Earth microbes can survive on Mars, study finds

Dec 28, 2012
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In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of Florida show that the anaerobic organism Carnobacterium can survive on the Red Planet. This comes after years of belief that any Earth microbes that make their way to Mars via devices sent there, such as the Curiosity rover, won't survive the conditions. In light of this information, scientists have to be more careful than ever to avoid sending microbes to the Martian planet.

The scientists involved in the project harvested the bacteria from between 40 to 65-feet in the Siberian permafrost. This location was chosen because of its harsh conditions; according to the study, the microbes were harvested from permafrost that had an average temperature of 19 degrees Fahrenheit. Once harvested, they were grown into larger cultures in a lab for the experiment.

Once the larger culture was grown, the scientists exposed them to Mars-like conditions, such as very low-oxygen environment and extremely cold temperatures. The project took place over the course of a month, and out of 10,000 isolates subjected to the Martian conditions, all but six of them died. The six that remained, in an unexpected plot twist, thrived under the conditions.

The surviving Carnobacterium are, alas, not limited to the deep Siberian permafrost, and are instead found across the world, and on common items, such as ready to eat meal packaging. This information turns previously held beliefs upside down, and demonstrates the need for extra diligence in ensuring that humans do not contaminate Mars with Earth microbes.

[via io9]


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