News / Science & Technology

Earth Bacteria Could Hitchhike to Mars, Invade Red Planet

Electron micrographs of Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 spores on aluminum before and after exposure to space conditions.
Electron micrographs of Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 spores on aluminum before and after exposure to space conditions.
VOA News
Forget little green Martians invading Earth. Scientists are now concerned bacteria from Earth may be hitching rides to Mars on the many probes that have landed on the Red Planet.

According to NASA, the invading organisms "have the potential to contaminate other celestial bodies, making it difficult for scientists to determine whether a life form existed on another planet or was introduced there by explorers."

In order to reduce the potential of contamination, scientists say they need to better understand which kinds of organisms could survive the flight. Recent studies show that certain microbes are tougher than expected, with the ability to survive an interplanetary journey.

“If you are able to reduce the numbers to acceptable levels, a proxy for cleanliness, the assumption is that the life forms will not survive under harsh space conditions,” explains Kasthuri J. Venkateswaran, a researcher with the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a co-author of three papers on the topic in a statement.

NASA said spore-forming bacteria could present the greatest risk as they can "withstand certain sterilization procedures and may best be able to survive the harsh environments of outer space or planetary surfaces."

Spores from Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 are proving to have the ability to resist the techniques to clean spacecraft, like ultraviolet radiation and peroxide treatment.

These spores, NASA said, were able to survive 30 minutes in a simulated Martian environment, whereas normal spores only survive 30 seconds.

Another test was done in space when the spores were exposed to outer space for 18 months aboard the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF), a test facility mounted outside the International Space Station.

“After testing exposure to the simulated Mars environment, we wanted to see what would happen in real space, and EuTEF gave us the chance,” says Venkateswaran. “To our surprise, some of the spores survived for 18 months.”

NASA said the surviving spores showed increased levels of proteins associated with UV radiation resistance, as well as higher resistance when "revived and re-exposed on Earth."  

Another experiment showed that the spores of Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 and another spore-forming bacteria, Bacillus subtilis 168 were also very tough. They were dried on pieces of spacecraft and subjected for 1.5 years to the vacuum of space as well as various types of extraterrestrial radiation and temperature changes on the EuTEF.

The spores were also exposed to a simulated Martian atmosphere on EuTEF.

NASA said most of the organisms didn't survive, but that when UV rays were filtered out and the samples kept in the dark, 50 percent or more of the spores survived.

That, NASA says, "makes it likely that spores could survive a trip on a spacecraft to Mars if they are sheltered against solar radiation, perhaps in a tiny pocket of the spacecraft surface or underneath a layer of other spores."

A final study put rock-colonizing cellular organisms in the EuTEF for 1.5 years, to test if living organisms might move from one planet to another on rocks, a process known as lithopanspermia.

In another finding, organisms from Earth that live in extreme conditions proved they might be able to survive the arduous journey through space. However, they weren't able to replicate exact conditions as such a journey would possibly last up to millions of years.

The research, scientists hope, will lead to methods of minimizing the risk of microbial hitch hikers. Furthermore, they would help identify the kind of microbes that could originate on Earth.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Francisco from: Honduras
May 25, 2014 8:25 PM
How they survived the allen belts?. If that so, that bacterias from earth are strong to live there too.


by: John
May 19, 2014 12:25 AM
I can't pretend I'm too worried about contaminating Mars, although it would no doubt annoy the scientists to have their experiments ruined.


by: Jacob from: India
May 06, 2014 9:56 AM
Would someone please explain why we have not found any life on Mars?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid