The journey to Mars is long and fraught with danger, so make sure you take plenty of moss – it could save your life. That’s the thinking behind a research project at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. A team of students is working to create a moss that would be hearty enough to survive in the rough Martian landscape with the hopes of using it to create pharmaceutical drugs for future Mars residents.
The team was inspired by a Copenhagen start-up, TychoBio, which has been using earth-bound moss to make a treatment for skin cancer.
Although there is now evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet, there are plenty of other environmental factors the moss would have to overcome in order to survive. For a start, Martian dirt is low on nutrients and full of poisonous salts. To simulate that environment, the students planted moss in soil taken from a volcanic cinder cone in Hawaii, which has a similar mineral composition.
With average temperatures around -55 °C, the bitter cold on Mars is another potential moss-killer. To tackle this challenge, the team took an anti-freeze gene from the spruce budworm, which helps the worm stay safe during freezing temperatures, and spliced it into the moss. Though the moss was hale and hearty at -20 °C, when they dropped the temperature to -60 °C most of the moss died.
Fortunately, the team has a little time to finesse their project since NASA’s current plans won’t get humans to the Red Planet until the 2030s.
Via New Scientist
Mars images via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, moss images via public domain.