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  Detection of bio-sustainable energy and nutrient cycling in the deep subsurface of Earth and Mars  
IPTAI (Visit Website)
Indiana Princeton Tennessee Astrobiology Initiative

Geochemists, chemists, microbiologists, and hydrologists on the IPTAI team are collaboratively investigating physical and chemical limitations on life beneath the subsurface of Earth.   Instrumental detection and monitoring of subsurface ecologies on Earth will be used to design life-detection strategies for the subsurface of Mars. The IPTAI team has recovered microbes (Bacteria and Archaea) from 10- to 100-million-year old, highly saline, fracture water at depths up to 3200 m in South African gold mines. Sulfate reducing bacteria appear to dominate this ecosystem; other indigenous microbial species can be detected, but their pathways of electron transfer are not fully characterized.  

We are interested in the identification of specific genes that are critical to the survival of microbes in a wide range of subsurface environments. Life forms in the subsurface of other planets presumably concentrate energy from geological sources similar to those on Earth but the composition and configuration of extra-terrestrial biomolecules could be radically different from those on Earth. In order to design effective life-detection instruments for subsurface planetary probes, we must identify the fundamental elements and behaviors common to subsurface ecosystems on Earth.  

A combination of field and laboratory experiments will be utilized to search for these unifying characteristics.

Indiana University

Princeton University
University of Tennessee
Oakridge National Laboratory
Pacific Northwest Laboratory
Lunar and Planetary Institute
Lawrence Berkeley Natl Laboratory
University of Toronto
New Mexico Tech
Bacteria found living 2 miles underground
Discovery shows life could exist on other planets, scientists say

Scientists descending more than 2 miles into the hot, fractured rocks of a South African gold mine have discovered clans of microbes that have thrived there in total isolation for millions of years. Their quest, the scientists say, reveals more clearly than ever how life can exist in the most extreme environments imaginable: beneath the surface of Mars, perhaps, or on almost any other planet in the galaxy.

"These bugs come from a formation at least 3 million and probably tens of millions of years old," said biologist Terry Hazen, head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Ecology department and a co-author of the report. "They're living happily down there, remote and secluded, and they have the ability to adapt to anything that comes their way."



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