The Martian Soil Is Inhospitable Even For Bacteria

martian soil and surface

A new study found that most of the Martian soil hosts perchlorate, a chemical compound.

According to a new study, the chances of finding life forms on the Martian surface just grew significantly smaller to even nonexistent. This is because the Martian soil seems to host a chemical compound which makes it inhospitable even for bacteria cultures such as the Bacillus subtilis.

Martian Soil Rich in Perchlorates, Poor in Life

University of Edinburgh researchers conducted a new study which found the soil on Mars to be rich in perchlorates. These are chemical compounds which contain chlorine and which were first detected on the Red Planet back in 2008. They were also detected in some region on here on Earth, for example, the Atacama Desert.

Perchlorates are held as being toxic to humans, but generally, cause no problems for bacteria and microbes. Researchers initially believed that the presence of this chemical compound could actually be beneficial for the potential existence of life forms on Mars. Namely, they thought that it helped maintain liquid surface water.

However, this latest research showed quite the contrary. The team recreated condition on Mars in a lab, including the planet’s intense ultraviolet light (UV) exposure. Then, they took Bacillus cultures and introduced them in this simulated environment.

Observations showed that the beating UV light activated the perchlorate and turned it into an antioxidant. In exposing the bacteria cultures to it, these died out in minutes.

“[…], our observations show that the surface of present-day Mars is highly deleterious to cells, caused by a toxic cocktail of oxidants, iron oxides, perchlorates and UV irradiation,” conclude the researchers.

The team also points out that the extended presence of perchlorate on the Martian surface makes most of the planet’s soil uninhabitable.

Now, the research team will be taking a closer look at this bacteria-killing Martian soil. They will be looking to establish its potential effects on living, vegetable cells, for example.

Researchers also point out that this bacteria-killing surface could be useful in future explorations on Mars. It could help reduce, even neutralize the chances of planetary contamination.

Current study results are available in the Scientific Reports.

Image Source: Mars/NASA