Viable microorganisms from Earth might be transported either intentionally or unintentionally to other planets by natural events such as meteorite impacts or by robotic spacecraft, but they most certainly will accompany humans in future space missions. In extraterrestrial environments these terrestrial life forms will be challenged by extremes, e.g. in temperature, pressure, radiation and the availability of water and nutrients.
In the last decades the number of organisms discovered at locations, which would have been classified still recently as 'life-hostile', has increased immensely. Examples of such 'extremophile' terrestrial organisms are microorganisms from hot springs, hydrothermal vents, deserts, permafrost, salt crystals, very acid or basic water. The increasing knowledge of the adaptability and its fundamental molecular mechanisms enable the estimation of the hypothetical viability on other planets in our solar system, e.g. on Mars.
The results of these ongoing investigations are also important for the development of ESA planetary protection guidelines for the future exploration of our solar system.
This research field is the main topic of the Research Group Astrobiology of the Radiation Biology Department in the DLR-Institute of Aerospace Medicine. General questions at DLR are
(i) What are the physico-chemical boundary conditions for habitability?
(ii) How do organisms survive extreme environments?
(iii) How resilient is life in extreme environments to environmental change?
(iv) What are the responses to different stressors, how do they cause adaptation and evolution?
(v) Are there unique/common paths for responses to stresses?
The Lehrstuhl für Mikrobiologie and the Archaea Centre of the University of Regensburg have a long-lasting expertise in isolating, growing and characterizing extremophilic Bacteria and Archaea. They are a rich resource of model organisms also for studying the effect of conditions in outer space or on other planets.
The Laboratory for Molecular Microbiology at the Philipps-Universität Marburg is investigating the stress response of Bacillus subtilis. This soil bacterium can form highly resistant endospores. The investigations are focused on the physiological and molecular mechanisms by which bacteria respond to changes in the environmental osmolarity.
The Research School SpaceLife provides the unique opportunity to join the biological resources of the Regensburg Archaea Centre with the equipment and expertise of the DLR research group Astrobiology, where laboratory and space experiments concerning research on viability and adaptability to space as well as to simulated Martian conditions are accomplished and the experiences of the Philipps-Universität Marburg in the investigation of molecular and cellular mechanisms in bacteria as a response to high salt concentrations.
Studies of survival and adaptation will indicate not only whether microbial life can expand its evolutionary trajectories beyond Earth but also how it can play key supporting roles in human exploration.
Dr. Petra Rettberg++49 2203-6014637Email: Petra Rettberg
Prof. Dr. Reinhard Wirth(University of Regensburg)++49 941 943 1825
Dr. Ralf Möller++49 2203 601 3145Email: Ralf Moeller
Dr. Harald Huber(University of Regensburg)++49 941 943 3185
Prof. Dr. Erhard Bremer(University of Marburg)++49 6421 2821529
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