Do bugs in the desert point to life on the Red Planet?
Scientists find microbes that have survived hundreds of years in the most Mars-like place on Earth
Life on Mars is feasible, scientists have claimed, after discovering bacteria living in the driest place on Earth.
Previously experts believed that nothing could thrive in the Atacama Desert, in Chile, which goes for decades without rain, and is the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface.
Although microbes had been found in the soils of the Atacama, it was thought they had been blown there from elsewhere.
But scientists at Washington State University have discovered that micro-organisms can survive the arid conditions, staying dormant for hundreds or even thousands of years if necessary, and then reactivating when it rains.
Dr Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a planetary scientist, said: “It has always fascinated me to go to the places where people don’t think anything could possibly survive and discover that life has somehow found a way to make it work.
“Jurassic Park references aside, our research tells us that if life can persist in Earth’s driest environment there is a good chance it could be hanging in there on Mars in a similar fashion.
“We know there is water frozen in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nightly snowfalls and other increased moisture events near the surface. If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today’s severely hyper-arid surface.”
The discovery was made after Dr Schulze-Makuch and his team went to the Atacama for the first time in 2015 and, by chance, encountered wet weather. After the extremely rare shower, the researchers detected an explosion of biological activity in the Atacama soil.
After taking soil samples, they found several indigenous species of microbial life that had adapted to live in the harsh environment. When the researchers returned to the Atacama in 2016 and 2017 they found that the same microbial communities in the soil were gradually reverting to a dormant state as the moisture went away.
The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
– © The Daily Telegraph