Research discovers that a desert moss can grow in the conditions of Mars

The colonization of Mars is a long-term goal of humanity. That is why it is relevant that it has been discovered that a desert moss can develop in the extreme conditions of that planet. It has the ability to live almost without humidity, at extreme temperatures and in an environment with high radiation.

Syntrichia caninervis
The moss Syntrichia caninervis has the ability to develop in extreme mediums such as Antarctica, Tibet or circumpolar areas. Now they discovered that it could well develop in the extreme conditions of Mars.

It is called Syntrichia caninervis and it is a moss that appears as a possible candidate for the colonization of Mars. It stands out for its extreme ability to tolerate lethal conditions for most forms of life, as detailed by Europa Press. A group of scientists led by Xiaoshuang Li of the Institute and Geology of China discovered that it has the capacity to withstand up to -196 ºC added to its recognized resistance to extreme drought.

With this research it has been possible to demonstrate the great potential of Syntrichia caninervis as a pioneer plant for growth on Mars. It is expected that in the not too distant future this moss can be taken to Mars or the Moon to further test the possibility of its adaptation.

The results of this scientific work are published in the The Innovation segment within Science Direct where they point out that many plans to establish human settlements on other planets focus on adapting crops to growth in controlled environments. However, these settlements will also require pioneering plants that can grow on the soil and the harsh conditions of extraterrestrial environments, such as those of Mars.

It is in that context that the extraordinary environmental resistance of Syntrichia caninervis, a desert moss that grows in various extreme environments, is described. This moss has a remarkable tolerance to desiccation since even after losing more than 98% of its cellular water content, it can recover photosynthetic and physiological activities in a matter of seconds after rehydration.

Life in extreme conditions

These mosses can tolerate ultra-low temperatures and regenerate even after being stored in a freezer at -80 °C for 5 years or in liquid nitrogen for 1 month. Syntrichia caninervis is also super-resistant to gamma irradiation and can survive and maintain vitality in simulated Mars conditions. When exposed simultaneously to an anoxic atmosphere (without oxygen), extreme desiccation, low temperatures and intense UV radiation, it still responds perfectly.

The researchers point out that the study shows that Syntrichia caninervis is among the most stress-tolerant organisms. This work provides fundamental knowledge about the tolerance to multiple stress of this desert moss. That is why it is a promising pioneering plant candidate to colonize extraterrestrial environments, laying the foundations for building biologically sustainable human habitats beyond the Earth.

The study shows that the environmental resilience of S. caninervis is superior to that of some microorganisms and tardigrades that are highly tolerant to stress. Some previous studies had demonstrated the ability of microorganisms, algae, lichens and plant spores to withstand the extreme environments of outer space or Mars, but this is the first study that tests whole plants.

From Earth to Mars

Exploring and colonizing extraterrestrial environments is an ambitious goal that can improve human sustainability in the long term. It is considered that Mars is the planet with the most chances for future human colonization. To date, no forms of life have been detected on Mars. Therefore, it may be necessary to introduce organisms from Earth to create conditions similar to terrestrial ones, suitable for human life on Mars, a process known as terraformation.

Moss Graphic
The graph shows the properties of the moss Syntrichia caninervis and its ability to adapt to extreme environments.

Terraformation will require the selection of suitable organisms from Earth or the engineering of new organisms, especially plants, that can thrive in difficult extraterrestrial conditions. Plants such as mosses offer key advantages for terraforming, such as stress tolerance, a high capacity for photoautotrophic growth and the potential to produce substantial amounts of biomass in difficult conditions. Syntrichia caninervis is a species of common moss with a wide global distribution.

This moss manages to grow in extraordinarily extreme desert environments, such as Tibet, Antarctica and the circumpolar regions. It manages to be part of the biological crust of the soil, a type of extended and resistant plant cover that is often found in arid lands. Scientists replicated the environmental conditions of Mars with an atmosphere composed of 95% carbon dioxide, a thermal amplitude between -20 ºC and +20 ºC, high UV radiation and low atmospheric pressure. Even so, dry moss plants reached a 100% regeneration rate in 30 days after being subjected to Martian conditions for 1, 2, 3 and 7 days.

Reference of the news:
Xiaoshuang Li et al. ,The extremotolerant desert moss Syntrichia caninervis is a promising pioneer plant for colonizing extraterrestrial environments