Even though the concept of human survival on Mars remains questionable, scientists have revealed that methanogens — a group of microorganisms — are capable of surviving tough conditions like those on Mars, albeit in the lab.

According to a new study conducted by astrobiologists at the University of Arkansas, despite harsh environmental conditions, microbes may be able to survive on Mars.

The researchers undertook a year-long experiment to come to this conclusion. This news has awakened a whole new possibility of having life on the Red Planet.

Basically, methanogens that cultivate in marshes and guts of cattle produce a natural gas called methane. These microorganisms are not dependent on oxygen or photosynthesis to survive. Therefore, their chances of survival become possible only if they can cultivate in the underlying surfaces, concealed from ultraviolet rays.

The Experiment

The team of scientists conducted an experiment by growing microbes in test tubes as taking cattle on Mars was out of the question. The microbes were grown in liquids that represented the Martian fluid , which flowed underneath the planet's surface.

They also replicated low atmospheric pressure within the test tube similar to what could be found underneath Mars' surface. In addition, the researchers also exposed the organisms to freezing cold temperatures imitating the extreme temperatures that persisted on the Red Planet.

At the end of the year, the scientists noted that all the four different kinds of species had managed to survive for almost 3 to 21 days on the mock planet despite the harsh conditions.

"On Earth, most methane is produced biologically by past or present organisms. The same could possibly be true for Mars. Of course, there are a lot of possible alternatives to the methane on Mars and it is still considered controversial. But that just adds to the excitement," says Rebecca Mickol, lead author of the study.

The scientists grew curious especially when they conducted a study showing the presence of methane on Mars. According to the findings, the methane produced on Earth is due to the presence of living organisms.

"The same could possibly be true for Mars," added Mickol.

She further revealed that the possibility of finding the presence of sources related to methane could be because of possible volcanic eruptions.

The main motive of conducting the experiment was to prove that life existed on the Red Planet either in the form of bacteria or any tiny microorganism. It also implied that harsh environmental conditions could not affect them.

The study has been published in the journal Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres.

Photo: Kevin Gill | Flickr

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