Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

University Of Missouri Research Could Pave Way For Discovery Of Life On Mars

Date:
November 2, 2000
Source:
University Of Missouri-Rolla
Summary:
In the wake of last month's announcement that scientists have found what they believe to be a living microbe that pre-dates Tyrannosaurus rex, Dr. Melanie Mormile is keeping one eye on salt crystals that contain ancient earth-bound bacteria and another on Mars. Mormile, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Rolla and an expert on microscopic organisms, thinks living bacteria might be trapped in the sulphate and chloride salts of Mars.

ROLLA, Mo. -- In the wake of last month's announcement that scientists have found what they believe to be a living microbe that pre-dates Tyrannosaurus rex, Dr. Melanie Mormile is keeping one eye on salt crystals that contain ancient earth-bound bacteria and another on Mars.

Mormile, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Rolla and an expert on microscopic organisms, thinks living bacteria might be trapped in the sulphate and chloride salts of Mars. Her work is partially funded by NASA, which announced Oct. 26 that it has officially scheduled six robotic missions over the next ten years to hunt for signs of life on the red planet.

Meanwhile, at UMR, Mormile is in the process of conducting further research on salt crystals that contain trapped bacteria in an attempt to lend confirmation to an amazing report published in the October issue of the journal Nature.

One of Mormile's research peers, Dr. Russell Vreeland of West Chester University, is the co-author of the October Nature article, which announced the discovery of what Vreeland and his research group say is a 250-million-year-old microbe found in New Mexico salt deposits. The microbe, which is similar if not identical to a modern strain of bacteria, would be by far the oldest sample of a living bacterium ever found.

"Ideally, we'd like to find really ancient bacteria that have never been described before," says Mormile, who studies samples at UMR and confirms any exceptional findings through independent DNA testing. "That would help to rule out the possibility of contamination."

In order to date salt-loving bacteria on Earth, the age of the salt deposits must first be determined. By looking at individual salt crystals under a microscope, scientists are then able to find bacteria that are trapped in tiny bubbles. The trapped bacteria can be dated according to the age of the crystals.

Mormile's UMR lab is equipped with a special inverted microscope and micromanipulator. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Washington, Mormile and her colleagues isolated a 97,000-year-old bacterium from salt crystals using this instrumentation.

"It's a little bit like "Jurassic Park,'" says Mormile, who notes that a 250- million-year-old bacterium finding pre-dates Jurassic dinosaurs by 20 million years or so. "In the book and the movie, scientists find a prehistoric mosquito trapped in amber. We're doing something similar with the bacteria that is trapped in salt crystals. And we hope to do this with Mars samples as well."

Although Mormile concedes it's possible that a modern bacterium was somehow introduced to the 250-million-year-old salt crystal discussed in the Nature study, thereby contaminating it, she remains optimistic that researchers will continue to find other bacteria from a similar time period. Such confirmation is necessary to prove that bacteria can live for hundreds of millions of years on Earth, a conclusion that would make life on Mars all the more plausible.

Scientists already know that bacteria can live without light or oxygen. They can thrive in boiling water or below the Arctic ice. Existing bacteria have been found in radioactive waste and, interestingly enough, in the belly of a bee trapped in amber for more than 25 million years.

If bacteria can survive under these conditions for so long, Mormile says, there is no reason to believe they can't exist in Mars' harsh environments, especially under its surface.

"I think there's a pretty good chance we'll find life on Mars," Mormile says. "Even though bacteria are not as fascinating to most people as aliens with big eyes, I think we could be in for some astounding discoveries."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Missouri-Rolla. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Missouri-Rolla. "University Of Missouri Research Could Pave Way For Discovery Of Life On Mars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 November 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001101065435.htm>.
University Of Missouri-Rolla. (2000, November 2). University Of Missouri Research Could Pave Way For Discovery Of Life On Mars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001101065435.htm
University Of Missouri-Rolla. "University Of Missouri Research Could Pave Way For Discovery Of Life On Mars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001101065435.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

AFP (Aug. 1, 2014) — The discovery of a bear cub in the Pyrenees mountains made headlines in April 2014. Despire several attempts to find the animal's mother, the cub remained alone. Now, the Pyrenees Conservation Foundation has constructed an enclosure. Duration: 00:31 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) — Health officials are working to fast-track a vaccine — the West-African Ebola outbreak has killed more than 700. But why didn't we already have one? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) — Previous studies have made the link between birth control and breast cancer, but the latest makes the link to high-estrogen oral contraceptives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins