Mini-Science 2015 Q&A: “From telescopes to microscopes: Looking for little green bugs on Mars”
At the conclusion of each Mini-Science lecture, audience members submit their questions to the evening’s presenter. If there is not enough time to answer them all on the spot, some of the other unanswered questions are sent to the presenter for posting here. Here are questions from Professor Lyle Whyte’s lecture “From telescopes to microscopes: Looking for little green bugs on Mars” (March 11, 2015).
Q: Would you expect to find any DNA in the soil of Mars?
A: If microbial life similar to earth were present on Mars either alive or recently dead (within the last say 5 million years), it may be possible to extract and analyze DNA from such organisms present in a subsurface sample. For example, there is a space flight ready instrument that has been proposed to fly on the NASA-led Mars 2020 mission that is a robotic antibody microarray that contains antibodies against DNA targets as well as other organic compounds such as proteins. However all such instruments would need to have a certain level of microbial biomass present in such a Mars soil sample, at least 1000 to 10000 cells per g soil, to have a reasonable chance of detection.
Q: Have any remains of fungal cells been found in permafrost?
A: Yes we have commonly detected fungal cells in both arctic and antarctic permafrost. Indeed, we have recently isolated and started to characterize a fungal strain from the antarctic dry valley discussed during the presentation which is very unique in that it can grow and metabolize at subzero temperatures down to -15ºC! We have sequenced its genome and are trying to determine its cryophilic adaptations!
Q: Why is the habitable zone called the Goldilocks zone?
A: In the context of exoplanets, the “Goldilocks” zone is used because it is “denoting or referring to the most desirable or advantageous part of a range of values or conditions” and where “the planet is in the middle of what astronomers call the Goldilocks zone: a place that’s not too hot and not too cold”.
Please visit the Mini-Science website for more information about the lecture series.