Life Below the LimitA class of especially hardy microbes that live in some of the harshest Earthly environments could flourish on cold Mars and other chilly planets, according to a research team of astronomers and microbiologists.
In a two-year laboratory study, the researchers discovered that some cold-adapted microorganisms not only survived but reproduced at 30 degrees Fahrenheit, just below the freezing point of water. The microbes also developed a defense mechanism that protected them from cold temperatures. The researchers are members of a unique collaboration of astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute and microbiologists from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center of Marine Biotechnology in Baltimore, Md. Their results appear on the International Journal of Astrobiology website.
"The low temperature limit for life is particularly important since, in both the solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy, cold environments are much more common than hot environments," said Neill Reid, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and leader of the research team. "Our results show that the lowest temperatures at which these organisms can thrive fall within the temperature range experienced on present-day Mars, and could permit survival and growth, particularly beneath Mars's surface. This could expand the realm of the habitable zone, the area in which life could exist, to colder Mars-like planets."
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