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article imageCould life survive on Mars?

By Tim Sandle     Feb 6, 2016 in Science
The question preoccupying NASA scientists is not so much "is there life on Mars?" but could life survive on Mars? In the case of fungi, the answer appears to be yes.
The movie The Martian, featuring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, showed the astronaut surviving for a period of time on the red planet by growing crops in a type of biodome. This is, of course, science fiction and it remains unknown whether a plant (or even a microbes) could grow on Mars.
With the microbial world, scientists have inched closer to determining if a microorganism — in this case fungi and lichen — could survive should these organisms be transferred to Martian soil. This relates to studies recently performed and completed on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Here the European Space Agency built and attached a bespoke module to the ISS, called the "special atmosphere controlled experimentation platform." Inside the module, atmospheric conditions were designed to mimic those on Mars (capturing variables like temperature, humidity, pressure and pH.)
The atmosphere in the module was:
95 percent carbon dioxide,
1.6 percent argon,
0.15 percent oxygen,
2.7 percent nitrogen,
370 parts per million of water,
Pressure of 1000 pascals.
Inside the module, samples of fungi and lichens, that were collected from rocks in Antarctica from Earth, were placed and observed to see if they survived and then whether they could thrive.
The results were fairly successful. The majority of the fungi (at 60 percent) survived. The fungi were special classes of particularly tough organisms (“cryptoendolithic.”) The fungi were the species Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri. The lichen were Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans ('a lichen' is a composite organism, typically algae with fungi bond into the cellular matrix.)
The study was a proof-of-principle one, to determine if Mars could support some type of life form. The data will feed into preparations for future deep space missions.
The research has been published in the journal Astrobiology. The article is headed “Survival of Antarctic Cryptoendolithic Fungi in Simulated Martian Conditions On Board the International Space Station.”
More about Life on Mars, Mars, martian, Fungi, Lichen
 
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