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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More