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The Threat From Life on Mars 469

sweetshot97 writes "According to the UK site, Times Online; future trips to Mars that will have probes return with samples of the martian surface may contain deadly microbes of course, foreign to our world. The threat may be incurable bacterial infections we have no cure for. What's funny is that we may have even infected Mars with our own bacteria when we sent several probes there. "
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The Threat From Life on Mars

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  • Typical media scare (Score:4, Informative)

    by johnjaydk ( 584895 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:26AM (#11001065)
    This is so typical. Due to the same media circus Armstrong & Co had to sit in qurantine when they returned from the moon. No politicians or administrators had the balls to tell the media to go piss up a rope. So they went along with the farce.

    Until we actually find a single trace of life there this is all due to an overintake of Hollywood crap.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:30AM (#11001077)
    I don't know. Why did the Native Americans die of European diseases so much more than the other way around?

    Also, as much as I enjoy Orson Welles, you should call it H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds if you're talking about the story.
  • by TFGeditor ( 737839 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:30AM (#11001079) Homepage
    Not necessarily. Many bacteria (e.g. anthrax) can survive almost indefinitely in a cysted state, then revive under the right conditions (moisture, warmth). Likewise, the cysted causative agent for BSE ("mad cow disease") can survive cooking heat, and hence remain viable to infect when ingested.

    If anything microbial survives on Mars, it would most likely thrive in out environment.
  • there's pretty much (Score:4, Informative)

    by ivano ( 584883 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:37AM (#11001104)
    a whole division at NASA devoted to stopping cross-planentary contamination []. Remember that little episode of downing the Galileo probe into Juptiter *just* in case it might end on Europa.

    One of the main problems now is the lack of funds for such programs, esp for probes we send out of Earth. On the other hand, any probe returning from Mars will be heavily guaranteed - not just for safety reasons but for scientific ones as well.

    BTW, the chances of Martian life surviving on Earth is going to be close to nil since the reducing atmosphere will oxidize anything that hasn't already had a few billion years evolutionary head start to protect themselves from it. [Yes, I know it won't be zero.] And Mars doesn't look like it had enough oxygen in it's atmosphere to effect evolution anytime in it's history.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:40AM (#11001115)
    In the story, the martians had long ago elimitated all bacteria from their world. In Wells' day, germs were considered universally bad. No-one could have believed, in the last years of the nineteeth century, that bacteria were as essential part of life. The original impact of the ending of the story has therefore dated somewhat.
  • by RealProgrammer ( 723725 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:43AM (#11001126) Homepage Journal

    It's kind of like those bacteria and tube worms [] thriving on the ocean floor in sulfuric acid at 300C. Drop their temperature below 150C, and they die.

    *If* there were anything living on Mars in the first place, it would die long before we ever knew it got here.

    But hey, anything to keep us safe from the Martian threat. Somebody's been watching too many bad scifi movies [].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:49AM (#11001146)
    It's been found that internal temepratures of meteors don't always get very high, below 50 degrees celcius. Bacteria can easily survive this. Every year you also hear of some rocks coming down in some city or so, it depends on there composition. Ofcourse alot burn up, the majority even, but some do not. And it only takes one afterall.

    All in all though, the idea that a bacteria would cause a incurable disease is at the extremly long end of near insane thoughts. Any foreign bacteria would not be adapted to our natural defences against diseases, let alone some of our more complex immune system responses. And as others have pointed out, this completly forgets about that as I also pointed out above, that bacteria can and would have survived the trip from mars to earth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:59AM (#11001179)
    Mad cow is caused by a "prion" (i.e. a folded protein). Not by bacteria or virii.

  • Re:Andromeda Strain (Score:5, Informative)

    by 3waygeek ( 58990 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @11:01AM (#11001185)
    Yes, but the guy who wrote the book [] the movie was based on has written a new book, to be released this week, suggesting that such fears are overblown.

    In advance of the book's publication, Crichton has written the cover story in today's Parade [] (Sunday magazine supplement in many US newspapers) giving several examples of such exaggerated predictions.
  • by dannytaggart ( 835766 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @11:08AM (#11001212) Homepage
    NASA has since stated []that there is no evidence of life on the above mentioned meteor:

    NASA said that after two years of study "a number of lines of evidence have gone away". Several different chemicals and molecular structures were exciting because they looked similar to byproducts of life on Earth. However, these chemicals and structures can also be created without life. Some are even present in deep space on comets, and scientists do not think that they came from Martian life anymore.
  • by phranking ( 134197 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @11:34AM (#11001320)
    Except there have been occasions in the past where organisms, upon introductions to new niches, out compete native organisms spectacularly.

    Invasive, non-native crops or fish represent the relatively benign example. Native American deaths due to European disease would be at the other end.

    Martian plague might be unlikely, but the chances certainly aren't non-zero.
  • by Alrescha ( 50745 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#11001520)
    In the sense that anything is arguable, I suppose it is. But a Prion is just a mis-folded protein. Proteins are molecules. They do not meet the scientific criteria for life.

    More to the original poster, they do not 'cyst'. The reason that you can't cook prions to death is because they aren't alive in the first place. By the time you heat a prion to the point where it isn't a prion, your meat isn't meat anymore. Even the dog won't eat it.

  • by ozbird ( 127571 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @01:34PM (#11001831)
    And given that "Earth and Mars have been swapping spit [] for billions of years", chances are it has already happened.
  • Re:MY GOD! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phleg ( 523632 ) <stephen&touset,org> on Sunday December 05, 2004 @01:42PM (#11001885)

    This is a fork bomb. The first part is a decoy, but look at the last portion:

    :(){ :& };:

    It creates a function called : which takes no parameters (). The function creates a copy of itself and forks into the background with :&. Then, immediately after the function declaration :(){...}; it calls itself with :. There's a better one where the "payload" of the function is :| :&, which pipes one into the other and forks into the background...

  • by farble1670 ( 803356 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @01:47PM (#11001922)
    so you've taken biology 101, you've read some sci-fi novels. it's very humorous that so many folks have taken an authoritative position on this. NASA has the best minds on the subject, probably in the world, and they take cross planetary contamination [] seriously.

    the article that this thread is referencing does not say that infection is likely ... it says that 1) it is possible and 2) if it happend, it would be really bad. the fact that it is unlikely is not the point. there are lots of examples of things that we take precautions against not because they are statistically likely, but rather because of the dire consequences.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @04:18PM (#11002781)
    The best example of bacteria from earth surviving harsh conditions: bacteria on surveyor 3 survived almost three years on the moon before they were brought back by the crew of Apollo 12 []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @05:04PM (#11003044)
    1) The combined EU is larger (people and money) than the US, and is therefore a more important market. And they don't spend so much of their budget on national weapons manufacturers. I think clearly at this point they, and not us, have the big pile of cash.

    2) Without incredibly cheap goods (and this now includes just about anything we can buy here) made cheap thanks to slave labor in the free trade zones of China, the price of just about everything we buy would go up in the US -- significantly in most cases. The worst thing that can happen to an economy (worse than recession) is inflation. The price of stuff going up uncontrollably would be disastrous to our limping economy.

    I'd wager that China would have a heck of an easier time living without the US than the US would trying to live without China at this point. Heck, they're *our* creditors (how did this happen? Floored me when I found out. They lend *us* money to keep the lights on.). In isn't the 1950's anymore, and the world's changed (and changing).

    Back on topic (and in reply to the GP), I still don't understand the mentality that decries the pittance (in relative terms) that is spent by the US on space compared to (say) the DOD. This is especially worrisome given that a technological edge is one of the sources of wealth for the US (and has been the entire time the US has been "at the top").

    Besides, whatever happened to the pursuit of knowledge as its own end? A little curiosity or sense of wonder? I guess we're too busy watching reality TV and going to the mall to care about stuff like that. And in the meantime, while we sit getting fat on our shiny inexpensive Chinese furniture, the Chinese are positioned as a country that lends the US money. Incredible.
  • by Svennig ( 665498 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @06:21PM (#11003527)
  • by schtum ( 166052 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @09:52PM (#11004634)
    Mod parent up, +1 Redundant
  • by juhaz ( 110830 ) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:12PM (#11004710) Homepage
    It's just not climate.

    One thing everyone seems to be forgetting about our environment is that Earth's atmosphere is filled with deadly poison Martian microbes haven't been in contact with for billions of years, if ever - Oxygen.

    Anaerobic bacteria don't tend to have very good lifetime estimates when exposed to oxygen.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas