Study Shows Life From Earth Could Temporarily Survive on Mars


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MARSBOx payload in the Earth’s middle stratosphere (38 km elevation). The shutter is open exposing the leading layer samples to UV radiation. Credit: NASA

Study reveals sending out microorganisms to Earth’s stratosphere, to check their endurance to Martian conditions, can expose their possible usage and risks to area travel.

Some microorganisms on Earth might momentarily make it through on the surface area of Mars, discovers a brand-new research study by NASA and German Aerospace Center researchers. The scientists checked the endurance of bacteria to Martian conditions by releasing them into the Earth’s stratosphere, as it carefully represents essential conditions on the Red Planet. Published in Frontiers in Microbiology, this work leads the way for comprehending not just the danger of microorganisms to area objectives, however likewise the chances for resource self-reliance from Earth.

“We successfully tested a new way of exposing bacteria and fungi to Mars-like conditions by using a scientific balloon to fly our experimental equipment up to Earth’s stratosphere,” reports Marta Filipa Cortesão, joint very first author of this research study from the German Aerospace Center, Cologne, Germany. “Some microbes, in particular spores from the black mold fungus, were able to survive the trip, even when exposed to very high UV radiation.”

Aspergillus niger

Quartz disc with dried Aspergillus niger spores, prior to being positioned in the aluminum sample providers that went on the Trex-box. Credit: German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Microbial hitchhikers

Understanding the endurance of microorganisms to area travel is important for the success of future objectives. When looking for extra-terrestrial life, we require to be sure that anything we find has actually not simply taken a trip with us from Earth.

“With crewed long-term missions to Mars, we need to know how human-associated microorganisms would survive on the Red Planet, as some may pose a health risk to astronauts,” states joint very first author Katharina Siems, likewise based at the German Aerospace Center. “In addition, some microbes could be invaluable for space exploration. They could help us produce food and material supplies independently from Earth, which will be crucial when far away from home.”


Trex-box being sealed after sample preparation at DLR. You can see the leading layer harboring the quartz disc that bring the dried microbial samples. Credit: German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Mars in a box

Many essential attributes of the environment at the Martian surface area cannot be discovered or quickly reproduced at the surface area of our world, nevertheless, above the ozone layer in Earth’s middle stratosphere the conditions are extremely comparable.

“We launched the microbes into the stratosphere inside the MARSBOx (Microbes in Atmosphere for Radiation, Survival and Biological Outcomes experiment) payload, which was kept at Martian pressure and filled with artificial Martian atmosphere throughout the mission,” discusses Cortesão. “The box carried two sample layers, with the bottom layer shielded from radiation. This allowed us to separate the effects of radiation from the other tested conditions: desiccation, atmosphere, and temperature fluctuation during the flight. The top layer samples were exposed to more than a thousand times more UV radiation than levels that can cause sunburn on our skin.”

“While not all the microbes survived the trip, one previously detected on the International Space Station, the black mold Aspergillus niger, could be revived after it returned home,” discusses Siems, who highlights the significance of this continuous research study.

“Microorganisms are closely-connected to us; our body, our food, our environment, so it is impossible to rule them out of space travel. Using good analogies for the Martian environment, such as the MARSBOx balloon mission to the stratosphere, is a really important way to help us explore all the implications of space travel on microbial life and how we can drive this knowledge towards amazing space discoveries.”

Reference: “MARSBOx: Fungal and Bacterial Endurance From a Balloon-Flown Analog Mission in the Stratosphere” by Marta Cortesão, Katharina Siems, Stella Koch, Kristina Beblo-Vranesevic, Elke Rabbow, Thomas Berger, Michael Lane, Leandro James, Prital Johnson, Samantha M. Waters, Sonali D. Verma, David J. Smith and Ralf Moeller, 22 February 2021, Frontiers in Microbiology.
DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.601713

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