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Space Lichens

CmdrTaco posted more than 8 years ago | from the now-thats-science-we-can-use dept.

Space 250

moon_monkey writes "According to a report lichens - a composite of algae and fungi - can survive in space for up to two weeks. An experiment carried out by the European Space Agency saw two species of lichen carried into orbit and then exposed to the vacuum of space for nearly 15 days. These are the most complex form of life now known to have survived prolonged exposure to space. The experiment adds weight to the theory of panspermia - that life could somehow be transported between planets."

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250 comments

impressive? (3, Funny)

kevin.fowler (915964) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000190)

If they need more test subjects, my shower walls have plenty of fungus to donate.

Pathogens Central Can Be Found: +1, Helpful (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000578)


at Al-Qaeda Headquarters [whitehouse.org].

Ask to speak to President-Vice.

Regards,
Kilgore Trout, C.E.O.

Re:impressive? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000736)

are you saying that we EVOLVED from lichens? blasphamy!

-FSM follower

Panspermia? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000196)

On my face, plz.

This Just Might... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000204)

Possibly explain Richard Simmons.

Already done with mold (2, Informative)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000206)

I think they already did this experiment under another name: MIR. My understanding is the primary reason they brought MIR down rather than rehabilitate it was the presence of mold that they could not kill using means that weren't also toxic to the cosmonauts.

They didn't describe the details of the flight. Was this a mission to the ISS? If so, I wonder how much risk they took by "opening" the box in the presence of the station? Could they have infected it with lichens, or more likely with "tramp mold" spores that may have accompanied the lichens?

Re:Already done with mold (5, Informative)

Gabe Garza (535203) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000575)

Not the same thing. The mold you're talking about in MIR would have been in the crew compartment, which, unless there's something I don't know about Russians, wouldn't have been a vacuum. The lichens discussed in the article were in a sealed container that, once the craft was in space, was opened. So they were completely exposed to the vacuum of space.

Not in space. (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000631)

AFAIK, the MIR mold was only growing inside the space station. In other words it had a nice atmospherically controlled environment practically identical to the environment that it evolved in. The only oddity that it had to deal with was lack of gravity.

This is much different as the lichen had to survive the vacuum of space, including direct solar radiation and dramatic temperature variations that come with it.

Re:Already done with mold (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000670)

The mold in MIR was inside the station where there was air and moisture. Why would it be the least bit surprising that mold could grow where humans can live? This experiment was carried out outside the spacecraft wher there is neither air nor moisture.

And no, the mold problem was not why they brought down MIR.

Re:Already done with mold (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000719)

My understanding is the primary reason they brought MIR down rather than rehabilitate it was the presence of mold that they could not kill using means that weren't also toxic to the cosmonauts.

Hate to break it to you, but MY understanding is that exposure to space is also toxic to astronauts.

They needed space to test a vacuum? (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000214)

They needed to go into space to test a vacuum?

Maybe they wanted to test radiation, or is this just a high-profile confirmation of something we already knew?

Re:They needed space to test a vacuum? (1)

doyoulikegoatseeee (930088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000282)

from TFA: The lichens were subjected to the vacuum of space and to temperatures ranging from -20C on the night side of the Earth, to 20C on the sunlit side. They were also exposed to glaring ultraviolet radiation of the Sun.

The organisms have already been shown to be capable of withstand high levels of UV radiation on Earth.

Re:They needed space to test a vacuum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000307)

The vacuum of space is much more than just a vacuum. You have the cosmic radiation and the frigid temperatures...

Re:They needed space to test a vacuum? (5, Insightful)

RoffleTheWaffle (916980) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000331)

They likely brought it into space in order to determine whether or not it could survive not just in a vaccuum, but also under these conditions, all at the same time:

* Vaccuum. (Of course.)
* Assorted forms of radiation.
* Zero gravity.
* Extremes of temperature.

Those conditions tend not to support life from Earth, and so to see that lichen can indeed survive in space, if only for a short time, is astounding. Not only does this add weight to the panspermia theory, but it also could stand to change our take on the 'qualifications' for a habitable environment completely, raising questions such as, "Could it be possible for more complex organisms to actually thrive in space?"

I for one welcome our moldy overlords.

Re:They needed space to test a vacuum? (1)

IAmTheDave (746256) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000553)

panspermia theory, but it also could stand to change our take on the 'qualifications' for a habitable environment completely, raising questions such as, "Could it be possible for more complex organisms to actually thrive in space?"

Thank you! This is the question people seem to be skirting. Life as "we know it" is really just "as we know it." Certain people assume that water is essential for life. That life is carbon based. These are only linchpins of life on EARTH.

So the "panspermia" theory is nice but why doesn't it exist alongside another theory of space as a habitable ecosystem? The audacity to assume that an organism can't survive in any environment is quite base. For years scientists didn't think organisms could survive temperatures outside of the Earth's most common conditions, and then BAM! Life which thrives in thousands of degrees of temperature in those lava/heat funnels on the ocean floor. (Sorry, don't know what they're called.)

Point is, if earth-bound life can survive for ANY time period in space, what's to say that some creature elsewhere hasn't evolved to survive a full lifetime in space? Because there is no water? Please...

Conditions they forgot (2, Funny)

RealProgrammer (723725) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000619)

- Reentry heat (need to be inside a big rock or something)

- Boredom. Lichens are fairly uncontemplative creatures, however.

Re:They needed space to test a vacuum? (0, Flamebait)

Perfesser Einstein (906572) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000610)

They needed space test the gullibility of government agencies to fund specious, unnecessary, and expen$ive "experiments". You rightly point out that any of these experiments, probably even the weightless one, could be cheaply done right here on boring old planet Earth. Think of all of the other scientific and educational projects that could have been explored with that money.

So this means Little Green Men DO exist! (1)

Banner (17158) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000216)

Cause they're all made of algae and fungi!!! It's the 'greys' that are a myth!

Panspermia (5, Funny)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000224)

Sounds like a neat theory, but it'd have to be an absolutely killer climax to have it hit escape velocity. I can't usually get more than 7-8 feet of distance even on a pent-up, high-pressure day.

Re:Panspermia (2, Funny)

theJML (911853) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000289)

Yeah, and even if they were able to hit escape veolcity, I wonder if they tried an atmospheric re-entry test.

Tosty mold, coming right up!

Re:Panspermia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000606)

Escape velocity isn't needed. The storms in our atmosphere are quite capable of lofting mold spores and bacteria into the upper atmosphere where the solar wind can pick it up. In all probability, Earth has already "contaminated" the Moon and Mars with Earth microorginisms caried on the solar wind.

Adds weight? (2, Interesting)

MosesJones (55544) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000237)


But not much, 2 weeks doesn't even get you to Mars... I thought most of the theories of life coming from other planets were based around elements being embedded inside rocks etc rather than being directly exposed to space.

But it is nice to see Europe continuing to treat Space as a learning experience rather than a PR stunt.

Re:Adds weight? (1)

misleb (129952) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000358)

Also, we're most likely talking about seeds/spores and not the organisms themselves.

-matthew

Obligatory (4, Funny)

Digitus1337 (671442) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000241)

I for one, welcome out new space-faring algae lichens. As a D&D player I've seen what regular lich can do, but I was unaware of their resistances to space. I truely am scared and confused.

15 days? (1)

NetNinja (469346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000249)

Ok so they jumped of Haley's comet and landed on earth?
It took a week to get to the moon via the Apollo missons.

AHHHHH! Wrong answer! Speculate some more.

Re:15 days? (1)

MankyD (567984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000615)

Correct, the lichens can only last 15 days, but this part is key: "the most complex form of life now known to have survived prolonged exposure to space." It doesn't mean that the lichens are the capsule of inter-planetary life. It implies that there may very well be some forms of life capable of long-term space exposure. This is a single terrestrial lichen. There are plenty of reasons to believe that there exist other, more extremophile [wikipedia.org] like organisms that can surpass the lichen in logevity.

an organic spaceship patch kit? (5, Interesting)

swanriversean (928620) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000262)

FTA:
"Lichens have a tough mineral coating that could shield them from UV rays. They are also made from individual organisms layered on top of one another, so outer layers may provide protection for underlying cells. The organisms have already been shown to be capable of withstand high levels of UV radiation on Earth."

This is interesting, I wonder how well they the outer layers could protect things below? Would it be possible to use some lichen in a pinch to make a repair to part of a ship? Could this be the poor mans self-replicating nano robot patch kit?

I have no idea about these things, just an interesting prospect, I think.

At least two weeks, not up to. (4, Insightful)

The Metahacker (3507) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000264)

"Up to two weeks?"

No, "At *least* two weeks". They were exposed for 15 days and were unchanged.

Lichen and spores are sure durable; I wouldn't be surprised if they could survive basically indefinitely in a cold vacuum.

If it can survive 2 weeks in the vacuum of space.. (2, Insightful)

gg3po (724025) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000271)

...how much better can this stuff fare in the thin atmosphere of Mars? Time to start terraforming!

Feasibility of Panspermia (2, Interesting)

sssmashy (612587) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000285)

Even if a lichen or lower life form could survive for a time in the vacuum of space (with some form of protection from radiation and in hibernation mode), could it really survive the intense heat from the friction of earth's atmosphere? I've heard of extremophiles, but...

Re:Feasibility of Panspermia (3, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000336)

TFA says the layers are mineral based, and if there are enough layers I suppose the outer ones could ablate on reentry providing protection to the layers beneath. It's possible it would provide enough protection for some spores on the bottom most layers to survive.

What I've never understood about that theory, though, is how the life forms got off their home planet and onto an interstellar-bound rock.

Re:Feasibility of Panspermia (2, Interesting)

Decaff (42676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000409)

What I've never understood about that theory, though, is how the life forms got off their home planet and onto an interstellar-bound rock.

Asteroid strikes. They can 'splash' up a lot of material, which can easily reach escape velocity.

Re:Feasibility of Panspermia (2, Informative)

tm2b (42473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000431)

What I've never understood about that theory, though, is how the life forms got off their home planet and onto an interstellar-bound rock.
Via ejecta, large pieces of debris that are thrown off the planet from meteor strikes. That's the significance of the Mars rocks found in the Antarctic tundra [theregister.co.uk].

If you've got life floating around in your atmosphere, it might not even require ejecta but instead just near collisions with porous asteroids passing through the upper atmosphere.

Re:Feasibility of Panspermia (3, Funny)

temojen (678985) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000532)

Rockets maybe... What better way to make absolutely clear to any intelligent life on another planet that there is life where you are from than hucking some of it at them?

Re:Feasibility of Panspermia (1)

ZachPruckowski (918562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000692)

My issue is this: Ok, rock leaves planet with life. Via meteor ejecta or whatever. There are a whole heck of a lot of trajectories. How does it ever hit another planet? I mean, the planets in the galaxy must be like a millionth of a billionth of a percent of the volume. And gravity would be working against the meteor with life on it. Even a near miss is useless (or even worse, would destroy some of the life on the meteor, if not the actual meteor).

Essentially, it seems like being spun around blindfold, then told to hit a target in somewhere in football stadium with a gun bullet from midfield (American football, the big stadiums). Its possible to get a lucky shot, but you need billions of rounds. And to me that means billions of pieces of splashed-up rock from meteor strikes, which means the original planet would have been nuked beyond all comprehension long before there were that many ejecta (is that the term?). Sure, it's possible we're a lucky, one in a million shot, but that seems unlikely...

Alien weapon systems (2, Insightful)

The Infamous TommyD (21616) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000715)

Didn't you see the amount of rock shooting off into space after the Death Star blew up Alderaan? Let's not forget all of the test shots they would have done before that.

Also, we can't forget that it could have been on pieces of the ringworld from Halo.

Re:Feasibility of Panspermia (1)

nmos (25822) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000427)

I was watching "Naked Science" the other night and one of the scientists mentioned that asteroids only spend a very short time in the atmosphere before hitting the ground and as a result only the outside few mm gets very hot.

Reminds me of an old joke (5, Funny)

Jeld (17209) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000292)

Question: How long can a human stay in space without a space suit?
Answer: Almost indefinitely <evil grin>

Mold you say? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000293)

Why in the world do you care anything about mold?

Obligatory NetHack (5, Funny)

DanTheLewis (742271) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000294)

This space lichen corpse tastes terrible! You finish eating the space lichen corpse.

Re:Obligatory NetHack (1)

Morgalyn (605015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000516)

Now I am left wondering the effect of eating space lichen, since many of its class brethren confer special effects... perhaps a mild chill?

Etymology of "panspermia" ... aren't YOU curious? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000296)

From answers.com citing the American Heritage Dictionary,
the etymology of panspermia [answers.com]:
Greek panspermia;, mixture of all seeds : pan-, pan- + sperma, seed
... no hint of interplanetary relations by the root words.

Re:Etymology of "panspermia" ... aren't YOU curiou (2, Informative)

ndansmith (582590) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000593)

Indeed, the Greek adjectives allos or allotrios ("another" and "alien; foreign" respectively) may serve better in this place. Perhaps the meaning has changed due to the context of the conversation. The theory of "panspermia" would deal with how all life was "seeded." An extraterrestrial source is an option of "panspermia" I suppose.

Terraforming (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000297)

SO how long before they send lichen to mars... ok the fa says they do not metabolize and "suspend" in space... but maybe if ton of lichens were sent to mars, maybe some tiny fraction of it would start surviving and developping...

Re:Terraforming (1)

Bob of Dole (453013) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000629)

And then we'd never be able to find out if there is life on mars, cause our mold is now growing all over it.

(NASA is VERY careful with their probes to prevent exactly this from happening)

they may not die in space... (2, Funny)

syrinx (106469) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000304)

And yet the lichens die pretty easily, even with a plain +0 pickaxe or short sword. Their corpses stay good indefinitely though, which is helpful when I'm playing with a vegetarian or vegan #conduct.

Re:they may not die in space... (2, Funny)

planetoid (719535) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000340)

What frightened the bejesus out of me is I read the title as "Space Liches".

That's Not What the Article Said (4, Informative)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000312)

The article states that the lichens were exposed to space for 2 weeks and were fine after that. The summary implies that 2 weeks is the upper limit for survival of the lichens. Those are two rather different outcomes.

What I get from this is that lichens can survive for an undetermined amount of time in space. Assuming they can survive reentry, a rock from Earth could potentially deliver lichens to Mars or elsewhere.

Re:That's Not What the Article Said (1)

digidave (259925) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000742)

And it's an important distinction because two weeks in space on a rock will get you nowhere.

What next? (1, Funny)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000323)

Now that we know lichens can survive exposed to the harsh conditions of space, how about we try it with Karl Rove?

Re:What next? (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000501)

Now that we know lichens can survive exposed to the harsh conditions of space, how about we try it with Karl Rove?

The similarities between lichen and scum are only superficial. Still, I'm in favour of the experiment. As a control subject, let's also send up Cheney.

Evolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000327)

And you thought some folks were upset about descending from apes, wait till they see this.

Re:Evolution (1)

Havokmon (89874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000565)

And you thought some folks were upset about descending from apes, wait till they see this.

No kidding. Some people just can't accept God was actually a Reeses Monkey, and the Soddom and Gammorah were really destroyed by a massive rain of terds.

Re:Evolution (1)

DanTheLewis (742271) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000743)

And you thought some folks were upset about descending from apes, wait till they see this.

No kidding. Some people just can't accept God was actually a Reeses Monkey, and the Soddom and Gammorah were really destroyed by a massive rain of terds.


It's Rhesus, Sodom, Gomorrah, and turds.

That ape story is starting to sound more and more plausible.

Panspermia (1)

Traa (158207) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000334)

Though I am not up to date on the latest speculations regarding panspermia, I never really considered it such an interesting option. So what that life-ON-EARTH came from another planet, that doesn't answer the question as to how life got started. It just means it got started someplace else in quite probably the same way that we think it might have gotten started on earth (thermal vents + rich molecule soup + anything but the hand of god :-)

Re:Panspermia (1)

RatBastard (949) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000522)

Exactly. at some point you are faced with the final "Well, where did the FIRST life come from". Just saying that life came from "out there" is passing the buck.

composite!!?? COMPOSITE??!!!!!! (2, Insightful)

acornboy (920113) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000367)

geez you guys are supposed to be geeks, right? Well get the details right, that would be a symbiois not a composite! And i thought anything close to "symbiont" would warm the cockles of your geeky trekkie hearts...

"Panspermia" (3, Funny)

BronxBomber (633404) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000370)

Seen it a few times now. Peter North, Asia Carrera, and a very eager Jenna Jameson. Great money shots.

Oh wait...

I liken this lichen is alien (4, Informative)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000421)

"Lichens grow in the leftover spots of the natural world that are too harsh or limited for most other organisms. They are pioneers on bare rock, desert sand, cleared soil , dead wood, animal bones, rusty metal, and living bark. Able to shut down metabolically during periods of unfavorable conditions, they can survive extremes of heat, cold, and drought."

From: http://www.lichen.com/biology.html [lichen.com]

They tend to thrive in unfavorable conditions, maybe there could be Lichen on Mars if it had a more stable atmosphere? They could also survive on a rusty hull of a space ship, so the panspermia theory is not too far off.

British Soldier Lichen is also very beautiful:
http://www.buenavistatownship.org/Photos/British%2 0soldier%20lichen.jpg [buenavistatownship.org]

Re:I liken this lichen is alien (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000554)

Why would it need an atmosphere at all? Mars sounds favorable to lichens as-is.

en garde (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000475)

Intelligent Designer adherants!

Wow (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000495)

Astronaut Dave Bowman must be jealous, I'll bet he thought he lasted longer than anybody else that made it into the vacuum of space back in 2001.

As a firm ID believer... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000507)

... er scientist...

Of COURSE panspermia is possible. Life can easily travel in space. ... if it's supposed to. The whole thing's planned, y'know.

While panspermia is possible... (1)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000533)

The belief that humans came from somewhere else to this planet, rather than descending from species already on this planet, is too improbable to be true. Species can evolve to physically appear like other species, such as an insect evolving to look like a leaf, but their genetic makeup will not evolve toward that of an entirely different species. The fact that chimpanzee DNA is so similar to humans is incontrovertible proof that the two species descended from a common ancestor.

(even though physical theories can never be proven, this is as close as one could get to a mathematical proof of 2+2=4, just as is the geologic record's organization of more primitive species at older timescales-- no matter how old people think the Earth and the life on it, you will never find the fossils of a modern species next to those of a very early species.)

Re:While panspermia is possible... (1)

misleb (129952) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000648)

Umm, I don't think the implication is that humans came from another planet (who believes this?), but rather that the common ancestor for all life on Earth could have come from another planet. I imagine it would be all or nothing. Chances of just SOME life on Earth comeing from another planet seems pretty unlikely. I mean, all life on Earth shares similar basic biological mechanisms (DNA)... as well as fitting nicely into a nested hierarchy.

-matthew

Re:While panspermia is possible... (1)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000716)

"who believes this?"

It was argued previously on here that people could have come separately. I was just trying to clear things up before someone tried to make that argument again.

Re:While panspermia is possible... (1)

temojen (678985) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000713)

is too improbable to be true.

No, it's now not too improbable. Just less probable than life originating here. But both theories fit with all currently known observations.

Re:While panspermia is possible... (1)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000759)

Did you read my post? Panspermia originating all life is find, but panspermia bringing only humans is improbable, and fits no evidence. Rather, all evidence points without a doubt to humans descending from prior life that existed on Earth.

Any Lovecraft fan could have told you that. (1)

Vengeance (46019) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000576)

The only question is when the sentient ones will arrive:

"The things come from another planet, being able to live in interstellar space and fly through it on clumsy, powerful wings which have a way of resisting the aether but which are too poor at steering to be of much use in helping them about on earth. I will tell you about this later if you do not dismiss me at once as a madman. They come here to get metals from mines that go deep under the hills, and I think I know where they come from. They will not hurt us if we let them alone, but no one can say what will happen if we get too curious about them. Of course a good army of men could wipe out their mining colony. That is what they are afraid of. But if that happened, more would come from outside - any number of them. They could easily conquer the earth, but have not tried so far because they have not needed to. They would rather leave things as they are to save bother."

Hmmm.... Space herpes! (2, Funny)

poopie (35416) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000618)

What the hell was that? Hmmm... space herpes!
... This ship has space herpes?

Chicken and egg thing again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14000666)

Problem with panspermia is that it shifts the explanation of how life emerged. Where'd it come from? Some other planet. How'd it get on that other planet? Duh, i dunno... intelligent design or something.

Lightweight idea (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000752)

The experiment adds weight to the theory of panspermia - that life could somehow be transported between planets.

Given that the panspermia theory has the weight of a neutrino, that isn't very much. Organisms in small asteroids would be incinerated in earth's atmosphere. Bugs ridding larger ones would have to survive awesome shock forces and intense kinetic heating. Earth is such an ideal organic molecular playground it doesn't seem necessary to invoke some outside agent, like Mars. I think Occam's Razor applies here. I do not doubt that meteor and cometary infall were sources of lots of organic material during the period of heavy bombardment, and that they enhanced conditions for the formation of life.

No, sorry... (2, Interesting)

millennial (830897) | more than 8 years ago | (#14000763)

The experiment adds weight to the theory of panspermia - that life could somehow be transported between planets.

I'll believe that as soon as they finish the experiments that show lichen's ability to survive entry into the atmosphere.
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