Date of Graduation

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Space & Planetary Sciences (MS)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Vincent Chevrier

Committee Member

D. Mack Ivey

Second Committee Member

Timothy Kral

Third Committee Member

Larry Roe

Keywords

astrobiology, habitability, mars, planetary protection, reduction, sulfate

Abstract

The NASA Planetary Protection policy requires interplanetary space missions do not compromise the target body for a current or future scientific investigation and do not pose an unacceptable risk to Earth, including biologic materials. Robotic missions to Mars pose a risk to planetary protection in the forms of forward and reverse contamination. To reduce these risks, a firm understanding of microbial response to Mars conditions is required. Sulfate-reducing bacteria are prime candidates for potential forward contamination on Mars. Understanding the potential for forward-contamination of sulfate-reducers on Mars calls for the characterization of sulfate-reducers under Mars atmosphere, temperature, and sulfate-brines. This study investigated the response of several sulfate-reducing bacteria, including spore formers and psychrophiles. The psychrophile Desulfotalea psychrophila was found to inconsistently survive positive control lab conditions, attributed to an issue shipping pure cultures. Desulfotomaculum arcticum, a spore-forming mesophilic sulfate-reducer, and Desulfuromusa ferrireducens, an iron and sulfate-reducer, were metabolically active under positive control lab conditions with complex and minimal growth medium. A wastewater treatment sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) isolate was subjected to sulfate + growth-medium solutions of varied concentrations (0.44 & 0.55% wt. SO42-). The wastewater SRB displayed higher cellular light-absorbance levels at delayed rates in 0.55% sulfate solutions, suggesting a greater total culture reproduction, but with increased lag time. Additional SRB were isolated from marine sediments, subjected to a shock pressure of 8.73 GPa, and returned to ideal conditions. The sulfate-concentration patterns in the impacted SRB culture suggests a destruction of culture occurred somewhere during the preparation process. The response of SRB in this investigation to Ca and Na sulfate-brines suggests that Martian sulfate deposits offer a viable energy sink to terrestrial microorganisms, and the studied SRB are capable of replication at reduced water-activity. Further investigation (i.e. sulfate cations and concentrations, temperature, pressure, etc.) may identify Martian locations at risk to forward contamination.

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