Microbes leave 'fingerprints' on Martian rocks

October 17, 2017, University of Vienna
Metallosphaera sedula. Credit: University of Vienna

Scientists around Tetyana Milojevic from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna are in search of unique biosignatures, which are left on synthetic extraterrestrial minerals by microbial activity. The biochemist and astrobiologist investigates these signatures at her own miniaturized "Mars farm" where she can observe interactions between the archaeon Metallosphaera sedula and Mars-like rocks. These microbes are capable of oxidizing and integrating metals into their metabolism. The original research was currently published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

At the Department of Biophysical Chemistry at the University of Vienna, Tetyana Milojevic and her team have been operating a miniaturized "Mars farm" in order to simulate ancient and probably extinct microbial life – based on gases and synthetically produced Martian regolith of diverse composition. The team investigates interactions between Metallosphaera sedula, a microbe that inhabits extreme environments, and different minerals which contain nutrients in form of metals. Metallosphaera sedula is a chemolithotroph, means being capable of metabolizing inorganic substances like iron, sulphur and uranium as well.

To satisfy microbial nutritional fitness, the research team uses mineral mixtures that mimic the Martian regolith composition from different locations and historical periods of Mars: "JSC 1A" is mainly composed of palagonite – a rock that was created by lava; "P-MRS" is rich in hydrated phyllosilicates; the sulfate containing "S-MRS," emerging from acidic times on Mars and the highly porous "MRS07/52" that consists of silicate and iron compounds and simulates sediments of the Martian surface.

Synthetic Martian Regolith. Credit: University of Vienna

"We were able to show that due to its metal oxidizing , when given an access to these Martian regolith simulants, M. sedula actively colonizes them, releases soluble ions into the leachate solution and alters their mineral surface leaving behind specific signatures of life, a 'fingerprint," so to say," explains Milojevic. The observed metabolic activity of M. sedula coupled to the release of free soluble metals can certainly pave the way to extraterrestrial biomining, a technique which extracts metals from ores, launching the biologically assisted exploitation of raw materials from asteroids, meteors and other celestial bodies.

Using electron microscopy tools combined with analytical spectroscopy techniques, the researchers were able to examine the surface of bioprocessed Martian regolith simulants in detail. Cooperation with the workgroup of chemist Veronika Somoza from the Department of Physiological Chemistry was valuable to achieve these results. "The obtained results expand our knowledge of biogeochemical processes of possible life beyond earth, and provide specific indications for detection of biosignatures on extraterrestrial material – a step further to prove potential extra-terrestrial life," says Tetyana Milojevic.

Microspheroids. Credit: University of Vienna

Explore further: Mimetic Martian water is under pressure

More information: Denise Kölbl et al. Exploring Fingerprints of the Extreme Thermoacidophile Metallosphaera sedula Grown on Synthetic Martian Regolith Materials as the Sole Energy Sources, Frontiers in Microbiology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01918

Related Stories

Frontiers in mineral exploration

November 7, 2014

An international group of specialists in the field of planetary sciences has found strong evidence that lava flows on Mars may also host base and precious metals.

Recommended for you

Where to search for signs of life on Titan

July 20, 2018

New findings, published in the journal Astrobiology, suggest that large craters are the prime locations in which to find the building blocks of life on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Did a rogue star change the makeup of our solar system?

July 20, 2018

A team of researchers from the Max-Planck Institute and Queen's University has used new information to test a theory that suggests a rogue star passed close enough to our solar system millions of years ago to change its configuration. ...

Traveling to the sun: Why won't Parker Solar Probe melt?

July 19, 2018

This summer, NASA's Parker Solar Probe will launch to travel closer to the Sun, deeper into the solar atmosphere, than any mission before it. If Earth was at one end of a yard-stick and the Sun on the other, Parker Solar ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PowerMax
5 / 5 (2) Oct 17, 2017
clickbait!!! enough with these clickbaits!!!!!!!!!!
thomasct
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 18, 2017
How about some Mars news outside the tightly controlled mainstream, (nasa etc)? Mars was thrown out of orbit in 195,960BC when the 3rd inhabited Planet in our Sol System, Milona/Milopa was 'blown apart' during a massive local war. Milona is now the asteroid belt. Tens of millions of humans died on both Planets. Nasa 'Orbitor' photos of intelligently constructed structures on Mars that nasa 'airbrushers' omitted to airbrush are on enterprisemission.com. Dates from The Pleiadian Mission by R Winters, based on theyfly.com. (Only for the open-minded).
PowerMax
3 / 5 (2) Oct 18, 2017
"thomasct". hahahahahahah!!! thanks man! I needed that!
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2017
Thomas, one can add the news in the waiting that Mars does still host living microorganisms feeding from sulfur. Again, the one telling us first about this has been Eduard Albert Meier.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.