Dr Joop Houtkooper of the University of Giessen, Germany, believes that the subfreezing, arid Martian surface could be home to organisms whose cells are filled with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. In a presentation at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam on Friday 24th August, Dr Houtkooper will describe how he has used data from the Gas Exchange (GEx) experiment, carried by NASA’s Viking landers, to estimate the biomass in the Martian soil.
Dr Houtkooper said, “The GEx experiment measured unexplained rises in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels when incubating samples. If we assume these gases were produced during the breakdown of organic material together with hydrogen peroxide solution, we can calculate the masses needed to produce the volume of gas measured. From that, we can estimate the total biomass in the sample of Martian soil. It comes out at little more than one part per thousand by weight, comparable to what is found in some permafrost in Antarctica. This might be detectable by instruments on the Phoenix lander, which will arrive at Mars in May next year.”
Dr Houtkooper and his colleague, Dr Schulze-Makuch from Washington State University, suggest that a hydrogen peroxide-water based organism would be quite capable of surviving in the harsh Martian climate where temperatures rarely rise above freezing and can reach -150 degrees Celsius at the poles. A 60% solution of hydrogen peroxide has a freezing point of -56.5 degrees Celsius, and the supercooling properties of such mixtures could mean that metabolic activity could survive at even lower temperatures. In addition, hydrogen peroxide-water solutions tend to attract water, which means that organisms could scavenge water molecules from the Martian atmosphere.
The downside of the water-scavenging biochemistry is that if the organisms were exposed to liquid water or warm atmospheres with high humidity, they could die through over hydration. In this case, the cell would break down, releasing oxygen. Any organic compounds could then react with the hydrogen peroxide, releasing carbon dioxide, water vapour and traces of nitrogen and minor constituents.
Dr Houtkooper said, “This hydrogen peroxide-water hypothesis could provide answers for several aspects of the Viking results that remain unexplained thirty years on. The concept of this type of life is also interesting for planners of future missions searching for life on Mars. With the long timescales involved in planning and launching Mars landers, there is a dire necessity to anticipate what kind of life we should expect to find and where we should be looking. Organisms with the hydrogen peroxide-water biochemistry would be more likely to be active in colder areas on Mars with high water vapour concentrations, as would be expected along the polar ice fringe. Looking further ahead, a sample return mission would mean that we could use all that present technology affords to analyse signs of life. However, if the organisms were to have the chemistry we are proposing, they may well decompose completely into gases during the journey back to Earth, without leaving even a smudge behind.”
The existence of organisms with the hydrogen peroxide-water chemistry would raise interesting questions about the origins of life on Earth. Dr Houtkooper does not think that it would necessarily imply independent origins for terrestrial and Martian life. “A detailed study of the biochemistry and genetics would be needed to determine whether the life forms were related. The transfer of terrestrial organisms to Mars or vice versa is a possibility given favorable conditions for the origin and persistence of life on both planets early in solar system history. The transfer of terrestrial organisms by early spacecrafts to Mars that either landed or crashed is a possibility, but it is not plausible that these organisms evolved in a few years.“
Hydrogen peroxide is not unknown in the metabolic processes of terrestrial organisms. The Bombardier beetle, Brachinus Crepitans, uses a 25% solution of hydrogen peroxide to produce a steam explosion in the face of pursuing predators.
Dr Houtkooper said, “There does not appear to be any basic reason why hydrogen peroxide could not be used by living systems. While organisms on Earth have found it advantageous to include salt in their intracellular fluids, hydrogen peroxide may have been more suitable for organisms adapting to the cold, dry environment of Mars.”
Anita Heward | alfa
Witnessing turbulent motion in the atmosphere of a distant star
23.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie
Heating quantum matter: A novel view on topology
22.08.2017 | Université libre de Bruxelles
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences
23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy