Twenty-six bacteria typically recovered from spacecraft were examined by UF researchers to see if they could grow under low pressure, temperature and oxygen conditions like those found on Mars. Plate A shows the control group grown under standard Earth pressure (1013 millibars) and oxygen and at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Plate B shows the bacteria that can survive when temperature is dropped to freezing. Plate C shows the bacteria that survived with freezing temperature and no oxygen. Plate D shows bacterial growth at pressure as low as that on Mars (7 millibars), no oxygen and freezing temperature. Only one bacterium, Serratia liquefaciens, survived the harsh conditions. Arrows indicate locations of Serratia liquefaciens. Credit: Schuerger et al.

Some Earth bacteria survive and grow at extremely low pressure, may aid Mars research

January 8, 2013 by Robert H. Wells

(—University of Florida researchers have discovered for the first time that some Earth bacteria can live under the same low pressure conditions found on Mars.

The results could help scientists protect Mars from contamination by Earth bacteria during spacecraft missions, as well as aid in the search for life on that planet.

The researchers reveal their findings in two studies, one published in late December in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and one published online today by the journal Astrobiology.

“As we send spacecraft to Mars, we want to have confidence that we’re not going to contaminate the landing sites,” said Andrew Schuerger, a co-author of the studies and a research assistant professor in UF’s plant pathology department.

Understanding the minimum set of conditions required for bacterial growth and replication on the Martian surface is key, said Schuerger, a member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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