Searching for traces of life on Mars


ERC Consolidator Grant for Tetyana Milojevic at the Department of Biophysical Chemistry

The search for biologically driven alterations on Mars and its potential as habitat for past or present life is a primary aim of the upcoming Mars exploration missions. Being a few steps away from retrieving and returning the first Mars samples, we need to gain an extensive knowledge how to check them for the traces of life. The aim of the ERC Consolidator Grant project is to develop such an analysis: chemolithotrophic microbes will be grown on Martian meteorite materials in the laboratory conditions and corresponding microbial fingerprints will be investigated. Chemolithtrophs are rock-eating, mineral-transforming microorganisms, the most ancient microbial life form potentially expected on early Mars.

Using a holistic approach based on laboratory, field and space exposure experiments and a comprehensive toolbox of spectroscopy and nano-analytic techniques, the project will identify mineralogical and metabolic biosignatures of ancient microbial life based on Martian meteorites. The project will help to better understand and critically interpret the data of future Mars missions and assist life search beyond Earth in a scientifically correct manner.

Tetyana Milojevic leads the Space Biochemistry group at the Institute for Biophysical Chemistry at the University of Vienna. She studied and did her doctorate in Kiev, Ukraine and worked as a postdoc from 2001 at the Institute for Pharmacology at the Medical University of Vienna and at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories (MFPL). As an Elise Richter Program holder, she moved to the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna in 2014. Milojevic is the Vice President and National Representative of Austria in the European Astrobiological Network EANA.

Tetyana Milojevic (© Oleksandra Kirpenko)