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Humanity has yet to find conclusive evidence of aliens, but our species hasn’t given up yet. A few scientists at the University of Vienna are hard at work figuring out what we should be looking for on Mars when it comes to past, or present, life.

Tetyana Milojevic and her pals are running a miniaturized “Mars farm”, hoping their simulated red planet jibes with the reality of ancient Mars and the possibility of its alien life. Their Mars farm is full of simulated martian soil and populated with Metallosphaera sedula, an extremophile microbe capable of eating inorganic materials like sulfur, iron, and uranium. Turns out, M. sedula loves the simulant and Tetyana’s excited by the findings.

“We were able to show that due to its metal oxidizing metabolic activity, when given an access to these Martian regolith simulants, M. sedula actively colonizes them, releases soluble metal ions into the leachate solution and alters their mineral surface leaving behind specific signatures of life, a ‘fingerprint’, so to say”

In addition to the discovery of the microbes’s “fingerprints”, there’s a potential for using similar, or modified, microbes to mine ores and metals from extraterrestrial bodies.

Kölbl D, Pignitter M, Somoza V, Schimak MP, Strbak O, Blazevic A and Milojevic T (2017) Exploring Fingerprints of the Extreme Thermoacidophile Metallosphaera sedula Grown on Synthetic Martian Regolith Materials as the Sole Energy Sources. Front. Microbiol. 8:1918. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01918