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Astrobiology. 2019 Feb;19(2):145-157. doi: 10.1089/ast.2018.1897.

Limits of Life and the Habitability of Mars: The ESA Space Experiment BIOMEX on the ISS.

Author information

1 German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Management and Infrastructure, Research Group Astrobiological Laboratories, Berlin, Germany.
2 GFZ, German Research Centre for Geosciences, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Section 5.3 Geomicrobiology, Telegrafenberg, Potsdam, Germany.
3 Institut für Botanik, Heinrich-Heine-Universität (HHU), Düsseldorf, Germany.
4 University of Rome Tor Vergata, Department of Biology, Rome, Italy.
5 German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute for Optical Sensor Systems, Berlin, Germany.
6 German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Radiation Biology Department, Köln, Germany.
7 School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
8 European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), European Space Agency (ESA), Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
9 Departamento de Observación de la Tierra, Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA), Madrid, Spain.
10 Raman Spectroscopy Group, University Analytical Centre, Division of Chemical and Forensic Sciences, University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK.
11 Institut für experimentelle Physik, Experimentelle Molekulare Biophysik, Frei Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
12 University of Potsdam, Biodiversity Research/Systematic Botany, Potsdam, Germany.
13 CNRS, Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, UPR 4301, Orléans, France.
14 Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, Berlin, Germany.
15 TH Wildau (Technical University of Applied Sciences), Wildau, Germany.
16 Hochschule für Technik HSR Rapperswil, Institute for Landscape and Open Space, Rapperswil, Switzerland.
17 Institute of Molecular Biology & Genetics of NASU, Kyiv, Ukraine.
18 Robert Koch Institute, Centre for Biological Threats and Special Pathogens, Berlin, Germany.
19 Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.
20 Extremophile Research & Biobank CCCryo, Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, Branch Bioanalytics and Bioprocesses (IZI-BB), Potsdam, Germany.
21 Instituto de Geociencias, CSIC-Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
22 School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
23 Department of Ecological and Biological Sciences, University of Tuscia, Viterbo, Italy.
24 Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.
25 NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, USA.
26 UCM, Universidad Complutense Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
27 Technical University Berlin, ZAA, Berlin, Germany.
28 Italian National Antarctic Museum (MNA), Mycological Section, Genoa, Italy.
29 AWI, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, Germany.
30 TU Berlin, Institute of Environmental Technology, Environmental Microbiology, Berlin, Germany.
31 University of Potsdam, Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Potsdam, Germany.


BIOMEX (BIOlogy and Mars EXperiment) is an ESA/Roscosmos space exposure experiment housed within the exposure facility EXPOSE-R2 outside the Zvezda module on the International Space Station (ISS). The design of the multiuser facility supports-among others-the BIOMEX investigations into the stability and level of degradation of space-exposed biosignatures such as pigments, secondary metabolites, and cell surfaces in contact with a terrestrial and Mars analog mineral environment. In parallel, analysis on the viability of the investigated organisms has provided relevant data for evaluation of the habitability of Mars, for the limits of life, and for the likelihood of an interplanetary transfer of life (theory of lithopanspermia). In this project, lichens, archaea, bacteria, cyanobacteria, snow/permafrost algae, meristematic black fungi, and bryophytes from alpine and polar habitats were embedded, grown, and cultured on a mixture of martian and lunar regolith analogs or other terrestrial minerals. The organisms and regolith analogs and terrestrial mineral mixtures were then exposed to space and to simulated Mars-like conditions by way of the EXPOSE-R2 facility. In this special issue, we present the first set of data obtained in reference to our investigation into the habitability of Mars and limits of life. This project was initiated and implemented by the BIOMEX group, an international and interdisciplinary consortium of 30 institutes in 12 countries on 3 continents. Preflight tests for sample selection, results from ground-based simulation experiments, and the space experiments themselves are presented and include a complete overview of the scientific processes required for this space experiment and postflight analysis. The presented BIOMEX concept could be scaled up to future exposure experiments on the Moon and will serve as a pretest in low Earth orbit.


BIOMEX; EXPOSE-R2; Extremophiles; Habitability; Limits of life; Mars

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