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Possibility of Mars microbial life eyed

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Aug. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they'll recreate conditions on Mars in a laboratory to see if microbial life might exist in salt droplets observed on the red planet.

A NASA project led by the University of Michigan will begin three years after beads of liquid brine were first photographed on one of the Mars Phoenix lander's legs.

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The Phoenix photos are believed to be the first pictures of liquid water outside the Earth.

"On Earth, everywhere there's liquid water, there is microbial life," said UM Professor Nilton Renno of UM's Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences .

The study will create Mars conditions of atmospheric pressures and temperatures in lab chambers to study how and when brines form.

The chambers will be seeded with salt-loving "extremophile" microorganisms from deep in Antarctic lakes and the Gulf of Mexico to see whether these organisms survive, grow and reproduce in such brines, the researchers said.

"If we find microbes that can survive and replicate in brines at Mars conditions, we would have demonstrated that microbes could exist on Mars today," Renno said.

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