[CyanoNews home page] [Contact CyanoNews]

Looking at home for extraterrestrials
(Posted 25 October 2001)

Is there life on Mars? You’d think that to find out you’ll have to go there and take a look. But if you can’t wait for Martian coach fares to drop to reasonable levels, there is a second choice. David Wynn-Williams (British Antarctic Survey) tells us that he and his collaborators are approaching the question of extraterrestrial life by studying the persistence of cyanobacteria and other photosynthetic bacteria in our own backyard.
The Antarctic presents some of the same challenges a microbe might have faced during Martian history: extreme cold, high UV radiation, and scarcity of water. The British Antarctic Survey and its collaborators are using a battery of tools – spectroscopy, microscopy, and chemical analysis – to understand the extreme microenvironments inhabited by cyanobacteria and the organisms’ responses to them.

The results of their studies may enable them to assess the degree to which Antarctic microhabitats model conditions that prevailed on Mars and to develop methods that may be used in recognizing the conditions for life on Mars and beyond.

Click here for more on Antarctic Astrobiology Project of the British Antarctic Survey.