Particularly resistant bacteria that have been on Earth for more than 2.5 billion years could help humans colonize Mars and identify life on other planets.
A study involving the National University of Australia (ANU) found cyanobacterium called Chroococcidiopsis can survive in extreme conditions because its process of photosynthesis – storing energy from light and creating oxygen – can operate with little light and red light.
Certain types of cyanobacteria found in hostile environments, such as Antarctica and the Mojave Desert, have also survived in outer space, outside the International Space Station.
One of the project's researchers said, although "it might sound like science fiction," it could be harnessed to create breathable air for humans on Mars.
"As we know, there is no atmosphere on Mars and the way in which the oxygenated atmosphere was created on Earth was by cyanobacteria", Professor Emeritus ANU Elmars Krausz said
"You have to protect it from this fierce radiation that is there and this organism Chroococcidiopsis is able to live in very low light conditions and under a rock.
"It could really colonize Mars and eventually create an atmosphere and also maybe something like a soil. "
What is Chroococcidiopsis ?
Cyanobacteria are unicellular organisms that use sunlight to divide water into oxygen.
Chr oococcidiopsis is a type of cyanobacteria that makes photosynthesis differently.
"Under normal light conditions, they are completely normal," said Professor Krausz
"But when the light level is low and when there is only red light, they turn on a efficient photosynthetic engine completely different. "
That engine is able to survive in very extreme conditions, like those of the red planet.
How does this help us find extraterrestrials?
Chlorophyll absorbing light is vital in photosynthesis for many plants.
It is normally green, but research shows that red chlorophylls are critical for photosynthesis in low light conditions.
Jennifer Morton, coauthor of the study and ANU expert, said that analyzing the roles of these red chlorophylls can provide clues as to where to find extraterrestrial life.
"Finding the characteristic fluorescence of these pigments could help identify extraterrestrial life," she said.
Better understanding of photosynthesis
This version of photosynthesis is more efficient because it uses light that is not normally used and has lower energy.
And while it is a recent revelation, it has been happening around us for a long time.
The cyanobacterium itself has existed on Earth for more than 2.5 billion years.
"This type of photosynthesis may well be happening in your garden," said Ms. Morton.
Research also Foun Organisms exposed to sunlight died right away once they adapted to low light.
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