It has been discovered that Antarctic fungi are able to survive in Martian conditions.
Scientists have collected fungi that are to be found in Antarctic rocks and transferred them to the ISS. There they seem to thrive in conditions that are similar to a Martian atmosphere.
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After a time span of 18 months aboard the ISS over 60% of the cells of this particular fungi remained intact. The DNA was very stable showing that it had survived the worst of situations. This has raised hopes that there might be life on Mars.
The same experiment was carried out using lichens from Spain and Austria. The Antarctic region from which the fungi came is known as the McMurdo Dry Valleys. This area bears an uncanny resemblance to the atmosphere of Mars.
The environment is absolutely free of any moisture or humidity. It is also frigidly cold which means it is a very inhospitable atmosphere. No signs of life are to be found there.
The howling winds make it totally devoid of any form of biological activity. Only cryptoendolithic microorganisms survive in this environment. They manage to eke out an existence in the nooks and crannies found in rocks.
Two species of fungi were collected from this region on earth. The basic goal was to send these samples to the ISS so that their response to the conditions in space could be observed. Under the tutelage of the ESA, the fungi were placed in tiny cells on a base to undergo the extreme temperatures.
The whole setup was placed outside the Columbus module. For a year and a half, these fungi samples were subjected to Martian conditions. The atmosphere was one of 95% carbon dioxide, 1.6% argon, 0.15% oxygen and 2.7% nitrogen.
There was close to nil amounts of water and 1000 pascals of pressure were applied to the samples. Via optical filters the samples were subjected to UV radiation as is seen on the surface of Mars. More than 60% of the cells of the fungi remained intact. This was a miracle of sorts.
"The most relevant outcome was that more than 60% of the cells of the endolithic communities studied remained intact after 'exposure to Mars', or rather, the stability of their cellular DNA was still high," highlights Rosa de la Torre Noetzel from Spain's National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), co-researcher on the project.
The study was published in the journal Astrobiology. This work of scientist forms part of an experiment known as the Lichens and Fungi Experiment (LIFE).
Scientist said that LIFE is the experiment "with which we have studied the fate or destiny of various communities of lithic organisms during a long-term voyage into space on the EXPOSE-E platform."
Thus the Red Planet may have a few crevices where life still thrives although it is highly unlikely. As for the lichen that were collected from Spain and Austria, they survived up to a level where 80% of them were intact by the end of the experiment. This shows that life is a tough entity that can survive under the harshest of conditions.
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"The results help to assess the survival ability and long-term stability of microorganisms and bioindicators on the surface of Mars, information which becomes fundamental and relevant for future experiments centred around the search for life on the red planet," states De la Torre.