According to an experiment conducted in the International Space Station (ISS), a fungi capable of living in the most extreme conditions on Earth, may be able to survive in conditions similar to those on Mars. Scientists reached the conclusion after fungi and lichens from other harsh environments managed to persist in a red planet environment set in the ISS.

A few years ago, a group of European scientists gathered tiny fungi, called cryptoendolithic microorganisms that take shelter in The McMurdo Dry Valleys, located in the Antarctic Victoria Land. This area is considered to be the most similar earthly equivalent to Mars as it has one of the driest and most hostile environments on our planet, where strong winds scour away even snow and ice.

Scientists found a fungi that may be able to survive in conditions similar to those on Mars. Credit:

These microorganisms are capable of surviving in cracks in rocks, and certain lichens can resist such harsh climatological conditions, so scientists sent them to the International Space Station to see if they were also capable of surviving a mars-like environment. After 18 months on board in conditions similar to those on Mars, more than 60% of their cells remained intact, with stable DNA.

However, only a little less than 10% of the retrieved fungi samples exposed to Martian conditions were capable of proliferating and forming colonies.

“The results help to assess the survival ability and long-term stability of microorganisms and bioindicators on the surface of Mars, information which becomes fundamental and relevant for future experiments centred around the search for life on the red planet,” says Rosa de la Torre Noetzel from Spain’s National Institute of Aerospace Technology.

Additionally, researchers studied the viability of lichen species found in high-mountain regions, such as Spain’s Sierra de Gredos and Austria’s Alps. Some of the lichen samples were exposed to space conditions, while others were exposed to Martian conditions. After 18 months, the lichen samples exposed to Martian conditions showed twice the metabolic activity than those exposed to space conditions. 35% of the fungal cells exposed to space conditions kept their membranes intact.

Source: Mary Ann Liebert