Microbes survive a year and a half in space

Aug 25, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Gloeocapsa viewed with phase contrast optics. Image credit: Connecticut College

(PhysOrg.com) -- Bacteria collected from rocks taken from the cliffs at the tiny English fishing village of Beer in Devon, have survived on the outside surface of the International Space Station for 553 days. The bacteria, known as OU-20, resemble cyanobacteria called Gloeocapsa.

The rocks were placed on the outside of the European Space Agency's technology exposure facility at one end of the . The small chunks of Beer cliff had microbes inside and on the outside of the rocks. During their year and a half outside the space station they would have had to endure extreme shifts in temperature, exposure to and . Not only is the environment anaerobic, but the vacuum of space would also have caused all the water in the rocks to boil away.

Professor Charles Cockwell of the Open University (OU) Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, which ran the experiment, said said the Beer rocks contained a range of "everyday organisms," but part of the reason the OU-20 microbes survived could be that they form a multi-celled colony that would protect the cells in the center. They also have a thick cell wall that could help them survive. The species is related to surviving in Antarctica and in deserts, so Cockwell said he suspects they have good DNA-repair processes as well.

The experiment was one of several designed to find out if bacteria can be useful to future astronauts exploring the solar system. Among the proposed uses are recycling in life support systems, and bio-mining, or using microbes to extract minerals from rocks on the moon or Mars.

The survival of so many of the bacteria in such a hostile environment with no oxygen adds weight to the hypothesis that carried in meteors and meteorites could seed life on other planets or moons.

have been shown to be capable of surviving for years in orbit, but this is the first time photosynthesising bacteria, the cyanobacteria, have been demonstrated to be able to survive so long in space. An earlier experiment, Biopan-6, carried out by Russian astronauts, showed OU-20 bacteria and a group of tiny "water bears" were able to survive outside the space station for 10 days.

The surviving bacteria were brought back to Earth and are now thriving in an OU laboratory in Milton Keynes.

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1.5 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2010
Yet another feather in the cap for Panspermia...

Hopefully, one day the idea that life originated from earth will be as silly as thinking the Earth is located in the center of the universe. Or if we do have our own homegrown life - then the Earth must be sooo special it couldn't happen anywhere else - lol

Intelligent life seems to be more rare - with highly developed thinking monkeys or humans have cognition capabilities and the means to create our dreams - that is missing from such a vast fossil record of some many species over hundreds of millions of years (at least)...
3 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2010
I still think the water bears surviving in space is just as cool as this. Also, I find it funny that they are putting Beer (rocks from the cliffs of) in space...
4 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2010
I don't see a plausible mechanism for the transmission of life-containing vessels (chunks of rock) across the distances which space naturally entails. The nearest star to Earth is approximately 4.24 light years away. While surviving over a year in space is impressive, it does not necessarily mean that life could survive the eons-long journey it would require to reach us. Frankly, I think the probability that life emerged from the so called "primordial soup" to be much higher http://en.wikiped...periment
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2010
I saw this story in another form somewhere else, listing it as "Beer microbes" - finally! an answer to why beer makes people feel invincible. Not.
3.8 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2010

Hopefully, one day the idea that life originated from earth will be as silly as thinking the Earth is located in the center of the universe. Or if we do have our own homegrown life - then the Earth must be sooo special it couldn't happen anywhere else - lol

I agree, I have seen many studies that indicate life originated outside of earth, and at the same time many indicating life originated within earth. I believe, as always, it was a joint effort. The right cosmic combination of space based organic molecules hurled at the correct planet with the right materials and environment that produces terrestrial based organic compounds, plus time, gives chance of life... thats just me

The problem with the idea life did not originate on earth, is that people forget the rest of the story. It still has to originate somewhere.
3.8 / 5 (4) Aug 26, 2010
Hey guys, Two things.

1. I think it is 100% far to say at this point that life could arrive on any planet and seed biological evolution. I think it is also 100% far to say life can form all by inself on at least certain planets... Trying to guess which one happened to this planet so many billions of years ago is way premature. Even if a 5 billion year old astroid is found with evidence of life, it doesn't necessary imply our life came from a similar object. Both options are possible for all planets, but at this highly evolved state, I think its 100% impossible to determine which occured here in particular.

2. These life forms didn't really "survive" space. They were pretty much froozen for the entire year. In other words, there was no consumption, growth or splitting. It was a freeze then thaw. It's not like we are now expecting to find growing bacteria on asterodes (though its possible). It just means life can be stopped still in space and restarted latter on a planet.
not rated yet Sep 05, 2010
If considered for a moment from one logical perspective, one might reach this conclusion about the origins of life: Since earth-like planets are so conducive to life, they are the most likely origins of it, and they dont primarily seed each other, they self-originate. Seeding would be less likely to be the primary origin, perhaps speeding things along or adding diversity, but basically redundant. Dry forests dont need embers carried on the air from miles away to start a fire. And its less logical to think that's primarily how fires get started.

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