N-Phosphoryl Amino Acids and Biomolecular Origins. Review Paper in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Publication of ``A Production of Amino Acids under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions'' (Miller, 1953)
In contrast to the search for extant organisms, the quest for fossil remains of life on Mars need not be guided by the presence of water and organic compounds on the present surface. An appropriate tracer might be the element phosphorus which is a common constituent of living systems. Utilizing terrestrial analogues, it should preferentially exist in the form of sedimentary calcium phosphate (phosphorites), which would have readily resisted changing conditions on Mars. Moreover, higher ratios of P/Th in phosphorites in comparison to calcium phosphates from magmatic rocks give us the possibility to distinguish them from inorganically formed phosphorus deposits at or close to the Martian surface. Identification of anomalous phosphorus enrichments by remote sensing or in situ analysis could be promising approaches for selecting areas preferentially composed of rocks with remains of extinct life.