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“Fettuccine” may be the most obvious sign of life on Mars, reports researchers

New research focuses on filamentous microbes living in hot springs and catalyzes the formation of travertine rock. Credit: Photo by Bruce W. Fouke A rover who scans the Mars surface for evidence of life may want to check on stones that look like pasta, reports researchers in the journal Astrobiology . The bacterium that controls the formation of such stones on earth is old and thrives in difficult environments similar to the conditions on Mars, says Professor Bruce Fouke, Illinois University of Illinois, who led the new NASA-funded study. [1 9659005] "It has an unusual name, Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstoneense ," he said. "We just call it" Sulfuri. "" The bacterium belongs to a relative who developed before the oxygen uptake of the Earth for about 2.35 billion years ago, Fouke said. It can survive in extremely hot, fast flowing water that bubbles up from underground hot springs. It can withstand exposure to ultraviolet light and survives only in environments with extremely low oxygen levels, using sulfur and carbon dioxide as energy sources. "In summary, these properties make it a prime candidate for colonizing Mars and other planets," Fouke said. And since it catalyses the formation of crystalline rock formations that look like pasta shapes, it would be a relatively easy way of life to discover on other planets, he said. The unique shape and structure of rocks with sulfuria results from their unusual lifestyle, Fouke said. In flowing water, sulfur bacteria are locked together "and hang on for dear life," he…

New research focuses on filamentous microbes living in hot springs and catalyzes the formation of travertine rock. Credit: Photo by Bruce W. Fouke

A rover who scans the Mars surface for evidence of life may want to check on stones that look like pasta, reports researchers in the journal Astrobiology .

The bacterium that controls the formation of such stones on earth is old and thrives in difficult environments similar to the conditions on Mars, says Professor Bruce Fouke, Illinois University of Illinois, who led the new NASA-funded study. [1

9659005] “It has an unusual name, Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstoneense ,” he said. “We just call it” Sulfuri. “”

The bacterium belongs to a relative who developed before the oxygen uptake of the Earth for about 2.35 billion years ago, Fouke said. It can survive in extremely hot, fast flowing water that bubbles up from underground hot springs. It can withstand exposure to ultraviolet light and survives only in environments with extremely low oxygen levels, using sulfur and carbon dioxide as energy sources.

“In summary, these properties make it a prime candidate for colonizing Mars and other planets,” Fouke said.

And since it catalyses the formation of crystalline rock formations that look like pasta shapes, it would be a relatively easy way of life to discover on other planets, he said.

The unique shape and structure of rocks with sulfuria results from their unusual lifestyle, Fouke said. In flowing water, sulfur bacteria are locked together “and hang on for dear life,” he said.

“They form tightly twisted cables that dare like a flag fixed at one end,” he said. The angled cables prevent other microbes from attaching. Sulfuri also defends itself by sucking out a loose mucus.

“These sulfur cables look great like fettuccine paste, while the latter look further like chapelin paste, Fouke says. The researchers used sterilized pasta forks to collect their samples from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

The team analyzed the microbial genomes , evaluated which genes were actively converted to protein and deciphered organism’s metabolic needs, Fouke said. [19659005] The team also looked at Sulphuris rock construction ability and found that proteins on the bacterial surface increased the rate at which calcium carbonate – also called travertine crystallized in and around the cables ” billion times faster than in any other natural environment on Earth, “said Fouke. The result is the deposition of broad curves of hardened stone with a undulating, filamentous texture.

” This should be an easy form of fossilized life for a rover to discover on other planets, “Fouke said.

” If we see the landfill the gene of this kind of extensive thread on other planets, we would know that it is a fingerprint of life, “Fouke said. “It’s great and it’s unique. No other stones look like this. It would be definitive evidence of the presence of foreign microbes.”


Hot Springs microbes hold the key to judging sedimentary rocks, researchers say


More information:
Yiran Dong et al., Physiology, Metabolism, and Fossilization of Hot-Spring Filamentous Microbial Mats, Astrobiology (2019). DOI: 10.1089 / ast.2018.1965

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University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign

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“Fettuccine” may be the most obvious sign of life on Mars, researchers report (2019, May 29)
May 29, 2019
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