Microbes Found in Oregon Lava Tube that Mimics Conditions of Mars

December 18, 2011 / Oregon, United States, North America

A team of researchers studying microbes in a lava tube in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains have discovered that they can survive without organic food in cold, low oxygen environments, conditions similar to what are expected to be found in the subsurface of Mars.

The microbes, from one of the most common bacteria families on the planet, were collected from a lava tube near Newberry Crater. They were found about 30 meters (100 feet) inside the cave at an elevation of around 1,500 meters (5,000 feet), a cold, low oxygen location.

To first demonstrate the microbes could consume organic material, they were first given sugar. Next, the scientists lowered the oxygen levels and reduced the temperature to almost freezing and low and behold, survived and began feeding upon iron from olivine, a common volcanic mineral found in lava tubes on both the Earth and Mars.

“We know from direct examination, as well as satellite imagery, that olivine is in Martian rocks, and now we know that olivine can sustain microbial life.” – Martin Fisk, Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Professor

Although this study cannot exactly duplicate the conditions of Mars, it does indicate that if the subsurface of Mars or any other planetary body has similar conditions, it could harbor these bacteria.

Interestingly enough, the examination of a meteorite originating from Mars found tracks, possible evidence of microbes feeding upon the rock, which are similar to tracks found on the rocks of the lava tube near the Newberry Crater lava tube.

Scientists Find Microbes in Lava Tube Living in Conditions Like Those On Mars [Oregon State University]

Photo by Ken Lund/flickr

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