Scientists study which microorganisms could survive on Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — A team of scientists led by the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin) together with the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) studied the cellular processes that regulate the adaptation of microorganisms to perchlorates.

If microorganisms could genetically adapt their stress response to this salt, their survival on the Red Planet might be possible.

Life as we know it requires energy and CHNOPS. This abbreviation stands for carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Trace elements and liquid water are also indispensable.

Much of this is available on Mars: energy can be obtained from sunlight or chemical processes, carbon is available through the rarefied but carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, and other necessary elements are present on the planet’s surface in regolith.

However, liquid water is a problem due to low atmospheric pressure and average temperatures below freezing.

One of the few ways to obtain water near the surface of Mars is the formation of temporarily stable salt solutions by dissolution.

In this process, salt absorbs water from the atmosphere and dissolves in it. There are many hygroscopic salts on Mars, including perchlorates (ClO4-), which easily absorb water from the atmosphere and lower the freezing point of water. They are also sometimes found on Earth in very dry deserts.

This water is theoretically sufficient to support the metabolism of certain groups of microorganisms. However, perchlorates cause stress in the cell.

“In order to understand potential microbial life on Mars, it is important to figure out how microorganisms deal with such stressors, because only if they develop a good stress response can microbes cope with high salt concentrations and take advantage of the benefits of salts, such as exfoliation and lower freezing temperatures. “said first author Jakob Heinz of TU Berlin.

The research team used a proteomics protocol to analyze the perchlorate-specific response of the yeast Debaryomyces hansenii and compared it to commonly known adaptations to salt stress.

The researchers found that the stress responses to sodium chloride and sodium perchlorate share many common metabolic features.

“However, we also identified several new stress responses that were specific to perchlorate. For example, protein glycosylation and cell wall remodeling, presumably to stabilize protein structures and the cell membrane.

These stress responses would also be of great importance for the proposed life on Mars,” explained co-author Hans-Peter Grossart from IGB.

“If we’re looking for life on Mars, we need to be open-minded, because native Martian microbes – if they exist – are certainly adapted to the environment on Mars through various biochemical processes that may not occur on Earth,” Dirk Schulze said. -Makuh, study co-author and researcher at IGB and TU Berlin.

“But if we investigate how organisms on Earth deal with stressors on Mars, such as perchlorates, we’ll have the first clues about how life on Mars could cope with challenging environmental conditions.”

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