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Life Sci Space Res. 1964;2:352-6.

Biological contamination of Mars. I. Survival of terrestrial microorganisms in simulated Martian environments.

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Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.


It has been postulated that the accidental introduction of terrestrial microorganisms to other planets during the course of space exploration might impede or bias the detection of organic matter and possible indigenous organisms, and thereby confuse subsequent studies of extraterrestrial life. To assess the likelihood of biological contamination of Mars, we have applied the principle of natural selection on a laboratory scale. Terrestrial microorganisms were collected from a variety of environments, including regions of high alkalinity, low mean daily temperature, and low annual rainfall. The air-dried soils were then subjected to a simulated Martian environment involving 12-hour freeze-thaw cycles from about -60 degrees C to about +20 degrees C; atmospheres of 95 per cent nitrogen, 5 percent carbon dioxide and low moisture content: < or = 0.1 atm pressure; and a total ultraviolet dose at 2537 angstrom of 10(9) erg cm-2. In some experiments, organic supplements were provided. Survivors were scored on supplemented agar. Preliminary results indicate a wide variety of survivors, even when no organic supplements were introduced. Survivors included obligate and facultative anaerobic spore-formers and non-spore-forming facultative anaerobic bacteria. Diurnal freezing and thawing was continued for six months. There was no significant loss of viability after the first freeze-thaw cycle. An extensive literature survey shows that survival of terrestrial microorganisms under individual simulated Martian conditions has been known for decades. The present investigation shows the absence of pronounced synergistic effects inhibiting survival. The probable existence of organic matter and moisture on Mars, at least in restricted locales and times, makes it especially likely that terrestrial microorganisms can also reproduce on Mars. The demonstration that all samples of terrestrial soil tested contain a population of microorganisms which survive in simulated Martian environments strongly underscores the need for scrupulous sterilization of all spacecraft intended for Mars landing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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