Hopes for life on planets such as Mars rise when looking at how micro-organisms survive here on Earth, in the most arid conditions
Here, on Earth, micro-organisms can survive even in the most arid conditions, such as in the driest corners of South America’s Atacama Desert, where decades can pass without any rain falling. These rough, dry conditions mean that the salt in the soil is very concentrated, with little organic matter.
Scientists have noticed the microbial life in Atacama; however, they are not sure if those organisms have travelled in on the wind or if they live in the desert.
Recently, an international team led by Washing State University has discovered that there are a few tiny forms of life that have adapted to life in the desert. They are able to survive by going dormant for decades and then reactivating and reproducing when it eventually rains.
“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,” Schulze-Makuch said in a statement.
“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.”
The team was lucky enough to be onsite back in 2015 when it eventually rained in the desert. They found an explosion of biological activity in the soil after the shower and performed genomic analyses to identify different species of microbial life that were reproducing.