Habitability of the Martian subsurface for methanogenic life

Monaghan, E. P.; Patel, M. R.; Cockell, C. S. and Olsson-Francis, K. (2011). Habitability of the Martian subsurface for methanogenic life. In: Exploring Mars Habitability, 13-15 Jun 2011, Lisbon, Portugal.

URL: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/doc.cfm?fo...


Methane was first observed in the atmosphere of Mars in 2003. This organic molecule has an expected atmospheric lifetime of less than 600 years, which points to a current or recent source of the gas. Several localised methane sources have been postulated, the most likely of which being either the hydration and serpentization of ultramafic silicate minerals, or the existence of methanogenic life in the planetary subsurface. Release of the gas by clathrate hydrates has also been suggested; however these are not a source in of themselves, but rather a mechanism of sequestration and release. If clathrates were shown to be linked to the episodic release of methane, the point of genesis would remain elusive.

Our work is designed to assess the habitability potential of the martian subsurface for methanogenic life by investigating the viability of methane-producing archaea living on, and interacting with, rocks and minerals analogous to those found on Mars. We quantify this relationship using the archaea strains Methanosarcina barkeri and Methanobacterium formicicum as models of putative martian life, and here present some initial findings in our study: strains growing under an atmosphere of H2/CO2 and on reduced media containing several rock/mineral types including basalt, montmorillonite and olivine.

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