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Adv Space Res. 2004;33(8):1236-43.

The potential of the lichen symbiosis to cope with the extreme conditions of outer space II: germination capacity of lichen ascospores in response to simulated space conditions.

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  • 1Botanisches Institut, Heinrich-Heine-Universitat, Dusseldorf, Germany.


Complementary to the already well-studied microorganisms, lichens, symbiotic organisms of the mycobiont (fungi) and the photobiont (algae), were used as "model systems" in which to examine the ecological potential to resist to extreme environments of outer space. Ascospores (sexual propagules of the mycobiont) of the lichens Fulgensia bracteata, Xanthoria elegans and Xanthoria parietina were exposed to selected space-simulating conditions (up to 16 h of space vacuum at 10(-3) Pa and UV radiation at 160 nm < or = lambda < or = 400 nm), while embedded in the lichen fruiting bodies. After exposure, the ascospores were discharged and their viability was tested as germination capacity on different culture media including those containing Mars regolith simulant. It was found that (i) the germination rate on media containing Mars regolith simulant was as high as on other mineral-containing media, (ii) if enclosed in the ascocarps, the ascospores survived the vacuum exposure, the UV-irradiation as well as the combined treatment of vacuum and UV to a high degree. In general, 50 % or more viable spores were recovered, with ascospores of X. elegans showing the highest survival. It is suggested that ascospores inside the ascocarps are well protected by the anatomical structure, the gelatinous layer and the pigments (parietin and carotene) against the space parameters tested.

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