Soil on Mars could be deadly for bacteria, study says


Scientists in the UK have found through a study that the soil on Mars might not be hospitable and could actually be lethal to bacteria and effectively all forms of life.

The study has been carried out by researchers at Edinburgh university who claim based on their findings that the Martian soil has a ‘toxic cocktail’ of chemicals capable of destroying any form of life and making it impossible for life to prosper on the Red Planet. If things are not bad as they are because of the toxic soil, the absence of ozone layer makes it all the more difficult because the ultra violet radiation from the sun wreaks havoc on Mars.

According to the team involved with the study, when UV rays are combined with compounds found in the Martian soil, they turned into potent bactericides, effectively sterilising the upper layers of the landscape.

Researchers combined these compounds with with Bacillus subtilis, a common Earth soil bacterium often found on space probes.  When mixed with an oxidant called magnesium perchlorate and exposed to UV radiation – similar to the light which surrounds the red planet – the living organisms were destroyed twice as fast.

When the bacteria were hit with UV rays in the presence of perchlorates, iron oxide and peroxide, the bugs were killed 11 times faster than with perchlorates alone.  As a result inhospitable conditions on Mars are caused by a “toxic cocktail of oxidants, iron oxides, perchlorates and UV irradiation”, the researchers wrote in Scientific Reports journal.

The good news is that there is less risk of human contamination of Mars, through hitchhiking bacteria.  Works of fiction have long imagined what it would be like, such as the 2015 film The Martian.  When stranded on Mars, Matt Damon’s character builds a greenhouse, fertilising the soil with his own faeces — and soon grows potatoes.  But the results of this study make that scenario appear farfetched.


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