Because some of the plants and microbes found on Earth can survive some rather extreme conditions, scientists have pondered on the concept that some of these could potentially survive on Mars and other planets. In order to see if this is the case, a batch of fungi was sent to the ISS in order to see how they thrive. The study showed how Antarctic fungi for 18 months under Mars-like conditions.
The Antarctic was not the only region from where scientists gathered diverse fungi in order to test their resilience. Two batches from Spain and Austria were also tested, with the lichens maintaining a structural integrity marked at 80%, but the conditions to which these were subjected were extensively more pleasant when compared to those applied to the Antarctic fungi.
The reason why the team chose the Antarctic region of McMurdo Dry Valleys stems from the fact that the area in question has an atmosphere and environment more akin to Mars instead of Earth. The lack of humidity and moisture, in addition to intense cold and howling winds, make this region completely devoid of life, except some species of lichens and fungi.
The tiny little cryptoendolithic microorganisms were placed in cells outside the ISS module named Columbus. There, they were subjected to conditions similar to the ones found on Mars, in terms of atmosphere composition. To be more specific, the cells’ atmosphere was set to have 95% carbon dioxide, 2.7% nitrogen, 1.6% argon and 0.15% oxygen.
Besides the atmospheric alterations, the fungi were also subjected to 1000 pascals of pressure and 0 traces of water in order to further prove their resilience in inhospitable environments. The fungi and lichens survived this environment, maintaining 60% of their structure.
True, this does not necessarily mean that they were alive per-say, it simply pointed out to scientists that their DNA’s cellular stability was still extensively high given the conditions. This makes the odds of lichens and fungi surviving in various rock cracks and crevices on the surface of Mars highly unlikely.
But the fact that Antarctic fungi for 18 months under Mars-like conditions still shows scientists the possibility that various microorganisms may thrive within the structure of some planets. In addition, it makes the idea of first sending fungi and lichens that could potentially release oxygen in the atmosphere by consuming carbon dioxide before we actually reach the planet ourselves more of a reality than before.