How fungi from Antarctic rocks survived harsh Martian conditions

London, Jan 29 (IANS) In a surprise to a team of European scientists, a set of fungi from Antarctic that was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) for research survived the simulated hostile Martian conditions.

A team travelled to the remote McMurdo Dry Valleys in the Antarctic Victoria Land which is the most similar earthly equivalent to Mars to collect samples of two species of cryptoendolithic fungi: Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri.

These fungi were sent to the international orbiting laboratory and after exposing them in conditions similar to those on Mars for 18 months on board, they found more than 60 percent of their cells remained intact with stable DNA.

“The most relevant outcome was that more than 60 percent of the cells of the endolithic communities studied remained intact after ‘exposure to Mars’, or rather, the stability of their cellular DNA was still high,” Rosa de la Torre Noetzel from Spain’s National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), co-researcher on the project, said in a statement.

The results, published in the journal Astrobiology, provide new information for the search for life on Red Planet.

The fungi, which can withstand extreme high-mountain environments, were also gathered from the Sierra de Gredos (Spain) and the Alps (Austria) and sent into space for the same experiment.

These species showed double the metabolic activity of those that had been subjected to space conditions, even reaching 80 percent more in the case of the species Xanthoria elegans.

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