Astrobiology Magazine, September 2009. Laser-induced Fluorescence Emission (L.I.F.E. at Lake Untersee, Antarctica). Authors: Michael C. Storrie-Lombardi and Brigit Sattler

The ices of Earth’s polar regions and high mountains, once seen as sterile, harsh environments too poor in nutrients and liquid water to sustain life, are now known to harbor rich, complex microbial communities in the ice ecosystems of alpine and polar lakes, sea ice, glacier ice, and even ice of supercooled cloud droplets. The combination of dust, water, organic matter, sunlight, and life results in a tiny microcosm that derives liquid water and usable energy from the Sun, accumulations known as cryoconites. Cryoconite assemblages and their icy habitat have been proposed as a model system for understanding the challenges microbial life would face on Earth or other planets early in their evolution. (To learn more about microbial life in Antarctica, please read the complete article).

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Laser-Based Fluorescence Imaging Technique Has Implications for Detecting Microbial Life Forms in Martian Ice

New Rochelle, NY, September 30, 2009–An innovative technique called L.I.F.E. imaging used successfully to detect bacteria in frozen Antarctic lakes could have exciting implications for demonstrating signs of life in the polar regions of Mars, according to an article published in the current issue of Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ( The article is available free online at

Michael Storrie-Lombardi, PhD, from Kinohi Institute (Pasadena, CA), and Birgit Sattler, PhD, from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, used laser-induced fluorescence emission (L.I.F.E.) imaging to detect red and infrared fluorescence activity produced by cyanobacteria present in the ice of frozen Antarctic lakes. This noninvasive technique does not destroy individual target organisms or disrupt the structure of microbial communities or the surrounding ice matrix. The authors’ work, described in the article “Laser-Induced Fluorescence Emission (L.I.F.E.): In Situ Nondestructive Detection of Microbial Life in the Ice Covers of Antarctic Lakes” was conducted as part of the 2008 Tawani International Expedition to Schirmacher Oasis and Lake Untersee in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica.

This L.I.F.E. technique, which required minimal, inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment, demonstrated a promising, feasible strategy for detecting photosynthetic activity of microbes via orbital monitoring of ice formations on Earth, on Mars, and in frozen regions of planets in nearby star systems. The technique could also be employed by an interplanetary rover conducting on-site analyses and sample collection.

Astrobiology is an authoritative peer-reviewed journal published 10 times a year in print and online. The Journal provides a forum for scientists seeking to advance our understanding of life’s origins, evolution, distribution, and destiny in the universe. A complete table of contents and a free sample issue may be viewed online at

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry’s most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm’s 60 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available at