Scientists believe that a ‘blueprint’ for alien life on Mars could be found in one of the coldest areas on planet Earth.
The oxygen-free environment in the High Arctic, in Canada, shares some key characteristics such as widespread salt deposit and possible cold springs with the Red Planet; that could help indicate to researchers what extraterrestrials could be found.
McGill University researchers found microbes under the permafrost – a permanently frozen layer under Earth’s surface of soil, gravel, and sand that has been bonded by ice – that have never been identified before.
Moreover, these organisms can survive by eating and breathing simple inorganic compounds – methane, sulfide, sulfate, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide – like those detected on Mars.
“It took a couple of years of working with the sediment before we were able to successfully detect active microbial communities,” explains Elisse Magnuson, first author on the research, published in ISME J.
“The saltiness of the environment interferes with both the extraction and the sequencing of the microbes, so when we were able to find evidence of active microbial communities, it was a very satisfying experience.”
By isolating the DNA of a microbial community found in Lost Hammer Spring in the Arctic, the researchers were able to reconstruct the genomes from 110 microorganisms – many of which have never been seen before.
This gives scientists a basis to determine how these organisms can survive in this extreme environment. “The microbes we found and described at Lost Hammer Spring are surprising, because, unlike other microorganisms, they don’t depend on organic material or oxygen to live,” said Lyle Whyte of McGill’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences.
“Instead, they survive by eating and breathing simple inorganic compounds such as methane, sulfides, sulfate, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, all of which are found on Mars. They can also fix carbon dioxide and nitrogen gasses from the atmosphere, all of which makes them highly adapted to both surviving and thriving in very extreme environments on Earth and beyond.”