Mars-bound instruments detect Arctic microbes

时间:2019-03-02 14:02:04166网络整理admin

By David L Chandler (Image: Ivar Midtkandal/AMASE) Instruments designed to look for signs of life on Mars in a future expedition have proven their capabilities by finding evidence of both living and fossilised microbes in a frozen Arctic volcano. The discovery of “a rare and complex microbial community” in the ice was reported by Hans Amundsen of the University of Oslo, Norway, and colleagues who have been studying the volcano Sverrefjell on Svalbard, an island group north of Norway, in a project called AMASE — the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition. Andrew Steele at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory in Washington DC, US, the project’s lead scientist, said that the instruments are being designed to look for signs of life in similar habitats on Mars. “Ice-filled volcanic vents such as these are likely to occur on Mars,” he said. Findings over the past two years from space probes that have landed on or orbited the Red Planet have made the possibility of life seem much more plausible. Evidence of recent or ongoing volcanic activity has been reported, as have large pockets of water ice, and methane that might indicate geothermal activity below the surface. The new detection systems include a miniaturised device fitted with protein microarray chips that respond only to specific biogenic molecules. Contamination is a risk, but the use of specially designed sterile drills enabled sterile sampling to be done, says Steele. The AMASE team had found signs of life at the seemingly barren site during a expedition in 2004, but the new find was the first time life had been detected inside the frozen volcano. The ice inside is believed to be a million years old. Amundsen said no living organisms would have been expected in this icy environment. Another team member, Liane Benning of the University of Leeds, UK, said: “Small ecosystems in the ice have apparently adapted to extremely cold conditions. The organisms found are survivors.” The microarray device will undergo further tests in 2005 aboard NASA’s space shuttle,