Tiny fungi taken from Antarctic rocks were sent to the International Space Station where the conditions were similar to those on planet Mars a while back. Now, 18 months later, over 60 % of the cells are intact with stable DNA. The paper is published in Astrobiology.
Can life be sustained under the conditions of planet Mars? Apparently, yes. Tiny fungi living on the ISS with the same conditions as Mars’ have survived, showing that life on the red planet might not be that far-fetched a concept.
It all started when the organisms were taken from the McMurdo Dry Valleys of the Antarctic Victoria Land which is claimed to be the most similar to Mars of all earthly areas. Given the harsh conditions of life there, only certain forms of life can exist like cryptoendolithic microorganisms which survive in rock cracks and certain lichens. Two species of cryptoendolithic fungi (Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri) were gathered on a platform, and sent to the ISS to be under Martian conditions.
The ‘Mars conditions’ to which 50 % of the Antarctic fungi were subject for 18 months are as follows:-
95% CO2, 1.6% argon, 0.15% oxygen, 2.7% nitrogen and 370 parts per million of H2O, and a pressure of 1,000 pascals.
Furthermore, the samples were exposed to ultra-violet radiation to reproduce the Mars-like environment.
Other separated samples were subjected to lower radiation.
The results show that more than 60 % of the cells of the endolithic fungi remained intact under the Mars-like conditions. Their DNA was still very stable.
The authors say that their findings will help them to evaluate the ability of microorganisms and bioindicators to survive and remain stable for a long period of time on the Martian surface. These are important for future experiments pertaining to the search of life on Mars.