The Use of Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering for Detecting Molecular Evidence of Life in Rocks, Sediments, and Sedimentary Deposits

Stephen A. Bowden, Rab Wilson, Jonathan M. Cooper, John Parnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Raman spectroscopy is a versatile analytical technique capable of characterizing the composition of both inorganic and organic materials. Consequently, it is frequently suggested as a payload on many planetary landers. Only approximately 1 in every 10(6) photons are Raman scattered; therefore, the detection of trace quantities of an analyte dispersed in a sample matrix can be much harder to achieve. To overcome this, surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) and surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering (SERRS) both provide greatly enhanced signals (enhancements between 10(5) and 10(9)) through the analyte's interaction with the locally generated surface plasmons, which occur at a "roughened'' or nanostructured metallic surface (e. g., Cu, Au, and Ag). Both SERS and SERRS may therefore provide a viable technique for trace analysis of samples. In this paper, we describe the development of SERS assays for analyzing trace amounts of compounds present in the solvent extracts of sedimentary deposits. These assays were used to detect biological pigments present in an Arctic microoasis (a small locale of elevated biological productivity) and its detrital regolith, characterize the pigmentation of microbial mats around hydrothermal springs, and detect fossil organic matter in hydrothermal deposits. These field study examples demonstrate that SERS technology is sufficiently mature to be applied to many astrobiological analog studies on Earth. Many current and proposed imaging systems intended for remote deployment already posses the instrumental components needed for SERS. The addition of wet chemistry sample processing facilities to these instruments could yield field-deployable analytical instruments with a broadened analytical window for detecting organic compounds with a biological or geological origin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-641
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2010


  • Surface-enhanced Raman
  • SERS
  • Biomarkers
  • Hydrothermal
  • Arctic regolith
  • Yellowstone-National-Park
  • Mars-like soils
  • Gas chromatography
  • Organic-matter
  • In-situ
  • Spectroscopy
  • Kerogen
  • Silver
  • Pyrolysis
  • Pigment


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