Scientists have always been keen to find out if life truly exists in other planets such as our red planet neighbor. If there is indeed life on Mars, it might be hiding from our robotic explorers. But thankfully, our determined scientists found a better idea of how to go looking for it.
After spending ten years examining ancient volcanic rocks culled from the deep sea in search of microbial life, the geomicrobiologist Yohey Suzuki from the University of Tokyo finally found what he has been looking for when he looked into the cracks of the volcanic rocks.
Scientists like him believe that similar tiny, and clay-filled cracks in rocks on Mars or underneath its surface is a possible hub for life. The Hydrothermal vents along the Earth's ocean floor are widely known to sustain bacteria and other life forms that convert minerals into energy instead of light.
They believe that the growth of such microbial communities is because of the iron content in the clay found deep below the ocean floor.
Suzuki cannot believe it himself of what he has found. For him, it was like a dream to see such abundant microbial life in those rocks.
From Earth's Ocean Floor to Mars
Bacteria find a nice home to settle within the cracks of rocks from volcanic eruptions. When the lava cools, it creates narrow spaces that are less than one millimeter across.
According to Suzuki, these cracks become a friendly place to microbial life due to the clay minerals infused between them. It is like a magical material on Earth that you can most certainly find microbes living in them.
Just like human cells, these bacteria make their energy from organic nutrients. Humans' energy source is the Earth's surface; meanwhile, those microbes get what they need from the clay minerals. It is what NASA's Curiosity rover explored for quite a bit now on Mars.
Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012 and has since been exploring Gale Crater, filled with streams and lakes from billions of years ago. The scientists want to know if ancient Mars was able to support microbial life since evidence of water and methane has been detected on the red planet.
The rover has observed and drilled rock samples that are rich in clay in the lake bed. Suzuki explained that minerals are like fingerprints what the conditions were present during the formation of the clay, and it seems that the condition present on the Earth's ocean beds is also similar to the surface on Mars.
With the discovery of microbes in the cracks of the rock, Suzuki and many other scientists are expecting that this will change the game for the search of life on Mars.
Studying the Ocean Floor
Suzuki considers himself lucky for his discovery, recalling that he almost gives up because the quest for bacteria deep beneath the ocean floor is such a tricky one.
The samples of the rock he used were collected in 2010 during the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, which was taken far from hydrothermal vents to prevent contamination and afterward were sterilized when brought up.
He took a piece of the rock sample and grinded it but failed to get any results. Inspired by the thin slices of tissue samples that pathologists use in diagnosing, Suzuki coated the rock sample with epoxy and sliced it into thin layers. He washed these layers with dye to stain any DNA present.
True enough, underneath his telescope, he found green bacterial cells surrounded by orange clay and black rock. He was able to conduct DNA genome analysis and voila! He found evidence of life.