Wayne Nicholson and Andrew Schuerger investigate the possibility for microbes to survive on the surface of Mars. Credit: University of Florida

Microbes Survive a Mixed Bag of Mars ‘Biocidals’

Posted: 02/11/13
Author: Charles Q. Choi, Astrobiology Magazine Contributor

Summary: For the first time, scientists find that microbes from Earth can survive and grow even in the mix of drastically low pressure, freezing temperatures and oxygen-starved conditions seen on Mars.

For the first time, scientists find that microbes from Earth can survive and grow even in the mix of drastically low pressure, freezing temperatures and oxygen-starved conditions seen on Mars.

In recent years, scientists have discovered many life forms on Earth capable of surviving extremes of heat, cold, radiation, dryness, acidity and numerous other trying conditions. These “extremophiles” raise the possibility that alien life might dwell in similarly harsh environments on distant worlds.

However, until now, the lowest atmospheric pressure that researchers could grow bacteria in was just 25 millibars. Although that is a little more than 2 percent of the average 1,013-millibar atmospheric pressure seen at sea level on Earth, it still is nearly four times greater than the 7-millibar global average surface pressure of Mars.

To test the extremes to which life on Earth may prosper, microbiologists Wayne Nicholson and Andrew Schuerger at the University of Florida and their colleagues analyzed microbes found in four samples of permafrost soil collected from northeastern Siberia by the Soil Cryology Laboratory in Russia. The lab has collected permafrost on annual drilling expeditions via helicopter or boat to the Arctic and Antarctic for the past 30 years or so.

Read more: Microbes Survive a Mixed Bag of Mars ‘Biocidals’ — Astrobiology Magazine.

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