Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Could life survive on Mars? Yes, expert says

Date:
June 5, 2010
Source:
McGill University
Summary:
Researchers have discovered that methane-eating bacteria survive in a highly unique spring located on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada's extreme North. Microbiologists explain that the Lost Hammer spring supports microbial life, that the spring is similar to possible past or present springs on Mars, and that therefore they too could support life.

This is Lost Hammer Spring on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut Territory, Canada.
Credit: Dept. Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Montreal.

Researchers at McGill's department of natural resources, the National Research Council of Canada, the University of Toronto and the SETI Institute have discovered that methane-eating bacteria survive in a highly unique spring located on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada's extreme North. Dr. Lyle Whyte, McGill University microbiologist explains that the Lost Hammer spring supports microbial life, that the spring is similar to possible past or present springs on Mars, and that therefore they too could support life.

The subzero water is so salty that it doesn't freeze despite the cold, and it has no consumable oxygen in it. There are, however, big bubbles of methane that come to the surface, which had provoked the researchers' curiosity as to whether the gas was being produced geologically or biologically and whether anything could survive in this extreme hypersaline subzero environment. "We were surprised that we did not find methanogenic bacteria that produce methane at Lost Hammer," Whyte said, "but we did find other very unique anaerobic organisms -- organisms that survive by essentially eating methane and probably breathing sulfate instead of oxygen."

It has been very recently discovered that there is methane and frozen water on Mars. Photos taken by the Mars Orbiter show the formation of new gullies, but no one knows what is forming them. One answer is that there could be that there are springs like Lost Hammer on Mars.

"The point of the research is that it doesn't matter where the methane is coming from," Whyte explained. "If you have a situation where you have very cold salty water, it could potentially support a microbial community, even in that extreme harsh environment." While Axel Heiberg is already an inhospitable place, the Lost Hammer spring is even more so. "There are places on Mars where the temperature reaches relatively warm -10 to 0 degrees and perhaps even above 0ΊC," Whyte said, "and on Axel Heiberg it gets down to -50, easy. The Lost Hammer spring is the most extreme subzero and salty environment we've found. This site also provides a model of how a methane seep could form in a frozen world like Mars, providing a potential mechanism for the recently discovered Martian methane plumes."

The research was published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal and received logistical support from McGill University's Arctic Research Station and the Canadian Polar Continental Shelf Project. Funding was received from NASA, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency. Additional funding for student research was provided by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and the Fonds Quιbιcois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas D Niederberger, Nancy N Perreault, Stephanie Tille, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Georges Lacrampe-Couloume, Dale Andersen, Charles W Greer, Wayne Pollard, Lyle G Whyte. Microbial characterization of a subzero, hypersaline methane seep in the Canadian High Arctic. The ISME Journal, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2010.57

Cite This Page:

McGill University. "Could life survive on Mars? Yes, expert says." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100604132041.htm>.
McGill University. (2010, June 5). Could life survive on Mars? Yes, expert says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100604132041.htm
McGill University. "Could life survive on Mars? Yes, expert says." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100604132041.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — On it's second attempt this week, The Space X company launched Friday from Cape Canaveral to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Unmanned Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

Unmanned Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 18, 2014) — The rocket, built and operated by Space Exploration Technologies, carries a Dragon cargo ship loaded with supplies and equipment destined for the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth's Near-Twin Found Orbiting Red Dwarf

Earth's Near-Twin Found Orbiting Red Dwarf

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — The newly-discovered planet is roughly the size of Earth and could have liquid water on its surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. 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