Exo microbiology (or Astro microbiology): The study of microorganisms in outer space

Astrobiology is the scientific discipline that focuses on the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe. Most efforts aiming at understanding the origin of life on Earth, and the possibility that life might exist elsewhere, are directed to the study of microorganisms. This is so because on Earth, microorganisms are the most abundant and widespread forms of life, and are seemingly able to colonise virtually every environment that can support life. Furthermore, small and relatively simple cells are more likely to originate first on a planet than large and complex multicellular organisms, and are also more likely to be transported from one planet to another in the process of panspermia. Hence the term Astro(micro)biology

Key Concepts:

·         The study of life in the Universe requires an interdisciplinary approach.

·         Mars is the prime target for the search for life beyond the Earth.

·         The primary focus of planetary exploration is concerned with planets having liquid water.

·         Terrestrial analogue environments share physical, chemical, geological, mineralogical and any other type of environmental similarity with another planetary body.

·         Meteorites represent the main source of extraterrestrial material available to scientist.

·         Extrasolar planets are a likely candidate to provide the first evidence of life outside the Earth.

Microorganisms studied in Space:

·         Bacteria & bacterial spores

·         Bacillus cereus

·         Bacillus megaterium

·         Bacillus mycoides

·         Bacillus pumilus

·         Bacillus subtilis

·         Bacillus thuringiensis

·         Clostridium botulinum

·         Clostridium butyricum

·         Clostridium celatum

·         Clostridium mangenotii

·         Clostridium roseum

·Lactobacillus plantarum

·         Staphylococcus aureus

·         Streptococcus mutans

·         Kocuria rosea

·         Luteococcus japonicus

·         Micrococcus luteus

·         Streptomyces albus

·         Streptomyces coelicolor

·         Actinomyces erythreus

·         Rhodospirillum rubrum

·         Azotobacter chroococcum

·         Azotobacter vinelandii

·         Enterobacter aerogenes

·         Escherichia coli

·         Klebsiella pneumoniae

·         Photobacterium

·         Pseudomonas aeruginosa

·         Pseudomonas fluorescens

·         Serratia marcescens

·         Serratia plymuthica

·         Aeromonas proteolytica

·         Hydrogenomonas eutropha

·         Deinococcus radiodurans

·         Deinococcus geothermalis

·         Rhodococcus erythropolis

·         Chroococcidiopsis

·         Synechococcus (halite)

·         Haloarcula-G

·         Anabaena cylindrica (akinetes)

·         Archaea

·         Halobacterium noricense

·         Halobacterium salinarum

·         Halococcus dombrowskii

·         Methanosarcina sp. SA-21/16

·         Methanosarcina barkeri

·         Methanobacterium MC-20

·         Halorubrum chaoviatoris

·         Fungi and its spores

·         Chaetomium globosum

·         Penicillium roqueforti

·         Sordaria fimicola

·         Trichophyton terrestre

·         Aspergillus niger

·         Aspergillus oryzae

·         Mucor plumbeus

·         Rhodotorula mucilaginosa

·         Ulocladium atrum

·         Trichoderma koningii

·         Bacteriophage/virus

·         T7 phage

·         Tobacco mosaic virus

·         Canine hepatitis

·         Influenza PR8

·         Vaccinia virus

·         Yeast

·         Rhodotorula rubra

·         Saccharomyces cerevisiae

·         Saccharomyces ellipsoides

·         Zygosaccharomyces bailii

·         Lichens

·         Rhizocarpon geographicum

·         Xanthoria elegans

·         Aspicilia fruticulosa

·         Xanthoria parietina

·         Animals

·         Milnesium tardigradum

·         Richtersius coronifer

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Missions

Research into the environmental limits of life and the workings of extreme ecosystems is ongoing, enabling researchers to better predict what planetary environments might be most likely to harbor life. Missions such as the Phoenix landerMars Science LaboratoryExoMars to Mars, and the Cassini probe to Saturn's moon Titan hope to further explore the possibilities of life on other planets in our Solar System.

Viking program .

The two Viking spacecraft each carried four types of biological experiments to the surface of Mars in the late 1970s. These were the only Mars landers to carry out experiments to look specifically for biosignatures of life on Mars. The landers used a robotic arm to put soil samples into sealed test containers on the craft. The two landers were identical, so the same tests were carried out at two places on Mars' surface; Viking 1 near the equator and Viking 2 further north. The result was inconclusive, and is still disputed by some scientists.

Beagle 2

Beagle 2 was an unsuccessful British Mars lander that formed part of the European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express mission. Its primary purpose was to search for signs of life on Mars, past or present. All contact with it was lost upon its entry into the atmosphere.

EXPOSE

EXPOSE was a multi-user facility mounted in 2008 outside the International Space Station dedicated to astrobiology. EXPOSE was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) for long-term spaceflights that allowed to expose organic chemicals and biological samples to outer space for one and a half years in low Earth orbit. Somewhat related, on August 20, 2014, Russian cosmonauts claimed to have found sea plankton living on the outside window sufaces of the International Space Station and have been unable to explain how it got there.

Mars Science Laboratory

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission landed a rover that is currently in operation on Mars. It was launched 26 November 2011, and landed at Gale Crater on 6 August 2012. Mission objectives are to help assess Mars' habitability and in doing so, determine whether Mars is or has ever been able to support life, collect data for a future manned mission, study Martian geology, its climate, and further assess the role that water, an essential ingredient for life as we know it, played in forming minerals on Mars.

ExoMars

ExoMars is a robotic mission to Mars to search for possible biosignatures of Martian life, past or present. This astrobiological mission is currently under development by the European Space Agency (ESA) with collaboration by the Russian Federal Space Agency(Roscosmos); it is planned for a 2018 launch.

Mars 2020 rover mission

The 'Mars 2020 rover mission' is a concept under study by NASA with a possible launch in 2020. It is intended to investigate astrobiologically relevant environments on Mars, investigate its surface geological processes and history, including the assessment of its past habitability and potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geological materials. The Science Definition Team is proposing the rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil for a later mission to bring back for more definitive analysis in laboratories on Earth. The rover could make measurements and technology demonstrations to help designers of a human expedition understand any hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide (CO2), which could be a resource for making oxygen (O2) and rocket fuel. Improved precision landing technology that enhances the scientific value of robotic missions also will be critical for eventual human exploration on the surface.

Red Dragon

Red Dragon is a proposed concept for a low-cost Mars lander mission that would utilize a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, and a modified Dragon capsule to enter theMartian atmosphere. The lander's primary mission would be to search for evidence of life on Mars (biosignatures), past or present. The concept had been scheduled to propose for funding on 2012/2013 as a NASA Discovery mission, for launch in 2018.

Icebreaker Life

Icebreaker Life is a lander mission that is being proposed for NASA's Discovery Program for the 2018 launch opportunity. If selected and funded, the stationary lander would be a near copy of the successful 2008 Phoenix and it would carry an upgraded astrobiology scientific payload, including a 1 meter-long drill to sample ice-cemented ground in the northern plains to conduct a search for organic molecules and evidence of current or past life on Mars. One of the key goals of the Icebreaker Life mission is to test thehypothesis that the ice-rich ground in the polar regions has significant concentrations of organics due to protection by the ice from oxidants and radiation.

Europa Clipper

Europa Clipper is a mission concept under study by NASA that would conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa and would investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. It would also aid in the selection of future landing sites.

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of extraterrestrial life. This interdisciplinary field takes up the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry, laboratory and field research into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in outer space. Astrobiology addresses the question of whether life exists beyond Earth, and how humans can detect it if it does.

Astrobiology makes use of physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, molecular biology, ecology, planetary science, geography, and geology to investigate the possibility of life on other worlds and help recognize biospheres that might be different from the biosphere on Earth. Astrobiology concerns itself with interpretation of existing scientific data; given more detailed and reliable data from other parts of the universe, the roots of astrobiology itself—physics, chemistry and biology—may have their theoretical bases challenged. Although speculation is entertained to give context, astrobiology concerns itself primarily with hypotheses that fit firmly into existing scientific theories.

Extremophiles (organisms able to survive in extreme environments) are a core research element for astrobiologists.

Such organisms include biota which are able to survive several kilometers below the ocean's surface near hydrothermal vents (example pictured) and microbes that thrive in highly acidic environments. It is now known that extremophiles thrive in ice, boiling water, acid, the water core of nuclear reactors, salt crystals, toxic waste and in a range of other extreme habitats that were previously thought to be inhospitable for life. It opened up a new avenue in astrobiology by massively expanding the number of possible extraterrestrial habitats. Characterization of these organisms—their environments and their evolutionary pathways—is considered a crucial component to understanding how life might evolve elsewhere in the universe. According to astrophysicist Dr. Steinn Sigurdsson, "There are viable bacterial spores that have been found that are 40 million years old on Earth - and we know they're very hardened to radiation."Adv Space Res. 1981;1(14):39-48.Survival of microorganisms in space: a review.

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