Led by Dr. Petra Rettberg
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.
Projects concerning research on viability and adaptability to extreme environmental conditions as they occur in space or on others planets like Mars are accomplished in the research group ‘Photo- & Exobiology’ of the Radiation Biology Department. The molecular and cellular mechanisms for the adaptation to extreme environmental conditions and the capability to repair different kinds of damage are investigated in several microbial model organisms. Especially the biological responses to DNA damage induced by radiation, ionizing as well as non-ionizing radiation, are analyzed. Main focus of this work in regard to the planet Mars is (i) the prediction of the radiation climate and its biological efficiency, (ii) investigations concerning the toxicity of the Martian surface and (iii) biological tests under simulated Martian conditions. Experiments in space complement laboratory experiments and allow to test hypothesis, that deal with the eventuality that microorganisms encapsulated in meteorites can be transferred from one planet in our solar system to another. The results of these ongoing investigations are also important for the the development of ESA planetary protection guidelines for the future exploration of our solar system, particularly with the regard to the upcoming ExoMars mission.