20-EPN2-073: Assessment of the Aeolian Dispersion and Wind Effects on Cryptoendolithic Microorganisms in the Martian Environment
January 6, 2022

20-EPN2-073: Assessment of the Aeolian Dispersion and Wind Effects on Cryptoendolithic Microorganisms in the Martian Environment

Virtual visit by Lorenzo Aureli, University of Tuscia (Italy) to TA2.4 Planetary Environment Facilities (PEF), AU (Denmark).
Dates of visit: 15-19 November 2021

Report Summary: The hostile current conditions on the surface of Mars entail that, if any form of life exists or ever existed on the planet, it may have adopted survival strategies like those evolved by terrestrial microorganisms inhabiting extremely harsh regions, such as Antarctic deserts. Here, one of the most common strategies observed is the cryptoendolithic growth, defined as the colonisation of the small interstices inside rocks, where microorganisms are protected from external hostile conditions. However, endolithic microorganisms can break down the surrounding rock substratum, thus causing the exfoliation of the external layers of the colonised rocks. Consequently, exposure to wind and saltating sand can cause the dispersal of the shallow rock fragments and endolithic colonies to the environment.

This study aimed to examine the possibility of dispersal of hypothetical rock-dwelling microorganisms on the surface of Mars. To achieve this goal, colonised Antarctic sandstone rocks were exposed to simulated martian and terrestrial windy environments at the Planetary Environment Facility in Aarhus University in four different simulations. Rock, sand and dust samples were collected after each simulation to assess the survival and the variety of dispersed microorganisms in the two scenarios. Although biological data are not available at the moment of the draft of the report, remarkable differences were observed in the dispersal of dust and sand between the different conditions.

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