SETI [ASTRO] First Methane-Producing Microorganims Grown Under Mars-Like Conditions

Larry Klaes (
Wed, 02 Jun 1999 15:25:32 -0400

>X-Authentication-Warning: majordom set sender to owner-astro using -f >Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 15:04:57 GMT >From: Ron Baalke <> >To: >Subject: [ASTRO] First Methane-Producing Microorganims Grown Under Mars-Like Conditions >Sender: >Reply-To: Ron Baalke <> > >Office of University Relations >University of Arkansas > >CONTACTs: >Tim Kral, biological sciences >(501) 575-6338, > >Curtis Bekkum, biological sciences >(501) 575-6338 > >Melissa Blouin, science and research communications manager >Office of University Relations >(501) 575-5555, > >EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE JUNE 2, 1999 > >RESEARCHER FIRST TO SUSTAIN LIVE METHANE-PRODUCING MICROORGANISMS >UNDER A COMBINATION OF MARS-LIKE CONDITIONS > >(Technical title: Growth of a Methanogen on Mars Soil Simulant in a Water- >Limited Environment) > >FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- A University of Arkansas researcher has become the >first scientist to grow methane-producing microorganisms under some of >the conditions found on Mars. His work may provide clues for finding similar >life forms on Mars. > >Dr. Tim Kral, a University of Arkansas biology professor, and graduate >student Curtis Bekkum will present their findings this afternoon (June 2) >at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Chicago. > >The researchers created a biological model of what life on Mars might be >like based on what is known about the Martian landscape. > >"There's nothing from Mars for us to work with," Kral said. "So you have to >play the game from the standpoint of Earth." > >Mars appears unfriendly towards most life forms. The planet currently >contains no detectable organic matter and has extremely cold surface >temperatures. So for his experiment, Kral sought microorganisms that >survive in extreme conditions and thrive on inorganic matter. > >He found the ideal microbes in methanogens, anaerobic microorganisms >considered to be some of the most primitive life forms on earth. >Methanogens can be found deep in the ocean, in the earth's crust or >even in a cow's stomach, all of which are environments that might be >considered harsh like Mars' surface. > >To grow methanogens under some of the conditions found on Mars, Kral >and Bekkum used ash from Hawaiian volcanoes -- known to share chemical >characteristics with Mars soil. They also used carbon dioxide, hydrogen >and water while growing the microbes. The methanogens grew successfully >in the Mars soil simulant, obtaining all the macro and trace minerals they >needed to survive. > >The researchers probed deeper into the simulated life on Mars environment >with respect to water. Mars has no liquid water on its surface, but >scientists suspect the planet may harbor small amounts of liquid below >its surface. > >To see how methanogens fare with a limited water supply, the researchers >varied the water content in the Mars soil simulant. They found that the >methanogens grew even with a limited water supply. > >Kral said researchers can extrapolate research like this to search for life >on Mars. > >"When you're looking for life there -- what do you look for?" he said. "If >you have an idea of what life might look like, you may form better ideas >about where to look." > > # # # > >Editor's Note: Tim Kral can be reached at the Hyatt Regency McCormick >Place Hotel in Chicago (312-567-1234) May 30 through June 3. > >

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