Bad bacteria could sabotage first humans on Mars

One day, humans will surely reach Mars (Picture: Getty/Science Photo Libra)

Travelling to Mars just got a bit more complicated, as bad bacteria that hitch hike there on humans could thrive in the planet’s harsh conditions, a new study suggests. 

The bacteria’s survival could pose a problem for future missions because the organisms that do survive could mutate in the Martian environment and re-infect the humans who brought them.

In addition, we don’t know how people on Mars will cope with infections, because human immune systems get stressed and dysregulated during spaceflight.

That’s a lot of unknowns, an awful long way from the nearest hospital. 

The study, published in the journal Astrobiology, placed four common disease-causing microbes in a stimulated Mars environment

Even though there was a lack of water, low atmospheric pressure, and high levels of ultraviolet and toxic salts in the mimicked environment, the bacteria remained alive for various periods – and even some managed to grow. 

The researchers chose four microbes that would usually live harmlessly on us but could turn into pathogens – organisms that cause disease – when stressed, after other studies found that several bacterial species that live on the human body could grow on meteorites. 

This prompted some researchers to wonder how these microbes would survive on Mars.

Bad human bacteria could thrive on Mars (Picture: Getty)

Led by microbiologist Tommaso Zaccaria, a team placed colonies of Burkholderia cepacia, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Serratia marcescens in an environment which simulated Mars regolith – the loose deposit that covers the bedrock of Mars. 

At first, the scientists believed that the Martian surface would kill the samples. What happened instead was a complete surprise.

‘At the beginning, we thought that the regolith would have a toxic effect on the cells so it would limit their growth,’ said Mr Zaccaria, speaking to Science News. 

‘But instead, we saw that it was the opposite.’

Three of the species survived, with P.aeruginosa growing steadily for 21 days – but the scientists have no idea how the microbe survived. 

‘It was quite remarkable,’ added Mr Zaccaria, from the German Aerospace Center in Cologne.

However, knowing that they could survive poses numerous problems, and not just around human health.

When humans finally land on Mars, they will need to be sure they’re not confusing bacteria brought on their shoe for proof of life on the planet. If Earthly organisms can survive, that will become more tricky.

However, neither issue should put off human travel to Mars, said microbiologist Samantha Waters, who was not involved in the study.

‘At the end of the day, we want to move forward and explore our solar system more,’ she said, speaking to Science News. ‘We try our best and that ultimately will lead to some really beautiful discoveries and some really cool history.’

MORE : Map reveals all the space junk we’ve already littered on Mars

MORE : Mysterious blue orb spotted on Mars by Nasa rover

MORE : Nasa’s $85,000,000 Mars toy has broken so it’s Mission: Officially Over


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.