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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Earth species may contaminate Mars

The search for life on Mars continues as we speak. However, there may be a serious problem facing scientists who hope to identify alien life, and that is contamination from Earthbound species.
Andrew Schuerger of the Kennedy Space Center and his colleagues from the University of Central Florida simulated a trip to Mars to see whether the bacteria Escherichia coli and Serratia liquefaciens would be able to survive the journey. The short answer? Yes, they could. The microbes did not thrive under the harsh conditions, but they didn’t die either.
Spacecraft on route to Mars are kept under sterile conditions in an effort to minimize this kind of contamination. However, there’s no way to ensure that absolutely no Earthly bacteria hitch a ride. Knowing that bacteria may still be alive upon arrival on the red planet means that researchers will have to be especially vigilant in determining whether any microbes they find actually come from Earth.