The Search for Martian Fettuccine

Science Daily has word from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers, who instruct us to look for life on Mars by searching out rock formations that look like fettuccine noodles:

The bacterium that controls the formation of such rocks on Earth is ancient and thrives in harsh environments that are similar to conditions on Mars, said University of Illinois geology professor Bruce Fouke, who led the new, NASA-funded study.

“It has an unusual name, Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense,” he said. “We just call it ‘Sulfuri.'”

The bacterium belongs to a lineage that evolved prior to the oxygenation of Earth roughly 2.35 billion years ago, Fouke said. It can survive in extremely hot, fast-flowing water bubbling up from underground hot springs. It can withstand exposure to ultraviolet light and survives only in environments with extremely low oxygen levels, using sulfur and carbon dioxide as energy sources.

“Taken together, these traits make it a prime candidate for colonizing Mars and other planets,” Fouke said.

And because it catalyzes the formation of crystalline rock formations that look like layers of pasta, it would be a relatively easy life form to detect on other planets, he said.

You can read more about the pasta-like “hot-spring filamentous microbial mats” in the study published in Astrobiology here.

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