Spacecraft-associated spores and four non-spore-forming bacterial isolates were prepared in Atacama Desert soil suspensions and tested both in solution and in a desiccated state to elucidate the shadowing effect of soil particulates on bacterial survival under simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. All non-spore-forming cells that were prepared in nutrient-depleted, 0.2-μm-filtered desert soil (DSE) microcosms and desiccated for 75 days on aluminum died, whereas cells prepared similarly in 60-μm-filtered desert soil (DS) microcosms survived such conditions. Among the bacterial cells tested, Microbacterium schleiferi and Arthrobacter sp. exhibited elevated resistance to 254-nm UV irradiation (low-pressure Hg lamp), and their survival indices were comparable to those of DS- and DSE-associated Bacillus pumilus spores. Desiccated DSE-associated spores survived exposure to full Martian UV irradiation (200 to 400 nm) for 5 min and were only slightly affected by Martian atmospheric conditions in the absence of UV irradiation. Although prolonged UV irradiation (5 min to 12 h) killed substantial portions of the spores in DSE microcosms (∼5- to 6-log reduction with Martian UV irradiation), dramatic survival of spores was apparent in DS-spore microcosms. The survival of soil-associated wild-type spores under Martian conditions could have repercussions for forward contamination of extraterrestrial environments, especially Mars.
Most planetary protection research has concentrated on characterizing viable bioloads on spacecraft surfaces, developing techniques for bioload reduction prior to launch, and studying the effects of simulated martian environments on microbial survival. Little research has examined the persistence of biogenic signature molecules on spacecraft materials under simulated martian surface conditions. This study examined how endogenous adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) would persist on aluminum coupons under simulated martian conditions of 7.1 mbar, full-spectrum simulated martian radiation calibrated to 4 W m−2 of UV-C (200 to 280 nm), −10°C, and a Mars gas mix of CO2 (95.54%), N2 (2.7%), Ar (1.6%), O2 (0.13%), and H2O (0.03%). Cell or spore viabilities of Acinetobacter radioresistens, Bacillus pumilus, and B. subtilis were measured in minutes to hours, while high levels of endogenous ATP were recovered after exposures of up to 21 days. The dominant factor responsible for temporal reductions in viability and loss of ATP was the simulated Mars surface radiation; low pressure, low temperature, and the Mars gas composition exhibited only slight effects. The normal burst of endogenous ATP detected during spore germination in B. pumilus and B. subtilis was reduced by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude following, respectively, 8- or 30-min exposures to simulated martian conditions. The results support the conclusion that endogenous ATP will persist for time periods that are likely to extend beyond the nominal lengths of most surface missions on Mars, and planetary protection protocols prior to launch may require additional rigor to further reduce the presence and abundance of biosignature molecules on spacecraft surfaces.
Spore-forming bacteria are of particular concern in the context of planetary protection because their tough endospores may withstand certain sterilization procedures as well as the harsh environments of outer space or planetary surfaces. To test their hardiness on a hypothetical mission to Mars, spores of Bacillus subtilis 168 and Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 were exposed for 1.5 years to selected parameters of space in the experiment PROTECT during the EXPOSE-E mission on board the International Space Station. Mounted as dry layers on spacecraft-qualified aluminum coupons, the “trip to Mars” spores experienced space vacuum, cosmic and extraterrestrial solar radiation, and temperature fluctuations, whereas the “stay on Mars” spores were subjected to a simulated martian environment that included atmospheric pressure and composition, and UV and cosmic radiation. The survival of spores from both assays was determined after retrieval. It was clearly shown that solar extraterrestrial UV radiation (λ≥110 nm) as well as the martian UV spectrum (λ≥200 nm) was the most deleterious factor applied; in some samples only a few survivors were recovered from spores exposed in monolayers. Spores in multilayers survived better by several orders of magnitude. All other environmental parameters encountered by the “trip to Mars” or “stay on Mars” spores did little harm to the spores, which showed about 50% survival or more. The data demonstrate the high chance of survival of spores on a Mars mission, if protected against solar irradiation. These results will have implications for planetary protection considerations. Key Words: Planetary protection—Bacterial spores—Space experiment—Simulated Mars mission. Astrobiology 12, 445–456.
The effects of moisture and oxygen concentration on germination of Bacillus cereus and B. subtilis var. niger spores were investigated in a simulated Martian environment. Less moisture was required for germination than for vegetative growth of both organisms. A daily freeze-thaw cycle lowered moisture requirements for spore germination and vegetative growth of both organisms, as compared with a constant 35 C environment. Oxygen had a synergistic effect by lowing the moisture requirements for vegetative growth, and possibly germination, of both organisms. Oxygen was not required for spore germination of either organism, but was required for vegetative growth of B. subtilis and for sporulation of both organisms.
Soil samples from Cape Canaveral were subjected to a simulated Martian environment and assayed periodically over 45 days to determine the effect of various environmental parameters on bacterial populations. The simulated environment was based on the most recent available data, prior to the Viking spacecraft, describing Martian conditions and consisted of a pressure of 7 millibars, an atmosphere of 99.9% CO2 and 0.1% O2, a freeze-thaw cycle of -65 degrees C for 16 h and 24 degrees C for 8 h, and variable moisture and nutrients. Reduced pressure had a significant effect, reducing growth under these conditions. Slight variations in gaseous composition of the simulated atmosphere had negligible effect on growth. The freeze-thaw cycle did not inhibit growth but did result in a slower rate of decline after growth had occurred. Dry samples exhibited no change during the 45-day experiment, indicating that the simulated Martian environment was not toxic to bacterial populations. Psychotrophic organisms responded more favorably to this environment than mesophiles, although both types exhibited increases of approximately 3 logs in 7 to 14 days when moisture and nutrients were available.
Escherichia coli and Serratia liquefaciens, two bacterial spacecraft contaminants known to replicate under low atmospheric pressures of 2.5 kPa, were tested for growth and survival under simulated Mars conditions. Environmental stresses of high salinity, low temperature, and low pressure were screened alone and in combination for effects on bacterial survival and replication, and then cells were tested in Mars analog soils under simulated Mars conditions. Survival and replication of E. coli and S. liquefaciens cells in liquid medium were evaluated for 7 days under low temperatures (5, 10, 20, or 30°C) with increasing concentrations (0, 5, 10, or 20%) of three salts (MgCl2, MgSO4, NaCl) reported to be present on the surface of Mars. Moderate to high growth rates were observed for E. coli and S. liquefaciens at 30 or 20°C and in solutions with 0 or 5% salts. In contrast, cell densities of both species generally did not increase above initial inoculum levels under the highest salt concentrations (10 and 20%) and the four temperatures tested, with the exception that moderately higher cell densities were observed for both species at 10% MgSO4 maintained at 20 or 30°C. Growth rates of E. coli and S. liquefaciens in low salt concentrations were robust under all pressures (2.5, 10, or 101.3 kPa), exhibiting a general increase of up to 2.5 orders of magnitude above the initial inoculum levels of the assays. Vegetative E. coli cells were maintained in a Mars analog soil for 7 days under simulated Mars conditions that included temperatures between 20 and −50°C for a day/night diurnal period, UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) at 3.6 W m−2 for daytime operations (8 h), pressures held at a constant 0.71 kPa, and a gas composition that included the top five gases found in the martian atmosphere. Cell densities of E. coli failed to increase under simulated Mars conditions, and survival was reduced 1 to 2 orders of magnitude by the interactive effects of desiccation, UV irradiation, high salinity, and low pressure (in decreasing order of importance). Results suggest that E. coli may be able to survive, but not grow, in surficial soils on Mars.
Kminek, G., Bada, J. L., Pogliano, K. and Ward, J. F. Radiation-Dependent Limit for the Viability of Bacterial Spores in Halite Fluid Inclusions and on Mars. Radiat. Res. 159, 722–729 (2003).
When claims for the long-term survival of viable organisms are made, either within terrestrial minerals or on Mars, considerations should be made of the limitations imposed by the naturally occurring radiation dose to which they have been exposed. We investigated the effect of ionizing radiation on different bacterial spores by measuring the inactivation constants for B. subtilis and S. marismortui spores in solution as well as for dry spores of B. subtilis and B. thuringiensis. S. marismortui is a halophilic spore that is genetically similar to the recently discovered 2-9-3 bacterium from a halite fluid inclusion, claimed to be 250 million years old (Vreeland et al., Nature 407, 897–900, 2000). B. thuringiensis is a soil bacterium that is genetically similar to the human pathogens B. anthracis and B. cereus (Helgason et al., Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 66, 2627–2630, 2000). To relate the inactivation constant to some realistic environments, we calculated the radiation regimen in a halite fluid inclusion and in the Martian subsurface over time. Our conclusion is that the ionizing dose of radiation in those environments limits the survival of viable bacterial spores over long periods. In the absence of an active repair mechanism in the dormant state, the long-term survival of spores is limited to less than 109 million years in halite fluid inclusions, to 100 to 160 million years in the Martian subsurface below 3 m, and to less than 600,000 years in the uppermost meter of Mars.
Martian soil is thought to be enriched with strong oxidants such as peroxides and/or iron in high oxidation states that might destroy biological materials. There is also a high flux of ultraviolet radiation at the surface of Mars. Thus, Mars may be inhospitable to life as we know it on Earth. We examined the hypothesis that if the soil of Mars contains ferrates [Fe(VI)], the strongest of the proposed oxidizing species, and also is exposed to high fluxes of UV radiation, it will be self-sterilizing.
Under ambient conditions (25°C, oxygen and water present) K2FeO4 mixed into sand mineralized some reactive organic molecules to CO2, while less reactive compounds were not degraded. Dried endospores of Bacillus subtilis incubated in a Mars surrogate soil comprised of dry silica sand containing 20% by weight K2FeO4 and under conditions similar to those now on Mars (extreme desiccation, cold, and a CO2-dominated atmosphere) were resistant to killing by the ferrate-enriched sand. Similar results were observed with permanganate. Spores in oxidant-enriched sand exposed to high fluxes of UV light were protected from the sporocidal activity of the radiation below about 5 mm depths.
Based on our data and previously published descriptions of ancient but dormant life forms on Earth, we suggest that if entities resembling bacterial endospores were produced at some point by life forms on Mars, they might still be present and viable, given appropriate germination conditions. Endospores delivered to Mars on spacecraft would possibly survive and potentially compromise life detection experiments.
The martian surface environment exhibits extremes of salinity, temperature, desiccation, and radiation that would make it difficult for terrestrial microbes to survive. Recent evidence suggests that martian soils contain high concentrations of MgSO4 minerals. Through warming of the soils, meltwater derived from subterranean ice-rich regolith may exist for an extended period of time and thus allow the propagation of terrestrial microbes and create significant bioburden at the near surface of Mars. The current report demonstrates that halotolerant bacteria from the Great Salt Plains (GSP) of Oklahoma are capable of growing at high concentrations of MgSO4 in the form of 2 M solutions of epsomite. The epsotolerance of isolates in the GSP bacterial collection was determined, with 35% growing at 2 M MgSO4. There was a complex physiological response to mixtures of MgSO4 and NaCl coupled with other environmental stressors. Growth also was measured at 1 M concentrations of other magnesium and sulfate salts. The complex responses may be partially explained by the pattern of chaotropicity observed for high-salt solutions as measured by agar gelation temperature. Select isolates could grow at the high salt concentrations and low temperatures found on Mars. Survival during repetitive freeze-thaw or drying-rewetting cycles was used as other measures of potential success on the martian surface. Our results indicate that terrestrial microbes might survive under the high-salt, low-temperature, anaerobic conditions on Mars and present significant potential for forward contamination. Stringent planetary protection requirements are needed for future life-detection missions to Mars. Key Words: Analogue—Mars—Planetary protection—Salts—Life in extreme environments. Astrobiology 12, 98–106.
Spore-forming microbes recovered from spacecraft surfaces and assembly facilities were exposed to simulated Martian UV irradiation. The effects of UVA (315 to 400 nm), UVA+B (280 to 400 nm), and the full UV spectrum (200 to 400 nm) on the survival of microorganisms were studied at UV intensities expected to strike the surfaces of Mars. Microbial species isolated from the surfaces of several spacecraft, including Mars Odyssey, X-2000 (avionics), and the International Space Station, and their assembly facilities were identified using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Forty-three Bacillus spore lines were screened, and 19 isolates showed resistance to UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) after exposure to 1,000 J m−2 of UVC irradiation at 254 nm using a low-pressure mercury lamp. Spores of Bacillus species isolated from spacecraft-associated surfaces were more resistant than a standard dosimetric strain, Bacillus subtilis 168. In addition, the exposure time required for UVA+B irradiation to reduce the viable spore numbers by 90% was 35-fold longer than the exposure time required for the full UV spectrum to do this, confirming that UVC is the primary biocidal bandwidth. Among the Bacillus species tested, spores of a Bacillus pumilus strain showed the greatest resistance to all three UV bandwidths, as well as the total spectrum. The resistance to simulated Mars UV irradiation was strain specific; B. pumilus SAFR-032 exhibited greater resistance than all other strains tested. The isolation of organisms like B. pumilus SAFR-032 and the greater survival of this organism (sixfold) than of the standard dosimetric strains should be considered when the sanitation capabilities of UV irradiation are determined.
Controversy continues as to whether chloromethane (CH3Cl) detected during pyrolysis of Martian soils by the Viking and Curiosity Mars landers is indicative of organic matter indigenous to Mars. Here we demonstrate CH3Cl release (up to 8 μg/g) during low temperature (150–400°C) pyrolysis of the carbonaceous chondrite Murchison with chloride or perchlorate as chlorine source and confirm unequivocally by stable isotope analysis the extraterrestrial origin of the methyl group (δ2H +800 to +1100‰, δ13C −19.2 to +10‰,). In the terrestrial environment CH3Cl released during pyrolysis of organic matter derives from the methoxyl pool. The methoxyl pool in Murchison is consistent both in magnitude (0.044%) and isotope signature (δ2H +1054 ± 626‰, δ13C +43.2 ± 38.8‰,) with that of the CH3Cl released on pyrolysis. Thus CH3Cl emissions recorded by Mars lander experiments may be attributed to methoxyl groups in undegraded organic matter in meteoritic debris reaching the Martian surface being converted to CH3Cl with perchlorate or chloride in Martian soil. However we cannot discount emissions arising additionally from organic matter of indigenous origin. The stable isotope signatures of CH3Cl detected on Mars could potentially be utilized to determine its origin by distinguishing between terrestrial contamination, meteoritic infall and indigenous Martian sources.
Spores of wild-type and mutant Bacillus subtilis strains lacking various structural components were exposed to simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. Spore survival and mutagenesis were strongly dependent on the functionality of all of the structural components, with small acid-soluble spore proteins, coat layers, and dipicolinic acid as key protectants.
The dry-heat resistance characteristics of spores of psychrophilic organisms isolated from soil samples from the Viking spacecraft assembly areas at Cape Kennedy Space Flight Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., were studied. Spore suspensions were produced, and dry-heat D values were determined for the microorganisms that demonstrated growth or survival under a simulated Martian environment. The dry-heat tests were carried out by using the planchet-boat-hot plate system at 110 and 125 degrees C with an ambient relative humidity of 50% at 22 degrees C. The spores evaluated had a relatively low resistance to dry heat. D(110 degrees C) values ranged from 7.5 to 122 min, whereas the D(123 degrees C) values ranged from less than 1.0 to 9.8 min.
On Earth, marine anaerobic methane oxidation (AOM) can be driven by the microbial reduction of sulfate, iron, and manganese. Here, we have further characterized marine sediment incubations to determine if the mineral dependent methane oxidation involves similar microorganisms to those found for sulfate-dependent methane oxidation. Through FISH and FISH-SIMS analyses using 13C and 15N labeled substrates, we find that the most active cells during manganese dependent AOM are primarily mixed and mixed-cluster aggregates of archaea and bacteria. Overall, our control experiment using sulfate showed two active bacterial clusters, two active shell aggregates, one active mixed aggregate, and an active archaeal sarcina, the last of which appeared to take up methane in the absence of a closely-associated bacterial partner. A single example of a shell aggregate appeared to be active in the manganese incubation, along with three mixed aggregates and an archaeal sarcina. These results suggest that the microorganisms (e.g., ANME-2) found active in the manganese-dependent incubations are likely capable of sulfate-dependent AOM. Similar metabolic flexibility for Martian methanotrophs would mean that the same microbial groups could inhabit a diverse set of Martian mineralogical crustal environments. The recently discovered seasonal Martian plumes of methane outgassing could be coupled to the reduction of abundant surface sulfates and extensive metal oxides, providing a feasible metabolism for present and past Mars. In an optimistic scenario Martian methanotrophy consumes much of the periodic methane released supporting on the order of 10,000 microbial cells per cm2 of Martian surface. Alternatively, most of the methane released each year could be oxidized through an abiotic process requiring biological methane oxidation to be more limited. If under this scenario, 1% of this methane flux were oxidized by biology in surface soils or in subsurface aquifers (prior to release), a total of about 1020 microbial cells could be supported through methanotrophy with the cells concentrated in regions of methane release.
Archaea; methane; methanotrophy; Mars; subsurface biosphere
Recent spacecraft and lander missions to Mars have reinforced previous interpretations that Mars was a wet and warm planet in the geological past. The role of liquid water in shaping many of the surface features on Mars has long been recognized. Since the presence of liquid water is essential for survival of life, conditions on early Mars might have been more favourable for the emergence and evolution of life. Until a sample return mission to Mars, one of the ways of studying the past environmental conditions on Mars is through chemical and isotopic studies of Martian meteorites. Over 35 individual meteorite samples, believed to have originated on Mars, are now available for lab-based studies. Fe is a key element that is present in both primary and secondary minerals in the Martian meteorites. Fe-isotope ratios can be fractionated by low-temperature processes which includes biological activity. Experimental investigations of Fe reduction and oxidation by bacteria have produced large fractionation in Fe-isotope ratios. Hence, it is considered likely that if there is/were any form of life present on Mars then it might be possible to detect its signature by Fe-isotope studies of Martian meteorites. In the present study, we have analysed a number of Martian meteorites for their bulk-Fe-isotope composition. In addition, a set of terrestrial analogue material has also been analysed to compare the results and draw inferences. So far, our studies have not found any measurable Fe-isotopic fractionation in bulk Martian meteorites that can be ascribed to any low-temperature process operative on Mars.
Mars; Martian meteorites; SNC; terrestrial analogues; iron isotopes; life
When humans will settle on the moon or Mars they will have to eat there. Food may be flown in. An alternative could be to cultivate plants at the site itself, preferably in native soils. We report on the first large-scale controlled experiment to investigate the possibility of growing plants in Mars and moon soil simulants. The results show that plants are able to germinate and grow on both Martian and moon soil simulant for a period of 50 days without any addition of nutrients. Growth and flowering on Mars regolith simulant was much better than on moon regolith simulant and even slightly better than on our control nutrient poor river soil. Reflexed stonecrop (a wild plant); the crops tomato, wheat, and cress; and the green manure species field mustard performed particularly well. The latter three flowered, and cress and field mustard also produced seeds. Our results show that in principle it is possible to grow crops and other plant species in Martian and Lunar soil simulants. However, many questions remain about the simulants' water carrying capacity and other physical characteristics and also whether the simulants are representative of the real soils.
Human expeditions to Mars will require adaptation to the 24.65-h Martian solar day-night cycle (sol), which is outside the range of entrainment of the human circadian pacemaker under lighting intensities to which astronauts are typically exposed. Failure to entrain the circadian time-keeping system to the desired rest-activity cycle disturbs sleep and impairs cognitive function. Furthermore, differences between the intrinsic circadian period and Earth's 24-h light-dark cycle underlie human circadian rhythm sleep disorders, such as advanced sleep phase disorder and non-24-hour sleep-wake disorders. Therefore, first, we tested whether exposure to a model-based lighting regimen would entrain the human circadian pacemaker at a normal phase angle to the 24.65-h Martian sol and to the 23.5-h day length often required of astronauts during short duration space exploration. Second, we tested here whether such prior entrainment to non-24-h light-dark cycles would lead to subsequent modification of the intrinsic period of the human circadian timing system. Here we show that exposure to moderately bright light (∼450 lux; ∼1.2 W/m2) for the second or first half of the scheduled wake episode is effective for entraining individuals to the 24.65-h Martian sol and a 23.5-h day length, respectively. Estimations of the circadian periods of plasma melatonin, plasma cortisol, and core body temperature rhythms collected under forced desynchrony protocols revealed that the intrinsic circadian period of the human circadian pacemaker was significantly longer following entrainment to the Martian sol as compared to following entrainment to the 23.5-h day. The latter finding of after-effects of entrainment reveals for the first time plasticity of the period of the human circadian timing system. Both findings have important implications for the treatment of circadian rhythm sleep disorders and human space exploration.
Efficient, nonselective methods to obtain DNA from the environment are needed for rapid and thorough analysis of introduced microorganisms in environmental samples and for analysis of microbial community diversity in soil. A small-scale procedure to rapidly extract and purify DNA from soils was developed for in-the-field use. Amounts of DNA released from bacterial vegetative cells, bacterial endospores, and fungal conidia were compared by using hot-detergent treatment, freeze-thaw cycles, and bead mill homogenization. Combining a hot-detergent treatment with bead mill homogenization gave the highest DNA yields from all three microbial cell types and provided DNA from the broadest range of microbial groups in a natural soil community. Only the bead mill homogenization step was effective for DNA extraction from Bacillus globigii (B. subtilis subsp. niger) endospores or Fusarium moniliforme conidia. The hot-detergent–bead mill procedure was simplified and miniaturized. By using this procedure and small-scale, field-adapted purification and quantification procedures, DNA was prepared from four different soils seeded with Pseudomonas putida cells or B. globigii spores. In a New Mexico soil, seeded bacterial targets were detected with the same sensitivity as when assaying pure bacterial DNA (2 to 20 target gene copies in a PCR mixture). The detection limit of P. putida cells and B. globigii spores in different soils was affected by the amount of background DNA in the soil samples, the physical condition of the DNA, and the amount of DNA template used in the PCR.
A 60Co source was used to determine the effects of thermoradiation on Achromobacter aquamarinus, Staphylococcus aureus, and vegetative and spore cells of Bacillus subtilis var. globigii. The rate of inactivation of these cultures, except vegetative-cell populations of B. subtilis, was exponential and in direct proportion to temperature. The D10 (dose that inactivates 90% of the microbial population) value for A. aquamarinus was 8.0 Krad at 25 degrees C and 4.9 Krad at 35 degrees C. For S. aureus, D10 was 9.8 and 5.3 Krad at 35 and 45 degrees C, respectively. Vegetative cells of B. subtilis demonstrated a rapid initial inactivation followed by a steady but decreased exponential rate. The D10 at 25 degrees C was 10.3 Krad, but at 35 and 45 degrees C this value was 6.2 and 3.8 Krad, respectively. Between 0 and 95 Krad, survival curves for B. subtilis spores at 75 degrees C showed slight inactivation, increasing in rat at and above 85 degrees C. The D10 values for spores at 85 and 90 degrees C were 129 and 92 Krad, respectively. Significant synergism between heat and irradiation was noted at 35 degrees C for A. aquamarinus and 45 degrees C for S. aureus. The presence of 0.1 mM cysteine in suspending media afforded protection to both cultures at these critical temperatures. On the other hand, cysteine sensitized B. subtilis spores at radiation doses greater than 100 Krad. The combined effect of heat and irradiation was more destructive to bacteria than either method alone.
While anthrax is typically associated with bioterrorism, in many parts of the world the anthrax bacillus (Bacillus anthracis) is endemic in soils, where it causes sporadic disease in livestock. These soils are typically rich in organic matter and calcium that promote survival of resilient B. anthracis spores. Outbreaks of anthrax tend to occur in warm weather following rains that are believed to concentrate spores in low-lying areas where runoff collects. It has been concluded that elevated spore concentrations are not the result of vegetative growth as B. anthracis competes poorly against indigenous bacteria. Here, we test an alternative hypothesis in which amoebas, common in moist soils and pools of standing water, serve as amplifiers of B. anthracis spores by enabling germination and intracellular multiplication. Under simulated environmental conditions, we show that B. anthracis germinates and multiplies within Acanthamoeba castellanii. The growth kinetics of a fully virulent B. anthracis Ames strain (containing both the pX01 and pX02 virulence plasmids) and vaccine strain Sterne (containing only pX01) inoculated as spores in coculture with A. castellanii showed a nearly 50-fold increase in spore numbers after 72 h. In contrast, the plasmidless strain 9131 showed little growth, demonstrating that plasmid pX01 is essential for growth within A. castellanii. Electron and time-lapse fluorescence microscopy revealed that spores germinate within amoebal phagosomes, vegetative bacilli undergo multiplication, and, following demise of the amoebas, bacilli sporulate in the extracellular milieu. This analysis supports our hypothesis that amoebas contribute to the persistence and amplification of B. anthracis in natural environments.
One of the goals of the present Martian exploration is to search for evidence of extinct (or even extant) life. This could be redefined as a search for carbon. The carbon cycle (or, more properly, cycles) on Earth is a complex interaction among three reservoirs: the atmosphere; the hydrosphere; and the lithosphere. Superimposed on this is the biosphere, and its presence influences the fixing and release of carbon in these reservoirs over different time-scales. The overall carbon balance is kept at equilibrium on the surface by a combination of tectonic processes (which bury carbon), volcanism (which releases it) and biology (which mediates it). In contrast to Earth, Mars presently has no active tectonic system; neither does it possess a significant biosphere. However, these observations might not necessarily have held in the past. By looking at how Earth's carbon cycles have changed with time, as both the Earth's tectonic structure and a more sophisticated biology have evolved, and also by constructing a carbon cycle for Mars based on the carbon chemistry of Martian meteorites, we investigate whether or not there is evidence for a Martian biosphere.
Earth; Mars; carbon; cycle; life
The debris-rich basal ice layers of a high Arctic glacier were shown to contain metabolically diverse microbes that could be cultured oligotrophically at low temperatures (0.3 to 4°C). These organisms included aerobic chemoheterotrophs and anaerobic nitrate reducers, sulfate reducers, and methanogens. Colonies purified from subglacial samples at 4°C appeared to be predominantly psychrophilic. Aerobic chemoheterotrophs were metabolically active in unfrozen basal sediments when they were cultured at 0.3°C in the dark (to simulate nearly in situ conditions), producing 14CO2 from radiolabeled sodium acetate with minimal organic amendment (≥38 μM C). In contrast, no activity was observed when samples were cultured at subfreezing temperatures (≤−1.8°C) for 66 days. Electron microscopy of thawed basal ice samples revealed various cell morphologies, including dividing cells. This suggests that the subglacial environment beneath a polythermal glacier provides a viable habitat for life and that microbes may be widespread where the basal ice is temperate and water is present at the base of the glacier and where organic carbon from glacially overridden soils is present. Our observations raise the possibility that in situ microbial production of CO2 and CH4 beneath ice masses (e.g., the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets) is an important factor in carbon cycling during glacial periods. Moreover, this terrestrial environment may provide a model for viable habitats for life on Mars, since similar conditions may exist or may have existed in the basal sediments beneath the Martian north polar ice cap.
During germination of spores of Bacillus species the degradation of the spore's pool of small, acid-soluble proteins (SASP) is initiated by a protease termed GPR, the product of the gpr gene. Bacillus megaterium and B. subtilis mutants with an inactivated gpr gene grew, sporulated, and triggered spore germination as did gpr+ strains. However, SASP degradation was very slow during germination of gpr mutant spores, and in rich media the time taken for spores to return to vegetative growth (defined as outgrowth) was much longer in gpr than in gpr+ spores. Not surprisingly, gpr spores had much lower rates of RNA and protein synthesis during outgrowth than did gpr+ spores, although both types of spores had similar levels of ATP. The rapid decrease in the number of negative supertwists in plasmid DNA seen during germination of gpr+ spores was also much slower in gpr spores. Additionally, UV irradiation of gpr B. subtilis spores early in germination generated significant amounts of spore photoproduct and only small amounts of thymine dimers (TT); in contrast UV irradiation of germinated gpr+ spores generated almost no spore photoproduct and three to four times more TT. Consequently, germinated gpr spores were more UV resistant than germinated gpr+ spores. Strikingly, the slow outgrowth phenotype of B. subtilis gpr spores was suppressed by the absence of major alpha/beta-type SASP. These data suggest that (i) alpha/beta-type SASP remain bound to much, although not all, of the chromosome in germinated gpr spores; (ii) the alpha/beta-type SASP bound to the chromosome in gpr spores alter this DNA's topology and UV photochemistry; and (iii) the presence of alpha/beta-type SASP on the chromosome is detrimental to normal spore outgrowth.
The Schaeffer-Fulton endospore stain was modified so that it would stain Bacillus subtilis endospores in soil smears. The modified stain differentiated among dormant spores, spores undergoing activation, and spores which had germinated but had not yet shown outgrowth. These differentiations were seen for spores in soil and for pure spore preparations in the laboratory. This stain was used to show reversible B. subtilis spore activation promoted by an Ensifer adhaerens-like indigenous bacterium in soil and by pure cultures of E. adhaerens added to spores in the laboratory. Under the specific conditions in the laboratory, spore germination did not proceed beyond the activation stage, and relatively little change occurred in the numbers of both E. adhaerens and B. subtilis. This was also true in soil, although some germination with destruction of spores and vegetative cells did occur if the soil had been nutritionally enriched by preincubation with incorporated ground alfalfa.
Bacillus thuringiensis spores and parasporal crystals were incubated in natural soil, both in the laboratory and in nature. During the first 2 weeks, the spore count decreased by approximately 1 log. Thereafter, the number of spore CFU remained constant for at least 8 months. B. thuringiensis did not lose its ability to make the parasporal crystals during its residence in soil. Spore survival was similar for a commercial spore-crystal preparation (the insecticide) and for laboratory-grown spores. In contrast to these results, spores that were produced in situ in soil through multiplication of added vegetative cells survived for only a short time. For spore additions to soil, variations in soil pH had little effect on survival for those spores that survived the first 2 weeks of incubation. Also without effect were various pretreatments of the spores before incubation in soil or nutritional amendment or desiccation of the soil. Remoistening of a desiccated soil, however, caused a decrease in spore numbers. Spores incubated in soil in the field did not show this, but the degree of soil desiccation in nature probably never reached that for the laboratory samples. The good survival of B. thuringiensis spores after the first 2 weeks in soil seemed to be a result of their inability to germinate in soil. We found no evidence for the hypothesis that rapid germination ability for spores in soil conferred a survival advantage.