(ORDO NEWS) — What if microbes could drift through the vast expanses of space like pollen in the wind, sowing the seeds of life on other planets? Is this how life began on our planet? Is such a journey possible?
A new study of the astrobiological mission Tanpopo, which means dandelion in Japanese, suggests it may well be.
Samples of the highly resistant bacteria of the genus Deinococcus, which can be found high in our atmosphere, have officially survived for three years in the vacuum of space, withstanding microgravity, intense ultraviolet radiation and extreme temperatures while flying outside the International Space Station.
The study adds a level of feasibility to the controversial theory of panspermia, which claims that life did not originate on Earth but came here from elsewhere in the universe.
Nevertheless, after three years of being outside the ISS, dried deinococcus granules with a thickness of more than 0.5 mm survived a round-the-world trip around the Earth.
“The results show that the radio-resistant Deinococcus can survive travel from Earth to Mars and vice versa, which is several months in the shortest orbit,” says biologist Akihiko Yamagishi of the University of Tokyo.
Previous research by the same team has shown that this is possible in a laboratory, but this is the first time bacteria have been tested both inside and outside the ISS.
Other studies that have found spores of the bacteria Bacillus subtilis inside the ISS suggest that some microscopic life forms could exist in space for almost six years. But the authors predict that Deinococcus can survive inside a spacecraft like the ISS for 15 to 45 years.
Many bacterial spores are incredibly durable, and spores like Bacillus subtilis can remain in suspended animation for many years. This is partly why they were used to prove the possibility of panspermia.
If a cluster of spores, similar to bacteria that we have studied so far, somehow got into space, spread by cosmic dust, asteroids, comets or meteorites, it could theoretically travel huge distances and survive upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Previous work has shown that bacteria can survive in space when protected by rock – a concept called lithopanspermia – but new research suggests that these spores can also survive, coming together to build an “ark for interplanetary life transfer” – a concept the authors dubbed “Massanspermia”.
But if bacteria can truly survive in interplanetary space, the Earth itself could act like a dandelion, fanning life into endless space, perhaps even reaching Mars.
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