Science News

Hot Spring Brings Hope for Life on Mars

Sun, 20th Jan 2002

Part of the show Around The World Yacht Race Medicine

People who believe that little green men will be found on Mars are bound to be disappointed - the conditions would be far too harsh. But the discovery of a new community of microbes in Idaho means that finding microscopic lifeforms on Mars is increasingly likely. A team of US scientists made their discovery in a hot spring 200 metres below the surface. They were amazed to find a microbial community living almost exclusively on carbon dioxide and hydrogen from rocks, releasing methane as a by-product. Unlike the vast majority of life forms, these microbes live completely independently from the Sun. But why should something in Idaho be relevant to Mars? Well, the Martian atmosphere has plenty of hydrogen and carbon dioxide which these microbes could live off. And although the other vital ingredient for life - water - is missing from the surface of Mars, scientists reckon that water might be found deep underground. This discovery was so unexpected that, at first, the researcher analysing the samples assumed she had made a mistake. A hundred years ago biologists went on expeditions to find new species of animals. Now it is the turn of hidden microscopic lifeforms to reveal their secrets.
Show featuring extreme bacteria (extremophile) expert Prof. Philip Wright
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