A species of sea-dwelling bacteria that can thrive in harsh conditions may provide a steady supply of oxygen for humans who will be part of the future manned mission to planet Mars.

Atmosphere On Planet Mars

The air on planet Mars can kill humans quickly. The Martian atmosphere is less than 1 percent of Earth, which would make it difficult to breathe.

The air on the Red Planet is also consist of 95 percent carbon dioxide, 3 percent nitrogen, 1.6 percent argon, and only trace amounts of oxygen. On our home planet, about 21 percent of breathable air is oxygen. Humans cannot survive on an extremely low concentration of oxygen.

High concentration of carbon dioxide on Mars would replace oxygen in the red blood cells of humans. Without protection, human colonists may die in less than 3 minutes. A species of cyanobacteria, however, could be the key to making air on Mars breathable to humans.


Cyanobacteria are among the largest groups of bacteria on Earth and have existed for over 2.5 billion years. This family of bacteria sucks carbon dioxide and discharges oxygen in the most inhospitable environments on Earth.

In a study published in the journal Science on June 15, Elmars Krausz, Australian National University emeritus professor, and colleagues, conducted an investigation on these deep-water organisms that can survive in inhospitable and low-light conditions.

Researchers hoped to gain a better understanding of photosynthesis, the process through which plants and other organisms make and store energy from light and produce oxygen.

Studying the physical mechanism of cyanobacteria 's absorption abilities may help researchers learn more about how photosynthesis works, which can raise the possibility of using low-light organisms to produce oxygen in Mars.

Producing Oxygen And Creating Biosphere On Mars And Other Planet

These low-light adapted cyanobacteria could be used to produce oxygen and create a biosphere on other planets.

The researchers have so far found that the cyanobacteria called Chroococcidiopsis use the chlorophyll pigment chlorophyll-f as an important component in photosynthesis that occurs in low-light conditions. This means that these cyanobacteria may be sent to Mars in the future to produce oxygen for human colonists.

The organisms have already been found to thrive in harsh environments such as in Antarctica, Mojave Desert and the exterior of the International Space Station, suggesting that they could be well-equipped to survive the harsh conditions on Mars.

"Photosynthesis could theoretically be harnessed with these types of organisms to create air for humans to breathe on Mars," Krausz said. "Low-light adapted organisms, such as the cyanobacteria we've been studying, can grow under rocks and potentially survive the harsh conditions on the red planet."

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