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Mars Space Science

Could New Rover's Wheels Deliver Germs To Mars? 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the war-of-the-worlds dept.
astroengine writes "Although the idea of "infecting" the Red Planet with our germs is nothing new, one microbiologist believes the next Mars rover may have a higher chance of becoming a microbe lifeboat. Andrew C. Schuerger, of the University of Florida and the Space Life Sciences Lab at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, believes the problem could lie in the way NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will land on the Red Planet — wheels first. Previous Mars rovers have sat atop a lander platform for at least two Martian days (sols) before venturing into the regolith; any surviving bacteria attached to their wheels were therefore killed by the harsh UV light that bathes Mars. As the MSL's wheels will immediately make contact with the regolith straight after entry, there might be an increased chance of contaminating Mars with terrestrial germs. But still, as Schuerger admits, the risks are tiny."
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Could New Rover's Wheels Deliver Germs To Mars?

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  • why wouldnt the germs still get killed by the UV?

  • by drnb (2434720) on Wednesday September 07, 2011 @04:36PM (#37332410)

    Previous Mars rovers have sat atop a lander platform for at least two Martian days (sols) before venturing into the regolith; any surviving bacteria attached to their wheels were therefore killed by the harsh UV light that bathes Mars.

    Are we sure existing vehicles sterilized their wheels? It would seem they would need to roll forward a little during the process to expose the underside of the wheels. Wouldn't there be spots receiving little reflected UV given the texturing/treading of the wheels and the platform?

    • Not only that, but bacteria can be embedded within particles, which are then protected from the UV. It's still a long shot to also be viable in that atmosphere, at that temperature and happen to land somewhere suitable to propagate.
  • by spads (1095039) on Wednesday September 07, 2011 @04:39PM (#37332472)
    -ed for STDs.
  • Cohagen will fix it.

  • Which is why you don't test the soil for microbes right where the lander put its wheels... The entire rest of the planet is still a viable target for research. Anything that isn't buried beneath the regolith pushed by the wheels will die from UV exposure. Blown away/exposed by wind? UV exposure. This is seriously a non-threat. As long as you don't sample from wheel treads and the rover was properly sterilized it'll be fine. (not to mention any microbes you find should be tested in comparison to those of ear

    • Re:Right... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by alexander_686 (957440) on Wednesday September 07, 2011 @05:03PM (#37332836)

      Except that the bacteria goes airborne, survives and propagates for a couple of generations beneath the soil, and many years later we discover rouge bits of DNA that look kind of like earthling DNA – and we are left wondering – is this because of cross contamination or did Mars and Earth share some type of link? [Comets, E.T.s etc.]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Except that the bacteria goes airborne, survives and propagates for a couple of generations beneath the soil, and many years later we discover rouge bits of DNA that look kind of like earthling DNA – and we are left wondering – is this because of cross contamination or did Mars and Earth share some type of link? [Comets, E.T.s etc.]

        I see what you did there! Red planet => Rouge bits.

        Nice!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If we find rouge DNA it's almost certainly native to Mars. It is the red planet after all.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Its really unlikely that if, IF that happend, we'd be confused. Remember we can trace life on earth back ridiculously far, and most of that time was microbial only. It would be completely and totally obvious to modern microbiologists that any such organism had its origins on Earth. Simply put, even if the first microbes came here from a comet or somesuch, they have evolved to a vastly different state, a vastly more complex state than they were at first.

        Any link, therefore, would be billions of years old, wh

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      The main issue would be if, as some people have speculated, bacteria can be carried away from Earth by ejecta, so it would be possible to find one on Mars identical to Earth. You could only confirm that if you find it and know you didn't bring it on the rover itself. It also might not survive on Mars (then again, some bacteria are pretty tough), but remains or other signs of its existence might, and that is one of the things we are looking for (not existing life, since Mars is fairly unlikely to have that,
      • by vlm (69642)

        Still fails, because if mars and earth life are compatible (admittedly unlikely) how do you know it didn't arrive on earth from mars to begin with billions of years ago, and now we're sending it back?

        Standard /. car analogy is you take your imported VW bug to Germany and drive around looking for car parts, to prove there are or are not autos in Germany. You see parts just like your VWs, laying about in a junkyard, and some /. poster assumes your VW contaminated Germany with VW parts thus we'll never be abl

        • by Baloroth (2370816)

          Yeah, except you wouldn't find VW parts, you would find model T parts. A billion years (give or take a few hundred million) of evolution is a really, really long time even by evolutionary standards. Unless such migration happened recently (i.e. in the order of millions of years, making it impossible for our life to have evolved from Martian bacteria), life on Mars won't look remotely similar to life on Earth, even if one came from the other. Remains might not be quite enough to tell, true.

          Also, considering

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday September 07, 2011 @04:47PM (#37332572)
    So, if microbes from earth to manage to somehow get on Mars, will anything bad even happen? I mean sure, the microbes could possibly kill any living Martian life, but have we found any real signs of current life on Mars? Hell, maybe we should start seeding Mars with bacteria. If they die, they die. If they live, they may eventually grow to the point where more life could be seeded on Mars, making a possible future human presence on the planet that much easier.
    • by ArcherB (796902)

      So, if microbes from earth to manage to somehow get on Mars, will anything bad even happen? I mean sure, the microbes could possibly kill any living Martian life, but have we found any real signs of current life on Mars?

      Well, that's one thing. The other is in say 30 years, we find a small colony of life, we need to be sure that it is truly native to Mars, not something we left there. Sure, a simple DNA test might confirm that it is bacteriacillus from Earth, but it might not. With those extreme conditions and the constant bombardment of UV radiation, whatever organism may mutate to a genetic pattern that matches nothing on Earth, but is close enough to make scientists scratch their heads and say, "We are pretty sure it'

      • by vlm (69642)

        not something we left there.

        Who's this "we", the lander or meteorite ejecta?

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Who's this "we", the lander or meteorite ejecta?

          The lander, of course. If we find life, and it's similar enough to earth life to support the idea that one seeded the other via interplanetary meteor, we want to be sure that it wasn't seeded in the 21st century by a NASA probe sent to search for signs of life. :P

      • by Rogerborg (306625)

        The other is in say 30 years, we find a small colony of life, we need to be sure that it is truly native to Mars, not something we left there

        How do you intend to study those bacteria without, you know, going to Mars?

        Of all the retarded navel gazing non-arguments I've ever heard, the ecomental self flagellation over contaminating dead environments with our wicked imperialist Terrarist organisms must be the saddest and most pathetic.

        We're up against the Fermi paradox here. We can either own the galaxy, o

        • by ArcherB (796902)

          The other is in say 30 years, we find a small colony of life, we need to be sure that it is truly native to Mars, not something we left there

          How do you intend to study those bacteria without, you know, going to Mars?

          Of all the retarded navel gazing non-arguments I've ever heard, the ecomental self flagellation over contaminating dead environments with our wicked imperialist Terrarist organisms must be the saddest and most pathetic.

          We're up against the Fermi paradox here. We can either own the galaxy, or die silently and alone on our tiny little globe. I know which one I choose.

          I never said that exporting life to Mars is a bad idea. However, before we do, we need to be sure that life doesn't already exist there, or if it does exist, we need to be able to study it BEFORE we export life to Mars to get a better understanding of how life can form outside our planet.

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      We don't know if there is life on Mars. The evidence for it is weak and inconclusive. The Viking missions suggested there was life on Mars from some tests but didn't find any organic molecules which was really confusing. It is now thought that perchlorates in the soil could have destroyed the organics when heated. If so, there may be life on Mars that isn't that uncommon. Unfortunately, no successful Mars mission since Viking has focused on biological questions. Moreover, even if life is rarer on Mars conta
    • by vlm (69642)

      Analysis of meteors strongly indicates we've sent stuff there and they've sent stuff here and nothing has really happened either here or there.

      We're not facing a 17th century scenario of old world meets new world for the first time and catastrophe mostly kills off the new world residents. Its going to be much more like north dakota football team plays south dakota football team in the 20th century and nothing terribly newsworthy happens.

      • More like a baseball team from america takes on a cricket squad, and there is no referee watching.
  • From the sounds of it this is insanely small percentage chance on top of insanely small percentage chance (IE the germs surviving the UV bath, and then surviving the land on the planet and somehow addapting to the completely unique environment. I mean there's only 2 real things I can think of, 1. these bacteria live, adapt and somehow live long enough to evolve and recreate a whole new existance of aliens in a few million years, or 2. it could be a problem if mankind cures all diseases in the year 2500, liv
    • by Lifyre (960576)

      Their biggest concern is contamination of samples on the planet and thus resulting in a false positive when looking for life forms. You start playing with incredibly tiny probabilities but if they find a bacteria on Mars it maybe difficult or impossible to prove origin, especially if there is contamination from Earth.

  • Maybe ... Could ... Possibly ....Could Michael Jackson be on the Moon? Well, yes ... but extremely unlikely. Where's a quantum physicist when you need them,... Slow news day indeed....
  • Why so negative?
    Wouldn't it be nice to finally have a second planet we're sure supports life?

  • Nothing like a well placed double entendre!
    • (from wiktionary)
      A phrase that has two meanings, especially where one is innocent and literal, the other risqué, bawdy, or ironic; an innuendo.

      However, your point is well taken. Of course the risks are tiny, we're talking about microbes!

  • The chances of anything coming from Earth are a million to one, he said.
    The chances of anything coming from Earth are a million to one - but still they come!

  • But still, as Schuerger admits, the risks are tiny.

    So are the microbes...

  • ...assuming it hasn't happened already. No point in taking extraordinary efforts to prevent the inevitable.
  • I totally see this sparking an entire evolution of lifeforms on Mars. If they're smart they'll worship the rover. ;)

  • Germs & Space (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sudonim2 (2073156) on Wednesday September 07, 2011 @10:22PM (#37335512)
    Apollo 12 brought back parts from a Probe that landed on the Moon two years earlier. On it were found bacterial spores. When those spores were added to a growth medium, they cultured. Considering a) the Moon has no atmosphere, b) the Moon receives 4x the solar radiation as Mars, and c) the spores had been there for two years, I don't think we can actually consider any space craft sent to Mars truly sterile.
  • several cans of Lysol all on solenoids to fire when the unit launches to disinfect and deodorize...

    Come on this isn't rocket science.....

    Oh wait.

    Cent we launch it with a rug to stand on and wipe it's feet first?

  • Why do we care if we seed life on a dead planet? That actually sounds quite awesome. I guess it's problematic for whoever tries to eventually establish a base there, but screw those guys. They already have the deck stacked against them, might as well add horribly mutated alien flu to the list of dangers.

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