Did microbes from Earth travel to Mars with the Perseverance rover?
NASA’s Perseverance rover will soon begin its quest to search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars but what if the life it finds was actually sent there by us? A geneticist conducted tests at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and found that certain microbes could survive in the harshest conditions and could have traveled with the spacecraft all the way to Mars.
Did Perseverance bring microbes to Mars? -10 things you should keep in mind about this astounding theory
1. While the Perseverance rover was built in an ISO-5 clean room at JPL, which is a type of facility designed to keep spacecraft uncontaminated, there are certain microbes that can survive even the harshest conditions.
2. A geneticist from Cornell, Christopher Mason, recently suggested that bacteria might have latched onto the latest rover and could have reached the Red Planet, thus, surviving in the extreme Martian atmosphere.
3. After all, even with the most advanced biological control procedures, it is impossible to get the biomass in a certain area to zero.
4. What Mason did was to scan the laboratories and clean rooms at JPL for DNA which resulted in him finding organisms that could survive under conditions like extreme radiation.
5. The problem here is that we cannot know for sure whether Perseverance did bring microbes to Mars. There is an ongoing project right now called Metasub which is dedicated to creating a catalog of all the sequenced DNA ever observed by science. This is the only way we will ever understand whether organisms discovered on Mars were sent there by us or not.
6. Until then, however, any discovery of life on Mars will be met with skepticism. It has long been known that bacteria and microbes undergo rapid mutation when exposed to new conditions in space. Microbes that landed there from Earth could completely interfere with the authenticity of future discoveries.
7. For example, if microbes that landed on Mars with a mission from Earth were to survive, they could undergo such changes that when we find them, they may look like 100% alien species.
8. Perhaps you read about the recent discovery at the International Space Station. Scientists discovered four strains of bacteria that had evolved in space, three of which were previously unknown to science.
9. Such contamination to Mars could also become dangerous for future manned missions. If, for example, microbes get in the life-support equipment used by astronauts and evolve, it could cause malfunctions or real health issues.
10. Sooner or later, microbes from Earth will reach Mars with the upcoming manned missions. This is the inevitable future. And in time, these organisms will adapt and mutate to survive in the conditions of the Red Planet. A new era of interplanetary biology will soon begin that will change everything we know about life in space, genetic adaptation, and evolution.
Life on Mars: The latest discoveries
Last week, a team of scientists made controversial claims to have found living organisms on Mars in old rover images. Of course, these claims were not supported by any scientific observations or data and were quickly torn apart by scientists around the world.
This, however, does not mean that Mars might not be able to host microbial life even today. Of course, there is no defining proof but recent studies have raised our hopes that it might be possible.
For example, earlier this year, scientists from NASA revealed that certain microbes and black mold from Earth can survive in the extreme conditions on Mars. This was proven with a test conducted in Earth’s stratosphere. Scientists used a weather balloon to send a container filled with artificial Martian atmosphere and microbes. Surprisingly, some organisms took the change of environment particularly well.
In another recent discovery, another team suggested that Mars may still have active volcanoes that could provide the necessary conditions for bacteria to survive and evolve.
For now, whether life exists or ever did on Mars remains unconfirmed but these recent discoveries should raise our hopes for future breakthrough discoveries. The question now is whether we will find Martian life or microbes from Earth that have mutated on Mars.
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• Bijlani, S., Singh, N., Eedara, V., Podile, A., Mason, C., Wang, C., & Venkateswaran, K. (2021, February 22). Methylobacterium ajmalii SP. nov., isolated from the International space station.
• Cortesão, M., Siems, K., Koch, S., Beblo-Vranesevic, K., Rabbow, E., Berger, T., . . . Moeller, R. (2021, January 20). Marsbox: Fungal and bacterial endurance from a balloon-flown analog mission in the stratosphere.
• Danko, D., Sierra, M., Benardini, J., Guan, L., Wood, J., Singh, N., . . . Mason, C. (2021, April 01). A comprehensive metagenomics framework to characterize organisms relevant for planetary protection.
• Mason, C. (n.d.). Could humans have Contaminated Mars with life?
• Robitzski, D. (2021, May 07). The Mars mushrooms are probably fake, but organisms could likely survive on the red planet.
• Robitzski, D. (2021, May 11). Cornell Scientist: NASA may have accidentally spread life to Mars.