Colonizing Mars has been a growing objective of humanity over recent years. But doing so could mean landing a containment of microorganisms on the planet, according to a new study.
A paper published in the journal FEMS Microbiology Ecologyargued that the “primary colonists” of the Red Planet should be “microorganisms” – the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that support many of life’s processes here on Earth.
Jose Lopez, a professor at Nova Southeastern University and one of the authors of the paper, proposed an approach to the colonization of Mars that relies on microbes that could support life in extraterrestrial environments.
“Life as we know it cannot exist without beneficial microorganisms,” he said in a statement. “To survive in a barren (and as far as all voyages to date tell us) sterile planet, we will have to take beneficial microbes with us.”
The idea challenges the strict no-contamination guidelines that NASA and all space programs have closely adhered to for decades. When it comes to the equipment being sent off to space, typically everything is carefully sterilized and protected from germs and contaminants.
Lopez and the research team argued that introducing helpful microbes could actually kickstart the process of terraforming Mars and sustaining life on the Red Planet. The microbial introduction should not be considered accidental but inevitable, reads the paper.
Back on Earth, microorganisms are critical to many of the processes that sustain life, such as decomposition and digestion. The paper claimed that the best microbes for the job might be extremophiles — organisms that are hyper tolerant of the most extreme environments, and even thrive in them, like tardigrades.
The paper argued for a change in attitude toward microbes in space, viewing them as beneficial versus dangerous. But researchers still don’t know which microbes would help rather than hurt efforts to terraform Mars. Space agencies need to start work now on developing the right kind of organisms to send over.
Everyone from Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos to NASA needs to make a “provocative paradigm shift” in our policies for space colonization, Lopez claimed.
“This will take time to prepare, discern,” Lopez said. “We are not advocating a rush to inoculate, but only after rigorous, systematic research on earth.”