Could humans, Nasa probes have already contaminated Mars? Geneticist Christopher Mason asks tough questions

In February of this 12 months, the Martian airspace, which usually is free, was all of the sudden congested as international locations from Earth began parking their probes, rovers, orbiters within the Red Planet’s orbit. While UAE and China are nonetheless orbiting, Nasa landed its rover on the floor to deepen its understanding of the planet as its SUV-sized rover drills onto the floor.

Now a geneticist says there is likely to be possibilities that some microbes would possibly have hitchhiked their approach on to the neighbouring planet.

Earth has despatched round 30 spacecraft and landers to the Red Planet, however did one thing else made the journey as properly? Christopher Mason, a professor of genomics, physiology, and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University is asking this query.

In a current report revealed in BBC Future the geneticist asks, “Could a trace bacterium or spore from Earth have accidentally been carried into space and survived the trip to make its new home on Mars?”

Mason takes proof from the microbes that evolved on the International Space Station. Four strains of Methylobacteriaceae had been remoted from the Space Station from completely different areas over two flights. Of these three had been recognized as “gram-negative, rod-shaped, catalase-positive, oxidase-positive, motile bacteria,” whereas the fourth was recognized as Methylorubrum rhodesianum. Methylorubrum rhodesianum is a pressure of micro organism recognized as a contaminant of DNA extraction equipment reagents.

Detrimental to analysis

If a microbe hitchhikes its approach onboard the rovers on to the Martian floor, it may adulterate the info units the scientists are receiving and will put in query the invention of life on one other planet, which has been one of many sole targets of a number of missions despatched throughout planets. “Scientists need to be sure that any discovery of life on another planet is genuinely native there, rather than a false identification of an alien-looking, but Earth-grown, contamination,” Mason mentioned within the report.

Apart from misguiding the analysis, these microbes could possibly be of extra concern to astronauts travelling to the Red Planet sooner or later posing a risk to their health as well as equipment getting used to help their keep within the horrible Martian ambiance. Mason suspects that there may already be traces of human DNA on the planet as “ever since the first two Soviet probes landed on the Martian surface in 1971, followed by the US Viking 1 lander in 1976, there likely have been some fragments of microbial, and maybe human DNA, on Mars. Given the global dust storms and trace amounts of DNA that might have gone with these spacecraft, we have to be sure we don’t fool ourselves that the life we find isn’t originally from Earth.”

Impossible to realize zero biomass

Nasa builds its spacecraft, probes, landers, rovers in cleanrooms to make sure no microbes or different impurities creep into delicate gear and adulterate the info that it relays again. The spacecraft is designed in ISO-5 clear rooms, the place ISO-1 denotes cleanest services and ISO-9 are least clear. Strict protocols are ensured to maintain impurities out and that “only a few hundred particles can contaminate each square foot.” However, Mason claims that it’s virtually unimaginable to get to zero biomass and with microbes current all over the place round us there are possibilities some would possibly sneak there into the cleanest of rooms.

“In JPL’s clean rooms, we found evidence of microbes that have the potential to be problematic during space missions. These organisms have increased numbers of genes for DNA repair, giving them greater resistance against radiation, they can form biofilms on surfaces and equipment, can survive desiccation and thrive in cold environments. It turns out that cleanrooms might serve as an evolutionary selection process for the hardiest bugs,” Mason writes.

Also Read: Flying on Mars is possible: Here’s how small rotorcraft Ingenuity proved it

Backward contamination a fear

While scientists be certain that no hint of microbial life goes on to the probes earlier than they’re launched, one other reason behind fear is avoiding “backward contamination, where something brought back to Earth presents a risk to life on our own planet.”

With Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) engaged on a mission to return samples from Mars by 2028, this situation shall be a trigger for concern for scientists.

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