest these limitations will be resolved in time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-151
JournalGeologie en mijnbouw = Netherlands journal of geosciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • UV/VIS diffuse reflectance spectroscopy
  • beta-carotene
  • Deinococcus radiodurans
  • time-resolved Raman spectroscopy

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