European scientists have gathered tiny fungi that normally take shelter in Antarctic rocks and have sent them to the International Space Station (ISS). After 18 months on board the ISS in conditions similar to those on Mars, more than 60% of the fungal cells remained intact, with stable DNA. The results provide new information for the search for life on Mars. Lichens from the Sierra de Gredos (Spain) and the Alps (Austria) also traveled into space for the same experiment. The McMurdo Dry Valleys, located in the Antarctic Victoria Land, are considered to be the most similar earthly equivalent to land on Mars. These Antarctic valleys make up one of the driest and most hostile environments on our planet, where strong winds scour away even snow and ice. Only so-called cryptoendolithic microorganisms, capable of surviving in cracks in rocks, and certain lichens can withstand such harsh climatological conditions. A few years ago a team of European researchers traveled to these remote valleys to collect samples of two species of cryptoendolithic fungi: namely, Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri. The aim was to send these fungi to the ISS so that they could be subjected to Martian conditions, and to space, to observe their responses. The tiny fungi were placed in cells (1.4 centimeters in diameter) on an experiment platform known as EXPOSE-E, developed by the European Space Agency to withstand extreme environments. The platform was sent in the Space Shuttle Atlantis to the ISS and placed outside the Columbus module (see photo) with the help of an astronaut from the team led by Belgian Frank de Winne. For 18 months, half of the Antarctic fungi were exposed to Mars-like conditions.
Login Or Register To Read Full Story