Kristine Lofgren

Microbial Hitchhikers Could Colonize Mars Ahead of Humans

by , 05/06/14
filed under: News

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We’d always assumed that humans would be the first life form to colonize Mars, but that might not actually be the case. Super hearty microbes could possibly hitch a ride on a space shuttle and hunker down according to several recent studies. Scientists have long assumed that Earth microbes couldn’t survive the hostile space environment, but some bugs are proving to be so resilient that they just might be able to survive on Mars and perhaps even fool scientists into thinking they were there all along.

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When a spaceship lands on Mars it must not exceed a certain level of microbes. This level was set based off of the assumption that anything below that level would not be able to survive in space. But spores of Bacillus pumilus have survived despite peroxide washes and ultraviolet radiation, two techniques that were assumed to kill off microbes. When scientists exposed the spores to a simulated Mars environment, they survived for up to 30 minutes, where most microbes can only stand 30 seconds.

Related: Astronomers Reveal the Most Livable, Earth-Like Planet Ever Discovered

In a different study, scientists put Bacillus pumlius in the European Technology Exposure Facility and those spores lived for 18 months. Some of those spores even seemed to get stronger, showing elevated UV-resistance when re-exposed to Earth conditions. In a third study, Bacillus subtilis bacteria was exposed to a year and a half of space conditions, including cosmic and extra-terrestrial solar radiation and temperature fluctuation. When UV light was taken out of the equation, about half of these organisms survived.

Yet another study explored how organisms might survive being ejected from one planet to move through space until they land on another. All of these studies help scientists not only understand how super bugs form and survive in hostile environments on Earth, but may also help scientists differentiate a hitchhiking organism from a native one, and they show that the most adaptable organisms for life on Mars might not be humans after all.

Via the Daily Mail

Lead image via Shutterstock, image via Matthew Simantov

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