Microbiology

Participants: Kai W. Finster and Ebbe Norskov Bak

The reactivity of the Martian soil and its implications for the persistence of organic matter – from molecules to microorganisms.

The microbiology group investigates the influence of inorganic oxidants on the fate of organic material in the Martian surface environment. The experiments are carried out under mimicked Mars conditions in unique simulation facilities. Our focus is on the oxidizing capacities of hydrogen peroxide and perchlorate towards organic matter covering a broad range of molecules from amino acids to complex organic structures including living bacterial cells. Our results contribute to answering the following central questions:

  1. Is there a basis for life in the Martian surface environment?
  2. What is the fate of organic material brought to Mars by meteorites or during past and future missions?

The latter point addresses the essential question of whether detected organic material or even microorganisms are indigenous to Mars or brought there because of forward contamination.

The specific objectives of the project are:

  • to determine if and at which rates hydrogen peroxide is formed under Martian conditions
  • to determine the rates at which hydrogen peroxide degrades organic material in a Martian surface environment
  • to investigate if perchlorate enhances the formation of hydrogen peroxide and thus indirectly participates in organic matter degradation
  • to evaluate the role of atmospheric processes during dust storms
  • to develop qualitative and quantitative models that describe the degradation mechanisms of organic material.

The research is inspired by the discoveries of recent years’ NASA missions to Mars (Phoenix, MER-rovers and MSL) in combination with the unique research facilities of the Aarhus Mars Simulation Laboratory.

The investigations are highly interdisciplinary and integrate the collective expertise of the “Mars-group”.

Contact persons and Research field

  • Kai W. Finster, associate professor, PhD - Microbial diversity and physiology
  • Ebbe Norskov Bak, Senior scientist, PhD - Microbial diversity and physiology

Funding: Major grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF).