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Lipids as universal biomarkers of extraterrestrial life.


In 1965, James Lovelock published a general statement, based on thermodynamic chemical equilibrium principles, about how to detect extant or extinct life on a planet other than Earth. Nearly 50 years later, it is possible to make such measurements with robotic missions such as current and future Mars rovers, and probes to sample icy plumes of Enceladus or Europa. We make a specific recommendation that certain characteristic patterns in the composition of lipid hydrocarbons can only result from a biological process, because the signal arises from a universal requirement related to lipid bilayer fluidity and membrane stability. Furthermore, the pattern can be preserved over millions of years, and instrumentation is already available to be incorporated into flight missions.

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