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An analysis of potential photosynthetic life on Mars

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2006

John J. Sakon
The College of William and Mary, Department of Physics, Williamsburg, VA 23185, USA Department of Physics, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA e-mail:
Robert L. Burnap
Department of Physics, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA e-mail: Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA


This project researched the possibility of photosynthetic life on Mars. Cyanobacteria were used as potential analogs and were subjected to various Martian-simulated conditions. Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 was exposed to low pressure, ultraviolet radiation and Martian-simulated atmospheric composition, and proved resistant to the combination of these stresses. However, this organism could neither grow within Martian Regolith Simulant, owing to the lack of soluble nitrogen, nor could it grow in cold temperatures. As a result, later research focused on psychrotolerant cyanobacteria capable of utilizing atmospheric nitrogen. These Antarctic nitrogen-fixing strains were able to grow in Martian Regolith Simulant at temperatures as low as 4 °C. In addition, they proved resistant to salinity, ultraviolet radiation and freeze/thaw conditions. These results suggest that Antarctic nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria are good analogs for potential Martian life and should be considered in future exploratory missions for life on the red planet.

Research Article
2006 Cambridge University Press

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