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Bacteria can live in Mars-like conditions

Dec. 15, 2011 at 9:32 PM   |   Comments

CORVALLIS, Ore., Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Microbes found in a lava tube in Oregon are thriving in Mars-like conditions -- near freezing temperatures and low levels of oxygen, U.S. researchers say.

Oregon State University researchers say the microbes can grow in the absence of organic food, with their metabolism driven by the oxidation of iron from olivine, a common volcanic mineral.

These factors make the microbes capable of living in the subsurface of Mars and other planetary bodies, the scientists say.

"This microbe is from one of the most common genera of bacteria on Earth," OSU doctoral student Amy Smith said in a university release Thursday. "You can find its cousins in caves, on your skin, at the bottom of the ocean and just about anywhere. What is different, in this case, is its unique qualities that allow it to grow in Mars-like conditions."

The microbes were collected from a lava tube near Newberry Crater in Oregon's Cascades Mountains at an elevation of about 5,000 feet.

"We know from direct examination, as well as satellite imagery, that olivine is in Martian rocks," study author Martin Fisk said. "And now we know that olivine can sustain microbial life.

"Although this study does not exactly duplicate what you would find on Mars, it does show that bacteria can live in similar conditions," he said.

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