Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Science
Committee Member/Second Reader
Committee Member/Third Reader
The question of whether life has ever existed on Mars – either in the past or currently – has been pursued for decades. This debate has been prompted by a variety of discoveries regarding similarities between Mars and Earth and more recently concerns over human extinction. Mars, like Earth, once had large amounts of water, a key ingredient for life. H2O exists on Mars in various forms now, and it is theorized that there is liquid water beneath the surface as well. Mars also contains salt and is very cold at its surface, pointing researchers towards the idea of subsurface life. Methanogens – methane-producing archaea – are candidate/model organisms for the Life on Mars debate since they are anaerobic, non-photosynthetic, and often found in extreme environments on Earth. They have also been shown to survive and grow in various Martian conditions. The discovery of methane on Mars further entrenched methanogens in this debate.
This experiment analyzed the effect of 1% NaCl, 1% MgSO4, 2% NaCl, and 2% MgSO4 on the metabolism of Methanothermobacter wolfeii, Methanosarcina barkeri, and Methanobacterium formicicum when incubated at their ideal growth temperatures and sub-ideal temperatures. All of the methanogen species were able to grow in 1% and 2% salt concentrations at their ideal temperature, however growth was inhibited when incubated at a cooler temperature. M. formicicum displayed the most tolerance to higher salt conditions coupled with low temperatures. The presence of NaCl and MgSO4 therefore does not eliminate the possibility of methanogens are Mars, and the inhibition of growth linked with changes in temperature further reinforces the argument for subsurface Martian life. Though the surface is subfreezing, subsurface temperatures would be more hospitable for life, including for methanogens.
Astrobiology, Methanogens, Life on Mars
Dunlap, K. (2023). The Effects of Salt and Temperature on Three Methanogen Species: Implications for Mars. Biological Sciences Undergraduate Honors Theses Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/biscuht/76