Biotoxicity of Mars Soils: 2. Survival of Bacillus subtilis and Enterococcus faecalis in Aqueous Extracts Derived from Six Mars Analog Soils

1Andrew C. Schuerger, 2Doug W. Ming, 3D.C. Golden
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article []
1Dept. of Plant Pathology, University of Florida, 505 Odyssey Way, Exploration Park, Merritt Island, FL, 32953
2Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Office, Mail Code XI, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 77058
3ESCG, Mail Code: JE 23, Houston, TX, 77058
Copyright Elsevier

The search for an extant microbiota on Mars depends on exploring sites that contain transient or permanent liquid water near the surface. Examples of possible sites for liquid water may be active recurring slope lineae (RSL) and fluid inclusions in ice or salt deposits. The presence of saline fluids on Mars will act to depress the freezing points of liquid water to as low as ‒60 °C, potentially permitting the metabolism and growth of halophilic microorganisms to temperatures significantly below the freezing point of pure water at 0 °C. In order to predict the potential risks of forward contamination by Earth microorganisms to subsurface sites on Mars with liquid brines, experiments were designed to characterize the short-term survival of two bacteria in aqueous soil solutions from six analog soils. The term ‘‘soil’’ is used here to denote any loose, unconsolidated matrix with no implications for the presence or absence of organics or biology. The analog soils were previously described (Schuerger et al., 2012, Planetary Space Sci., 72, 91-101), and represented crushed Basalt (benign control), Salt, Acid, Alkaline, Aeolian, and Phoenix analogs on Mars. The survival rates of spores of Bacillus subtilis and vegetative cells of Enterococcus faecalis were tested in soil solutions from each analog at 24, 0, or ‒70 °C for time periods up to 28 d. Survival of dormant spores of B. subtilis were mostly unaffected by incubation in the aqueous extracts of all six Mars analogs. In contrast, survival rates of E. faecalis cells were suppressed by all soil solutions when incubated at 24 °C but improved at 0 and ‒70 °C, except for assays in the Salt and Acid soil solutions in which most cells were killed. Results suggest that Earth microorganisms that form spores may persist in liquid brines on Mars better than non-spore forming species, and thus, spore-forming species may pose a potential forward contamination risk to sites with liquid brines.


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