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Antarctic Microbes Could Live on Mars 117

eldavojohn writes "Recent research has shown that microbes found in an Antarctic lake could survive the coldest temperatures on Mars. From the article, 'And they found that these species of microorganisms "huddled" together in colder temperatures to form a chemically linked unit called a biofilm. The finding marks the first time this phenomenon has been detected in the Antarctic species of so-called extremophiles. The findings provide more evidence for the ideas that liquid found beneath Mars' surface could harbor microbial life and that life could exist elsewhere in the solar system and galaxy, which is generally incredibly cold.' Their genes are currently being sequenced to determine which give the organisms 'cold-shock' proteins and their resistance to cold."
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Antarctic Microbes Could Live on Mars

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  • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @02:04PM (#16661079) Homepage Journal
    Ok, so life can exist where it is really cold. But it will be SLOW. It will do things slowly, it will evolve slowly. And it will probably be too slow to have become intelligent yet. In short: it will be boring.
    We can learn a lot more by studying something with a time scale several orders of magnitude faster.
    We should be looking for life that can exist at our temp and time scale, or even higher and faster. It is likely to have evolved more, and has a better chance of being intelligent. Focus on finding life on Venus, not Mars. If it is not there, start it by seeding with a few designed high-temp organisms. We could learn a lot by studying it.
    And if it eventually out-evolves us, then it probably will regard us as boring, and will leave us alone.
    • by El Torico ( 732160 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @02:13PM (#16661301)
      You're missing a big possibility - terraforming Mars. Mars is a far better candidate for terraforming than Venus. What we learn about these microbes could be useful in engineering microbes (and possibly other forms of life) that could thrive on Mars.
      • Sounds like these microbes might already be able to live on Mars. Further, the organic material they create could be used to fuel the "hotter" life Mr. Botch is so enamored of.
      • by Laur ( 673497 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @02:43PM (#16661847)
        Mars is a far better candidate for terraforming than Venus.

        While perhaps true, terraforming anything is so far ahead of our technological curve it is staggering. Far more interesting to me is initial colonization, and of the two, Venus is actually far more hospitable that Mars, at least as long as you don't mind living in floating cities about 50 km up. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_Venus [wikipedia.org] for the basics.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by khallow ( 566160 )

          While perhaps true, terraforming anything is so far ahead of our technological curve it is staggering. Far more interesting to me is initial colonization, and of the two, Venus is actually far more hospitable that Mars, at least as long as you don't mind living in floating cities about 50 km up. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_Venu s [wikipedia.org] for the basics.

          Not really. Humans have become quite adept at terraforming Earth. And it's a non sequitur to claim that building floating cities, a t

          • by Laur ( 673497 )

            Humans have become quite adept at terraforming Earth.

            Not to be rude, but do you even know what the word "terraforming" means?

            And it's a non sequitur to claim that building floating cities, a task which has never been accomplished on Earth, is somehow easier than building traditional ground habitats on Mars.

            Your reading comprehension skills are similarly lacking. I never said it would be easier to built floating habitats, I said that Venus' atmosphere about 50 km up is more hospitable than anywhere on

            • by khallow ( 566160 )

              Not to be rude, but do you even know what the word "terraforming" means?

              Yes. Making some region more habitable to humans or life in general. Irrigation is a classic example of Earth-based terraforming. So are cities.

              Your reading comprehension skills are similarly lacking. I never said it would be easier to built floating habitats, I said that Venus' atmosphere about 50 km up is more hospitable than anywhere on Mars, indeed, it is more Earth-like than anywhere else in the Solar System (other than Eart

              • by Laur ( 673497 )

                Yes. Making some region more habitable to humans or life in general. Irrigation is a classic example of Earth-based terraforming. So are cities.

                No. Try reading http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/terraform [reference.com] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraforming [wikipedia.org]. From dictionary.com: "To transform (a landscape) on another planet into one having the characteristics of landscapes on Earth." It comes from "terra" (Earth) "form" (to make). You can't "terraform" Earth, since Earth is what you are comparing to in

                • by khallow ( 566160 )

                  No. Try reading http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/terraform [reference.com] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraforming [wikipedia.org]. From dictionary.com: "To transform (a landscape) on another planet into one having the characteristics of landscapes on Earth." It comes from "terra" (Earth) "form" (to make). You can't "terraform" Earth, since Earth is what you are comparing to in the first place.

                  Saying it has to be a planet other than Earth is IMHO an artificial distinction, which incidentally, the Wikipedia article and the

        • by n3m6 ( 101260 )
          Also as the number of organisms on the surface increases, so does the temperature of the surface of the planet to an optimal temperature- creating an environment that sustains life.
      • You're missing a big possibility - terraforming Mars. Mars is a far better candidate for terraforming than Venus. What we learn about these microbes could be useful in engineering microbes (and possibly other forms of life) that could thrive on Mars.

        If you're so gung ho about terraforming, you've probably already read Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy starting with Red Mars [amazon.com] . But if so, you've apparently forgotten that the issue of terraforming causes huge freakin' polemics about ecological responsibility,

      • by Hugonz ( 20064 ) <hugonz@NoSpam.gmail.com> on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @03:20PM (#16662497) Homepage
        Yeah, that would be interesting. As for the time being, we are marsiforming Terra.
      • Mars is a far better candidate for terraforming than Venus.

        No, it isn't. Because it cannot be terraformed. The gravitational field of Mars is not strong enough to hold an Oxygen atmosphere at breathable partial pressures. And certainly not at temperatures that humans could survive. Please do not misrepresent science fiction as fact

        Venus has one hell of a thick sludge as an atmosphere, but most of that is CO2 and we living things have evolved pretty powerful mechanisms to turn that into building blocks

        • And certainly not at temperatures that humans could survive.

          Humans in their present form.

          You are correct; I overstated the possibility of terraforming Mars. It is probably just as likely (very, very small), that we will terraform Venus. It is interesting to think of possibilities however.

        • This is incorrect. Mars *can* hold a thick enough Earthlike atmosphere, just not indefinitely. It will slowly bleed off into space, but it would take many thousands of years to cause any problems. If a civilization is capable of terraforming Mars in the first place, topping off the atmosphere every few thousand years shouldn't be much hassle.

          The cold temps can be overcome with greenhouse effect, solar mirrors, etc. Heck, the cold weather might even be a selling point. A far-future civilization is lik

          • This is incorrect. Mars *can* hold a thick enough Earthlike atmosphere, just not indefinitely.

            I'm sorry but that doesn't make sense. The same can be said of every body in the solar system. No matter how small the pebble, it'll hold an atmosphere. Just not indefinitely.

            In the same vein, all living things on earth can survive on Mars. Just not indefinitely. Hey, I can survive on Jupiter for what that's worth. Just not indefinitely.

            The notion of terraforming usually means "turn into something like terr

        • So add some mass to it. We'll need water anyway.
      • Just a reminder: Space Corps Directive #723: Terraformers are expressly forbidden from recreating Swindon
    • Just because it lacks intelligence doesn't mean it's not interesting. Interest is typically in the eye of the beholder, and that is the location where the intelligence needs to be as well.

      Also, I think things that are boring are more likely to lack nipples, not brains. But that's just my opinion.
    • Life exisiting in enviroments we consider extreem is not unlikely. While it is true that extreem cold may slow evolution due to the slower life processes that may be insignificant if the life form has been around long enough.
      Here is an interesting linke on Extremophiles...
      http://www.astrobiology.com/adastra/extremophiles. html [astrobiology.com]
      Enjoy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg ( 145172 )
      And if it eventually out-evolves us, then it probably will regard us as boring, and will leave us alone.

      Proof positive that ants are more evolved than small boys.

      KFG
    • by BFaucet ( 635036 )
      You're assuming everything in the universe started evolving at the same time. It is possible it is us catching up to another life form's abilities. I'm not saying there is advanced life on Mars, but the universe is big. Like really, really big. The possibilities are pretty big too.

      Though I must agree we are quite boring.
    • by osi79 ( 805499 )
      Maybe you find it boring, but one of the most interesting aspects of life are its beginnings, it's basic building blocks and mechanisms. All this happens on cell level. You don't need more than monads to study it. If we'd find life on mars or elsewhere in the solar system that has common origins with terran life, that would be interesting enough. Finding completely different organisms would be revolutionary and change our worldview forever (I think).

      The two big questions regarding life:

      1. is there _any_ lif
    • Ok, so life can exist where it is really cold. But it will be SLOW. It will do things slowly, it will evolve slowly. And it will probably be too slow to have become intelligent yet. In short: it will be boring.

      Ah yes - science is only important and interesting when its Exciting! and Dangerous! and Bold!

      Thank you Mythbusters, Junkyard Wars and Bill Nye and many other hype generators who in their feckless rush to make science 'interesting' and 'inspiring'.

    • by the same logic, with global warming at hand, can we as human evolve to think/calculate/compute faster enough (albeit not much due to little increase in temp) to:

      -invent technologies that enable us to escape earth should it become less habitable?
      OR
      -invent better ways to suppress/reverse global warming?

      remember, living organisms work better on survival when there is threat
    • by Cctoide ( 923843 )
      On the other hand, if they're silicon-based, I'd expect them to have evolved in the blink of an eye at those temperatures...
    • Organisms that are able to survive at cold temperatures are very interesting. From a structural point of view, these organisms contain adaptations that prevent their proteins from cold denaturation [bpc.lu.se]. From a food science point of view, it is these kinds of organisms that allow us to have "creamy [nytimes.com]" ice cream.
    • "And it will probably be too slow to have become intelligent yet. In short: it will be boring."

      I think you're missing the point here. If Life (and I mean any type of life) is discovered elsewhere, that would be a huge discovery. Maybe one of the largest discoveries of all times.
    • by adyus ( 678739 )
      Besides, there's more chance of finding life on Venus because, as we all know, that's where women are from.
       
      And we all know exactly how women create life, riight?
       
      I mean c'mon, we've all been there, riight?
       
      *crickets*
    • by eonlabs ( 921625 )
      I for one welcome our new Venutian Overlords
    • Ok, so life can exist where it is really cold. But it will be SLOW. It will do things slowly, it will evolve slowly. And it will probably be too slow to have become intelligent yet. In short: it will be boring.


      OMG did you just say that penguins are slow and boring???

  • They too probably have long underwear *under* their jeans...
  • Basically, extremophiles are organisms that can survive at both extermes of the temperature spectrum. There is another article over at LiveScience [livescience.com] that covers the basics for those not familiar.
  • how would they get to Mars? do they have an extremophile space program?
    • Nah, The CIA has a program called "extrodinary rendition" that will take care of critters such as these, I suppose. After all the dividing line between extremophiles and terrorophiles is quite fuzzy ;-)
      • Actually rocks get passed back and forth between the planets quite regularly, well regularly in the planitary time scale that is, as a result of major meteor hits and the bactreia would just hitch a ride.
    • No, it's more like the bugs in Starship Troopers. The small extremophiles get launched out of the butts of the large extremophiles.
  • Microbes that live off of radiation: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/524387/ [newswise.com]
  • Yup, one thing the summary forgets is that those critters thrive and reproduce only when the temperature gets warm enough, which happens for about 2 months a years in Antarctica, while it never happens on Mars. Yes, you can have small springs with running water in Antarctica. I am not a microbiologist but I've spent 3 years in Antarctica [gdargaud.net].
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kfg ( 145172 )
      Do not confuse atmospheric temperatures with local temperatures. If you'd had a blacktopped parking lot in Antarctica you might have found its temperature to be well above freezing and Martian soil, where the microbes live, can be as warm as 80 degrees F.

      It's a radiation abosorbtion thing.

      KFG
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dargaud ( 518470 )
        Entirely correct. I've observed liquid water at -25C on the high Antarctic plateau [gdargaud.net], on black metal in the sun without wind. But it is a rare occurence and doesn't last very long. What occurs naturally are black rock which get plenty warm enough in the sun, also on Mars I believe. Or much more interesting and on topic to this discussion: cryptoendolith (or more simply endolith): life forms that hide inside clear rock: they get sunlight through the clear rock, protection from the elements, air by porous diffu
  • by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @02:12PM (#16661267)
    This story from Oct. 30th Boston Globe is interesting. It talks about how we may have missed detecting life on Mars back in 1976 during the Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions. http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2006/1 0/30/could_we_have_missed_life_on_mars/ [boston.com]
  • The origin of Earth's extremophiles is that of life that evolved from organisms which existed in relatively benign environments, but were pushed into extreme environments through competition. You need someplace where the conditions are right for life to originate (what those conditions might be is still under a very high amount of conjecture), and someplace for that life to evolve long enough to begin taking advantage of the extreme environments.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Red Flayer ( 890720 )

      The origin of Earth's extremophiles is that of life that evolved from organisms which existed in relatively benign environments, but were pushed into extreme environments through competition.

      Not necessarily. It's quite possible (likely, even) that life existed/began in what we would consider extreme environments, then evolved according to the changing conditions on the planet. Today we have what we would consider benevolent conditions on most of the planet's surface, yet many of the organisms of a billion

      • by larkost ( 79011 )
        Actually, this is most definaely the case. Durring the Paleoproterozoic [wikipedia.org] era Cyanobacteria evolved and strted pumping out oxygen which killed off all of their anaerobic ancestors. This was known as the Oxygen Catastrophe [wikipedia.org], and is one of the great mass extinction events, in fact probably the most complete culling of life on this planet.

        Prior to that there was very little free oxygen in the atmosphere, so the majority of life that lives on the surface today could not have survived at that time. And here we are
    • by kfg ( 145172 )
      You need someplace where the conditions are right for life to originate. . .

      Mars has not always been as Mars is.

      KFG
    • Exactly what I was thinking. These microbs could surivive on Mars, but could they *evolve* there?
  • > What is he, an idiot?? Of course it would be considered living...
  • People are so romantic about the idea that life exists outside earth that, despite the lack of any evidence for its existence, and the consistent failure to find it or even find evidence that there is any environment capable of supporting it, they still believe in it. And the rest of us get to foot a couple gazillion dollars to shoot off probes which invariably return the result: "Have arrived on Mars. Still red, dry, cold, and rocky. Moved 100 yards, was kind of fun. Please insert $250 million to conti
    • It's one thing to continue to hope that life exists in a particular location, Mars. That's betting on a long shot that has already disappointed in the past. And it's an easy bet that there is a second instance of life elsewhere in the universe.
    • by jotok ( 728554 )
      That "the absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence" is standard boilerplate when it comes to empiricism. Your comparison to Scientology is inapt because it is impossible to empirically test for the presence of thetans. Or, given another example--the above quote is ridiculous in the context of the WMD search because just about every place had been searched. It was still true--because it is possible that the Iraqis had perfected a cloaking device or something--but extremely unlikely.

      Howev
    • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )
      As opposed to spending money on...digging to Pellucidar [topcities.com]? I hear that there are cool cave women down there.
    • Of the planets which we have extensively explored, 100% are inhabited. There is no "consistent failure to find life" anywhere else, because we have hardly even started to look. Given the size of the Universe, and the size of the Earth relative to it, your argument is equivalent to saying "I have just found three pebbles. One is red. One is green. I have looked with a microscope at a tiny part of the third pebble and it was not red. It is now dark and I cannot see any other pebbles. I conclude that there can
  • Microbes could live on the surface if it weren't for the peroxide snow: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/06 0807-mars-snow.html [nationalgeographic.com]

    Take a look at the typical chemistry found by the MER rovers. check out those nice thick drifts of magnesium salts just below the surface (both rovers have ploughed into soft talc-like drifts of white salts of various sorts. ) Nah, if there's microbes still living on Mars they're much more likely to be way below the surface. (There's also the UV and high-energy co

    • by jotok ( 728554 )
      I think you might need to examine the definition of "extremeophilic" microbes again. Pay special attention to the use of "extreme" this time.
  • You'd be amazed at where life can exist. Coincidentally, just a week ago they found bacteria living 2.8km down in a mine [eurekalert.org], that also fueled speculation of 'life on Mars'.

    Some really cool critters [resa.net] we've known about for a while exist in the Deep Sea ocean vents, and subsist off the chemicals coming through the cracks in the Earth's crust. Another one people didn't hear too much about were bacteria [nasa.gov] that lived on top of the Surveyor 3 craft that went to the moon and back with the Apollo 11 crew, and basical

    • Surveyor 3 craft that went to the moon and back with the Apollo 11 crew

      Apollo 12. Neil Armstrong landed 5km beyond the intended target. I was a good thing they left the precision landing to Pete Conrad.

      basically survived for 3 years in space on nothing

      This [slashdot.org] might interest you

  • Why don't we send them up there and see how they do? That'd end all the speculation!
  • There's been a lot of great work done on characterising extremophiles, and every time a new astonishing variety is discovered, someone (often not the authors themselves, in fairness) emphasises that this would allow them to survive on Mars, hard vacuum, etc. The problem is that unless you stretch the panspermia hypothesis (life is seeded by microbe-bearing ejecta from meteor impacts onto other, life-bearing planets) a long way, isn't the barrier to overcome not "microbe with 3 billion years to evolve here c
  • Yes, these could survive the cold. They could NOT survive the pressure on Mars. People keep talking about Mars "atmosphere" as if there were any to speak of. The atmosphere on mars is hundreds of times thinner than it is on earth. The difference between the top and the bottom of a hill can mean a factor of two in residual thinness.

    Just because something can survive cold (we already know that that is possible) doesn't mean it can do so without any water whatsoever, exposed to a hundred times the radiation

  • If they survive they can be the first stage of the eventual teraforming of mars.
  • They could be a little bit more specific. What are they? Arch bacteria? Bacteria?
  • ...whether they can live on Linux?
  • Their genes are currently being sequenced to determine which give the organisms 'cold-shock' proteins and their resistance to cold.

    When they figure it out, I will volunteer my wife for some of that gene therapy. No more of that 8 months a year of "I'm cold."

  • Even given that such microorganisms can *survive* extremely low temperatures, I wonder if they could *evolve into existence* in such conditions. With such low temperatures, the rate of chemical reactions would be awfully slow, it seems to me. Has there been enough time, either on Earth or on Mars, for life to develop in these areas? Are the microorganisms found in Antartica "native", or did they move there with migrating ocean life, then adapt to the cold conditions?

    jIyajbe
    • (1) Antarctica has a warm history and (2) the commonality of biochemistry between all known organisms suggests that all life on Earth appears to be descended from a common ancestor. Either of these points on its own makes your question moot.
  • by Chacham ( 981 )
    I, for one, welcome our new Martian virii overlords.

    DISCLAIMER: I mean this only if they exist. Should they not exist, i still hold allegiance to my three-headed Venetian overlords, and support their attempt to make Earth more like their atmosphere so they can live here in peace.

    DISCLAIMER: I mean this only if the Venetian can make it here. Should they not be able to make it here, i still hold allegiance to the People's Republic of China, and believe that China is the center of the world.

    DISCLAIMER: I mean
  • Just dump a bunch of them on Mars. This would be the most awesome and interesting biological experiment in the history of biological experimentation. Will the lack of competition mean they take over the planet? Or will they die of for some unforeseen reason. And if they do take over, what exactly will happen? How will they change the environment? How long before we can see adaptations to the local environment?
  • I thought Antactic microbes came from Mars.
  • Long shot, in other words.
  • Excuse the obvious trolling, but this is not Digg, this is not news, we've known that for eons, and polluting celestial bodies with such microbes is not a new concern.

    And I obviously didn't read the article. If I had, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made this comment because I would have seen how it's news. But I'm not new here anymore.

  • What do you mean "cold-shock"? I thought it was called "frost-shock"...?
  • How on earth, or other flying rocks, is this news, when I remember reading about this over a decade ago, in biology-books even??? /G

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