Microfluidic Sensing Systems to Study and Seek Microbes Beyond Earth
We develop miniaturized integrated bio/analytical instruments and platforms to conduct economical, frequent, autonomous life-science experiments in outer space. The technologies of our multiple “free-flyer” cubesat missions are the basis of a rapidly growing suite of miniaturized biologically- and chemically-oriented instrumentation now enabling a new generation of in-situ space science experiments. Over the past decade, our missions have included studies of space-environment-related changes in gene expression, drug dose response, microbial longevity and metabolism, and the degradation of biomarker molecules. The science and technology of the GeneSat (2006) and BioSentinel (2022, via Artemis-1) missions will be highlighted in the context of conducting biological and chemical experiments in outer space using miniaturized integrated systems.
We also adapt and apply our spaceflight-compatible microfluidic and bioanalytical technologies to the challenge of finding molecular and structural indications of microbial life on the so-called icy worlds of our solar system, particularly the moons Enceladus and Europa. The Sample Processor for Life on Icy Worlds (SPLIce) system, a microfluidic sample-processing “front end” to enable autonomous detection of signatures of life and measurements of habitability parameters on icy worlds, will be described. SPLIce is under development to support several mission scenarios, including a fly-through of Enceladus’ icy plumes, expected to yield ~ 2 µL of ice particles, and a Europan lander, the sampling system of which is anticipated to deliver 1 – 5 mL of icy solids for analysis.