Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Did 'Suit of Armor' Allow Viruses to Survive on Ancient Mars?

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Did 'Suit of Armor' Allow Viruses to Survive on Ancient Mars?

By Elizabeth Howell
Astrobiology Magazine

      What's a virus to do when it finds itself in an inhospitable environment such as hot water? Coating itself in glass seems to not only provide protection, but may also make it easier to jump to a more favorable location to spread.

Researchers led by a group from the Center for Life in Extreme Environments at Portland State University recently coated four different virus types in silica, a glassy substance found in certain types of hot springs. Three of the four viruses studied took on a silica coating and went into hibernation, reactivating when the coating was removed.

The NASA-funded finding has implications for seeking out viruses on other planets, including Mars — a big target for life studies over the decades. No microbes have been found on the Red Planet, but NASA is currently seeking evidence of habitable environments there, particularly with the Mars rover Curiosity.

Seeking the viral fossil record

Water and possible oceans once coated the surface of Mars, according to data from multiple missions. Pictures from orbit appear to show evidence of gullies and shorelines. Rovers and orbiters have also found extensive evidence of sulfates, which are rocks that form in water-enriched environments. Curiosity itself found evidence of an ancient streambed, including rounded pebbles, in the first year of its mission. . . .

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