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In Life (Basel, Switzerland)

(1) Background: Future missions to potentially habitable places in the Solar System require biochemistry-independent methods for detecting potential alien life forms. The technology was not advanced enough for onboard machine analysis of microscopic observations to be performed in past missions, but recent increases in computational power make the use of automated in-situ analyses feasible. (2) Methods: Here, we present a semi-automated experimental setup, capable of distinguishing the movement of abiotic particles due to Brownian motion from the motility behavior of the bacteria Pseudoalteromonas haloplanktis, Planococcus halocryophilus, Bacillus subtilis, and Escherichia coli. Supervised machine learning algorithms were also used to specifically identify these species based on their characteristic motility behavior. (3) Results: While we were able to distinguish microbial motility from the abiotic movements due to Brownian motion with an accuracy exceeding 99%, the accuracy of the automated identification rates for the selected species does not exceed 82%. (4) Conclusions: Motility is an excellent biosignature, which can be used as a tool for upcoming life-detection missions. This study serves as the basis for the further development of a microscopic life recognition system for upcoming missions to Mars or the ocean worlds of the outer Solar System.

Riekeles Max, Schirmack Janosch, Schulze-Makuch Dirk


automation, biosignature, life detection, machine learning, motility, species identification