Darnit, NASA. Humanity hasn’t even stepped foot on Mars yet, and already we might be contaminating the place with our pesky Earthling microbes.
A recent study has found that a particular type of microbe—the Carnobacterium—can survive perfectly well on the surface of Mars without any help from us weakling humans, thank you very much. Researchers at the University of Florida and the Russian Academy of Sciences extracted various microbes from the Siberian permafrost, where they’d lived in soil with an average temperature of -7° C for thousands of years. Most of the microbes died when exposed to similar conditions to those found on Mars, but the Carnobacterium actually thrived.
Why is this important? Well, a species of Carnobacterium is used as a food additive for atomsphere-packed processed meats (astronaut food!), meaning it could easily end up on a probe meant to, say, look for the presence of organic molecules on Mars. Scientists already know that probes carry microbes with them, but it’s been thought that they’re mostly dead by the time they get to Mars. Having perfectly healthy Carnobacterium just hanging around on the devices meant to find life on Mars could really complicate the search.
So, basically, here’s what you can take from this:
- Scientists will have to be extra-careful to completely sterilize everything they put on Mars from now on.
- The Carnobacterium is seriously badass.
- Humans are terrible house guests. Seriously. Not only are we leaving all sorts of mechanical debris on Mars, we could be littering it with our own bacteria, too? If the Martians hate us we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.