Life On Mars? Fungi Could Survive

Planet Mars

Whether there is, or was, life on Mars remains unknown. If there was, it was probably microbial. Certainly some microorganisms could survive on the relatively inhospitable surface of the red planet, as a new study shows.

Researchers have collected fungi from Antarctic rocks and these have been taken on board the International Space Station. The idea was to see if the fungi would grow under simulated conditions designed to mimic the surface conditions on Mars. The results were successful in that the most of (60 percent) of the fungi survived. These are special classes of particularly hardy organisms, for which the scientific name is “cryptoendolithic.” The fungi were Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri.

In addition to the single species fungi, lichens from the Sierra de Gredos (Spain) and the Alps (Austria) also traveled into space for the same experiment: Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans. A lichen is a “composite organism”, formed from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) linked with filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship.

The samples were subject to extreme conditions:

  • An atmosphere with 95 percent carbon dioxide, 1.6 percent argon, 0.15 percent oxygen, 2.7 percent  nitrogen and 370 parts per million of water.
  • Apressure of 1,000 Pascals.
  • Ultraviolet radiation.

It is hoped the results will inform scientists in their quest to find life on Mars.

The findings are published in the journal Astrobiology. The research paper is titled “Survival of Antarctic Cryptoendolithic Fungi in Simulated Martian Conditions On Board the International Space Station.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.