Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Methane Found In Desert Soils Bolsters Theories That Life Could Exist On Mars

Date:
November 8, 2005
Source:
University of Southern California
Summary:
Evidence of methane-producing organisms can be found in inhospitable soil environments much like those found on the surface of Mars, according to experiments undertaken by scientists and students from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the University of Arkansas and published online in the journal Icarus. These results, they say, provide ample impetus for similar "biodetection experiments" to be considered for future missions to Mars.

Mars from the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera.
Credit: Image s NASA/JPL/MSSS

Evidence of methane-producing organisms can be found in inhospitable soil environments much like those found on the surface of Mars, according to experiments undertaken by scientists and students from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the University of Arkansas and published online in the journal Icarus.

These results, they say, provide ample impetus for similar "biodetection experiments" to be considered for future missions to Mars.

"Methane-producing organisms are the ones most likely to be found on Mars," notes Joseph Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School and one of the study's lead researchers. "And, in fact, methane was detected on Mars last year."

Methane is considered to be a biological signature for certain living organisms that metabolize organic matter under conditions of low or no oxygen. Terrestrial methanogens (methane-producers) are typically found in environments largely protected from atmospheric oxygen, such as peat bogs, oceanic methane ices and anoxic levels of the ocean. But they had not previously been detected in an arid desert environment.

To see if methane could be found in Mars-like soil, the investigators collected soil and vapor samples from the arid environment of the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, and then compared them with vapor samples taken from the Idaho High Desert and soil samples from Death Valley, the Arctic and the Atacama desert in Chile. Three of five vapor samples from the Utah site showed the presence of methane; there was no methane found in any of the vapor samples from Idaho. Similarly, while five of 40 soil samples from Utah produced methane after the addition of growth medium to the samples-indicating that the methane was being given off by a biological organism, most likely a bacterium-none of the other soil samples showed signs of methane production.

Finding methane in the Utah desert is no guarantee that methane-producers exist on Mars, admits Miller, who has previously analyzed data from the Viking Lander missions and found that soil samples taken in the 1970s from the Martian surface exhibited a circadian rhythm in what appeared to be nutrient metabolism, much like that present in terrestrial microbes. However, Miller says, this recent experiment does provide "proof of principle [in that] it improves the case that such bacteria can and might exist on the Martian surface." And that, he adds, surely warrants further investigation during future missions to Mars.

In conclusion, the researchers write, "The detection of methane, apparently of biological origin, in terrestrial desert regolith bodes well for future biodetection experiments in at least partially analogous Martian environments."

###

Mark Moran, Joseph D. Miller, Tim Kral, Dave Scott, "Desert methane: Implications for life detection on Mars." Icarus, 178 (2005), 277-280.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Southern California. "Methane Found In Desert Soils Bolsters Theories That Life Could Exist On Mars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051107083842.htm>.
University of Southern California. (2005, November 8). Methane Found In Desert Soils Bolsters Theories That Life Could Exist On Mars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051107083842.htm
University of Southern California. "Methane Found In Desert Soils Bolsters Theories That Life Could Exist On Mars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051107083842.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
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