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Microbes found thriving in Mars-like conditions

The discovery of microbes in any icy lava tube in Oregon raises hope that similar microorganisms could survive in the very similar conditions to be found on Mars.

The microbes are coping with near-freezing temperatures and low levels of oxygen, and can even grow in the absence of organic food. Their metabolism is driven by the oxidation of iron from olivine, a common volcanic mineral found in the rocks of the lava tube.

These factors make the microbes capable of living in the subsurface of Mars and other planetary bodies, the scientists say.

"This microbe is from one of the most common genera of bacteria on Earth," says Amy Smith, a doctoral student at Oregon State University.
"You can find its cousins in caves, on your skin, at the bottom of the ocean and just about anywhere. What is different, in this case, is its unique qualities that allow it to grow in Mars-like conditions."

In a laboratory setting at room temperature and with normal oxygen levels, the scientists demonstrated that the microbes can consume organic material - sugar.
 
 

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