SCIENCE OUTREACH

Scenedesmus dimorphus: the algae that could survive under certain Martian conditions

An interdisciplinary research team of the Council analysed the resistance of an unicellular organism in emulated Martian conditions.


Ph: Optical microscopy. Courtesy researchers.

A recent study led by scientists Enio Lima, CONICET researcher at the Instituto de Nanociencia y Nanotecnología Nodo Bariloche (INN-Nodo Bariloche, CNEA-CONICET), Carolina Bagnato, CONICET researcher at the Instituto de Energía y Desarrollo Sustentable (IEDS, CNEA), and Marcela Nadal, also researcher of the council at the INN Nodo Bariloche, contributes to understanding the factors necessary for the survival of organism on Mars.

In the study, which was published in the journal Astrobiology, the scientists tested the resistance of Scenedesmus dimorphus, a type of highly available algae, to Martian conditions reproduced at an experimental level. The aim was to observe the tolerance of the algae to certain chemical reactions and oxidative factors typical of the Martian surface.

The research piece was motivated by a prior international study on the resistance of a bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, in a Martial environmental context. “That bacterium died under those conditions and we thought that it would be very interesting to evaluate the survival of an organism, not only eukaryotic, but adapted to cope with adverse conditions, in particular ultraviolet radiation from the Sun,” Bagnato explains.

So, in order to analyze the resistance of the algae, the experts emulated the contextual situation of the red planet: the temperature of a summer day, approximately 4ºC, UVC radiation, the proliferation of iron oxides and perchlorates, identified in quantity in Mars and different measures of hydrogen peroxide.

Then, through combined techniques of spectroscopy and optical microscopy in specific chambers, the researchers managed to interpret the results of the work. “The study indicates that certain types of organisms, such as unicellular algae or microalgae, can survive the specially oxidizing conditions imposed by some of the physical-chemical characteristics of the surface of Mars,” Nadal affirms.

For Enio, “this kind of results can give an indication on the types of biochemical mechanisms necessary for the adaptability of microorganisms on the red planet. This calls the attention of various space agencies.”

The next step of the team is to analyze the effects of other Martian conditions on Scenedesmus dimorphus. “We thought about using more sophisticated equipment available in other research centers that are specific for this purpose, something like Martian chambers,” Lima comments.

By Yasmín Noel Daus

References

Carolina Bagnato, Marcela S. Nadal, Dina Tobia, Mariana Raineri, Marcelo Vasquez Mansilla, Elin L. Winkler, Roberto D. Zysler, and Enio Lima Jr..Astrobiology.Jun 2021.692-705.http://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2020.2329

About the study

Carolina Bagnato. Associate researcher. IEDS.

Marcela S. Nadal. Associate researcher. INN and Centro Atómico Bariloche.

Dina Tobia. Laboratorio de Resonancias Magnéticas, Gerencia de Física, CNEA y Centro Atómico Bariloche.

Mariana Raineri. Assistant researcher. INN and Centro Atómico Bariloche.

Marcelo Vasquez Mansilla. Associate researcher. INN and Centro Atómico Bariloche.

Elin L. Winkler. Independent researcher. INN and Centro Atómico Bariloche.

Roberto D. Zysler. Senior researcher. INN and Centro Atómico Bariloche.

Enio Lima. Independent researcher. INN and Centro Atómico Bariloche.