Weird Low-Light Bacteria Could Potentially Thrive on Mars

By Sarah Lewin

An international team of scientists has found that a strange type of bacteria can turn light into fuel in incredibly dim environments.

Similar bacteria could someday help humans colonize Mars and expand our search for life on other planets, researchers said in a statement released with the new work.

Organisms called cyanobacteria absorb sunlight to create energy, releasing oxygen in the process. But until now, researchers thought these bacteria could absorb only specific, higher-energy wavelengths of light. The new work reveals that at least one species of cyanobacteria, called Chroococcidiopsis thermalis—which lives in some of the world’s most extreme environments—can absorb redder (less energetic) wavelengths of light, thus allowing it to thrive in dark conditions, such as deep underwater in hot springs.

“This work redefines the minimum energy needed in light to drive photosynthesis,” Jennifer Morton, a researcher at Australian National University (ANU) and a co-author of the new work, said in the statement. “This type of photosynthesis may well be happening in your garden, under a rock.” (In fact, a related species has even been found living inside rocks in the desert.)

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