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Desert moss has potential to grow on Mars

  • July 10, 2024
  • 2 min read
Desert moss has potential to grow on Mars

One type of desert moss, Syntrichia caninervis, is a promising candidate for colonising Mars. This is thanks to its unique ability to tolerate harsh conditions that most life forms would struggle with. The moss is known to survive in drought conditions and researchers have found that it can also survive temperatures as low as −196°C, high levels of gamma radiation, and simulated Mars-like conditions that combine all three of those.

The research was published in the journal The Innovation on, 30th June. A small number of past studies have demonstrated the ability of microbes, algae, lichen, and plant spores to survive Martian atmosphere or even outer space. But this marks the first time that a study tested an entire plant.

Syntrichia caninervis is an abundant moss species that grows in Tibet as well as Antarctica.  Given this, the team was determined to test its survival to the limit in the lab.

They stored the plants at −80°C (in an ultra-cold freezer) for 3 and 5 years and at −196°C (in a liquid nitrogen tank) for 15 and 30 days. In all three, the plant regenerated when it was defrosted. It also demonstrated a remarkable ability to withstand gamma radiation exposure that would be lethal to most plants and ten times what would cause a human to experience severe convulsions before death.

Finally, they tested its ability to survive Martian conditions using the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Planetary Atmospheres Simulation Facility which includes air composed of 95% CO2, temperatures that fluctuated from −60°C to 20°C, high levels of UV radiation, and low atmospheric pressure. The dried moss plants achieved a 100% regeneration rate within 30 days of being subjected to the Mars-like atmosphere for 1, 2, 3, and 7 days.

This research was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Leading Talents in Technological Innovation Program, and The Third Xinjiang Scientific Expedition Program.

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