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Bacteria could colonize Mars before we do

Posted on Monday, 5 May, 2014 | Comment icon 11 comments

Have we already sent life to Mars ? Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Extremely resistant forms of bacteria could find their way to Mars by hitching a ride on a spacecraft.

NASA engineers go to great lengths to ensure that space probes are clean before they head off in to the unknown, yet an increasing body of research has suggested that there are some microbes able to withstand even the harshest of cleaning regiments.

The spore-forming bacteria Bacillus pumilus for example appears to be resistant to both peroxide treatments and ultra-violet radiation, making it extremely difficult to kill. Recent experiments picked up traces of these microbes inside the International Space Station both on surfaces and in the air.

If microbes like these were to hitch a ride on a spacecraft bound for Mars then they could potentially survive and multiply on the planet's surface, making it very difficult to later determine whether they actually originated on Mars or if they traveled there from the Earth.

For all we know in fact they may already be there.

Source: Guardian Liberty Voice | Comments (11)

Tags: Mars, Bacteria

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 3 May, 2014, 18:27
Actually, if you are trying to discover if there is life on Mars, introducing micro-organisms from Earth is just about the worst thing you could possibly do. It could quite possibly annihilate every living thing on Mars. It would also mean that the results of any experiments to find life would be null and void.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Sundew on 5 May, 2014, 13:43
If we ever get to a point where we can do an extensive search of Mars for Martian life (i.e. covering the greater part of likely places for its existence) and find none, then these bacteria could have a place in terraforming, if that ever becomes a goal. There are likely a host of hardy bacteria, lichen, etcetera that could be seeded there. I don't know of the practicality of ever having a permanent colony on Mars, given the distance and the hostile environment, so it seems likely that we might want to begin making it more habitable. Whether that is even possible is another question. With... [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by :PsYKoTiC:BeHAvIoR: on 5 May, 2014, 14:12
Well, introducing foreign florae and/or faunae to an ecosystem in the past didn't yield good results. The mix tends to fight each other instead of coexisting. A whole planet could risk an unwanted catastrophy. Very true. I like to think when the first astronauts to touch Mars will bring samples to Earth so bacteria and martian soil can be tested in a controlled environment.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Frank Merton on 5 May, 2014, 14:25
It seems to me if it's possible for microorganisms to survive the million or so year journey involved in being on an asteroid or piece of volcano thrown off the one and eventually landing on the other, then it has happened many times over the three plus billion years the two have been exchanging bits of each other.
Comment icon #6 Posted by paperdyer on 5 May, 2014, 15:08
If we do that, we'd be doing the same thing the European settlers did to the American Indian, Incans and Mayans. Not saying there is humanoid life on Mars, but why start off ont he wrong foot. There may be another type of life there we'd kill off.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Calibeliever on 5 May, 2014, 18:26
The big difference between Europeans colonizing the Americas and humans colonizing Mars is the Americas had resources. It was profitable to set up shop there and ship things back home. So far, other than for curiosity's sake, there's nothing on Mars that makes it worth putting humans there on a permanent basis. If we come up with a drive system that allows us to get there and back in a reasonably shorter (and more cost effective) amount of time that could help.
Comment icon #8 Posted by The Black Ghost on 6 May, 2014, 0:00
I find it very unlikely that bacteria colonies would survive very long on mars unless they landed in a very specific environment due to a lack of sustaining energy source.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Jyre Cayce on 6 May, 2014, 3:04
This is exactly how life was started on earth, humans were extremely resistant bacteria on the side an alien spacecraft that landed on earth!
Comment icon #10 Posted by DieChecker on 6 May, 2014, 3:56
Not wanting to kill Martian life seems like not trying to kill bigfoot. First the thing being protected has to be shown to be true. As to identifying if the microbes are native of from Earth, wouldn't a DNA test show an exact match with Earth DNA? Surely Martian DNA would have great differences.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Frank Merton on 6 May, 2014, 4:09
I think (Mars aside which I agree is almost certainly sterile although we want to be dead sure it is before doing much since we would lose such a scientific opportunity) that once we start interstellar travel (in say a thousand years if we survive) we will find that "habitable" planets have their own microbes but little else. What do we do once we have studied them? The odds are direct exposure to them will be lethal. It may not be morally perfect but the odds are we will sterilize the planet and then move in. That is why I think space-faring societies must be rare since we manag... [More]

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