Space

Fungi survive on the ISS under Mars-like conditions

The study focused on cryptoendolithic microorganisms, which can be seen here colonizing cracks in rocks (left) and under an electron microscope (right)
The study focused on cryptoendolithic microorganisms, which can be seen here colonizing cracks in rocks (left) and under an electron microscope (right)
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The study focused on cryptoendolithic microorganisms, which can be seen here colonizing cracks in rocks (left) and under an electron microscope (right)
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The study focused on cryptoendolithic microorganisms, which can be seen here colonizing cracks in rocks (left) and under an electron microscope (right)

Results are back from one of the latestexperiments hosted on the International Space Station (ISS), withresearchers from Spain's National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) using the facility to study how hardy fungi species, collected from the Antarctic, cope under simulated Martianconditions. The results are helping scientists gain insights relevantto the search for life on the Red Planet.

The ISS is a hotbed for insightfulstudies, hosting numerous experiments that significantly improvehuman understanding of the long-term effects of space flight.Previous work has looked at how quickly medicines degrade in space,how microgravity effects the human immune system, and much more.

The new study centered on two speciesof fungi known as Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri. Typesof cryptoendolithic microorganisms, the fungi were harvested fromcracks in rocks in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in the Antarctic VictoriaLand – one of the driest and most hostile environments on theplanet.

From there, the samples made their wayup to the ISS for an 18-month experiment. In individual 1.4 cm (0.55in) diameter cells, the fungi were placed on a European SpaceAgency-developed EXPOSE-E experiment platform, which itselfwas placed outside the Columbus module on the space station. The workforms part of the wider Lichens and Fungi Experiment (LIFE), whichaims to examine how various organisms cope with extreme conditions inspace.

Over a period of a year and a half, thefungi were exposed to conditions similar to those found on Mars, withan atmosphere of 95 percent CO2, and a pressure of 1,000 pascals.Optical filters were used to expose some of the samples toultraviolet radiation levels similar to the Red Planet, while othersexperienced lower levels of the radiation, and a control group wasleft unexposed.

Once the experiment was complete, theresearchers found that an impressive 60 percent of fungi cells hadsurvived the Mars-like conditions, with their cellular DNA remainingstable. While fascinating in their own right, the findings areproviding scientists with new information that will help in thesearch for life on Mars.

"The results help to assess thesurvival ability and long-term stability of microorganisms andbioindicators on the surface of Mars, information which becomesfundamental and relevant for future experiments centered around thesearch for life on the Red Planet," said researcher Rosa De laTorre.

The results of the study are publishedin the journal Astrobiology.

Source: Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

1 comment
rpark
...amazing it hadn't already occurred to NASA to stick something living from earth outside the ISS- wouldn't want to confirm Panspermia too soon, might scare people.