Date of Graduation

12-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Space & Planetary Sciences (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Timothy A. Kral

Committee Member

David Mcnabb

Second Committee Member

Mack Ivey

Third Committee Member

Daniel Lessner

Abstract

Mars is one of the suitable bodies in our solar system that can accommodate extraterrestrial life. The detection of plumes of methane in the Martian atmosphere, geochemical evidence, indication of flow of intermittent liquid water on the Martian surface, and geomorphologies of Mars have bolstered the plausibility of finding extant or evidence of extinct life on its surface and/or subsurface. However, contemporary Mars has been considered as an inhospitable planet for several reasons, such as low atmospheric surface pressure, low surface temperature, and intense DNA damaging radiation. Despite the hostile conditions of Mars, a few strains of methanogenic archaea have shown survivability in limited surface and subsurface conditions of Mars. Methanogens, which are chemolithoautotrophic non-photosynthetic anaerobic archaea, have been considered ideal models for possible Martian life forms for a long time. The search for biosignatures in the Martian atmosphere and possibility of life on the Martian surface under UVC radiation and deep subsurface under high pressure, temperature, and various pHs are the motivations of this research. Analogous to Earth, Martian atmospheric methane could be biological in origin. Chapter 1 provides relevant information about Mars’ habitability, methane on Mars, and different strains of methanogens used in this study. Chapter 2 describes the interpretation of the carbon isotopic data of biogenic methane produced by methanogens grown on various Mars analogs and the results provide clues to determine ambiguous sources of methane on Mars. Chapter 3 illustrates the sensitivity of hydrated and desiccated cultures of halophilic and non-halophilic methanogens to DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiations, and the results imply that UVC radiation may not be an enormous constraint for methanogenic life forms on the surface of Mars. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss the data for the survivability, growth, and morphology of methanogens in presumed deep subsurface physicochemical conditions such as temperature, pressure, hydrogen concentration, and pH of Mars. Finally, chapter 7 provides conclusions, limitations of the experiments, and future perspective of the work. Overall, the quantitative measurements obtained in the various sections of this novel work provide insights to atmospheric biosignatures and survivability of methanogenic organisms on the surface and subsurface of Mars.

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