Scientists might have found the secret to growing food on Mars. The answers they need can be provided by algae which survived for more than 500 days in the International Space Station.
Thomas Leya, scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology in Potsdam, Germany, led the experiment that lasted for almost two years. He and his colleagues studied how the harsh conditions in space can affect the development of algae.
They placed a particular species of algae on the exterior of the International Space Station. This species was able to survive the vacuum, extreme temperatures, and UV and cosmic radiations for a period of 16 months.
The species in question is Sphaerocystis, which can be found in the Svalbard Islands in Norway. Also, a species of cyanobacteria could survive the harsh conditions. The bacteria belonged to the Nostoc species and originated in Antarctica.
The scientists chose these species especially because they could survive extreme weather conditions on Earth. The algae can withstand such conditions by entering a dormant state in which they cover themselves with thick walls and develop some orange cysts that contain carotenoids. This chemical is known to offer protection against radiation.
The algae and bacteria will be added to the open list of Earth organisms that can survive open space conditions. Other species of bacteria and lichens are already on the list.
This study is part of a broader program called the Biology and Mars Experiment (BIOMEX). The purpose of this program is to understand the extent at which terrestrial life is able to survive in space. The experiment involved other organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, mosses, lichens, or algae, that were subjected to harsh conditions to see how they cope. The conditions include low temperatures ranging from -4 degrees Fahrenheit to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, near vacuum conditions, and constant ultraviolet radiation.
Many organisms were sent to space on July 23rd, 2014, when they were placed on the outside of the International Space Station and were left there for 16 months. Now, scientists are conducting analyses on the organisms that have survived.
They noticed that the algae developed into new populations and switched to dormant stages. They will perform further analyses to see if the DNA was damaged.
This is quite a big discovery, since the findings can be used for the engineering of plants and food sources that could survive the harsh conditions on Mars. Algae are a good source of food for humans and they might be used in a mission to the Red Planet.
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