The Monitor Daily (U.S.) – After 18 months under Mars-like conditions Antarctic fungi thrive say European scientists who sent the cryptoendolithic fungi aboard the International Space Station. The aim of the experiment was to assess the survival prospects of microorganisms on the surface of Mars.
Mars may harbor some of the most harsh conditions for life to thrive. Last year’s NASA statement that the red planet’s poles may be hiding frozen water breathed new life in the search for life and habitability prospects.
The cryptoendolithic fungi collected by the scientific team are highly resilient here on Earth. Hidden in crevices of the Antarctic rocks in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (Antarctic Victoria Land), the two species known as Cyromices antarcticus and Cryomices minteri already face the harshest survival conditions. These cryptoendolithic fungi and lichens of the Sierra de Gredos, Spain were deemed fit for this experiment.
The experiment, located on the International Space Station yielded encouraging results. After 18 months under Mars-like conditions Antarctic fungi thrive. Upon analysis, the research team found that 60 percent of the microorganisms’ cells are intact. In addition, their DNA is stable. The results, reported in the Astrobiology journal, represent one extra step in the search for life on Mars.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys, home to the two cryptoendolithic fungi species are ridden by climatological conditions considered equivalent to those on the red planet. The dry and hostile environment, battered by strong winds which do away with ice and snow, is a close approximation to the Martian environment.
Aboard the International Space Station, the microorganisms were trapped in cells build on the EXPOSE-E platform hung outside the Columbus module. The EXPOSE-E platform had been developed by researchers at the European Space Agency with the aim to research harsh survival conditions and survival prospects.
For 18 months the Antarctic fungi have been exposed to an atmosphere replicating that of Mars. The temperature and the pressure of the atmosphere were set to mimic those on Mars. Left under these difficult conditions, the cryptoendolithic fungi performed outstandingly well. After 18 months under Mars-like conditions Antarctic fungi thrive. According to the scientists behind the experiment, the work is part of the LIFE experiment (Lichens and Fungi Experiment). The LIFE experiment intends to study the prospects of lithic organisms on the EXPOSE-E platform.
The encouraging results of the experiment have helped a great deal in assessing the survival prospects of microorganisms under Martian conditions. They may be part of the foundation for future efforts aimed at finding or introducing life on the red planet.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia