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This desert moss might help humans live on Mars

Every now and then, something ordinary reveals extraordinary potential. At first glance, a robust desert moss known as Syntrichia caninervis might not strike you as particularly impressive. However, new research suggests it might just be the key to opening up the possibility of life on Mars.

Syntrichia caninervis

The exceptional resilience of this moss, brought to light by ecologists Yuanming Zhang and Daoyuan Zhang, along with botanist Tingyun Kuang, has set the scientific world abuzz. All three are affiliated with the esteemed Chinese Academy of Sciences and have dedicated extensive time and effort to their research.

In the wild, Syntrichia caninervis is found in extreme desert environments from Tibet to Antarctica and the circumpolar regions. This moss forms the biological soil crust, a resilient, widespread ground cover often found in arid lands.

Moss under Mars’ extreme conditions

The researchers put Syntrichia caninervis through a series of rigorous tests in their lab, pushing the plant to its limits. The results are nothing short of staggering.

The team tested the cold tolerance of the moss by storing it in below-freezing temperatures. Remarkably, the plants sprung back to life after being thawed, especially those that had been dehydrated before they were frozen.

 Syntrichia caninervis showed remarkable resilience to gamma radiation, with doses of 500 Gy even seeming to boost the plant’s growth. For perspective, exposure to around 50 Gy would cause severe damage, even death, in humans.

In fact, gamma radiation at such high levels is known to break down the DNA structure in most organisms, leading to catastrophic cell damage.

However, this resilient plant not only survives but thrives, demonstrating an incredible natural adaptation that could have significant implications for understanding radiation resistance and potentially aiding in biotechnological advancements.

“Our study shows that the environmental resilience of S. caninervis is superior to that of some of highly stress-tolerant microorganisms and tardigrades,” noted the researchers.

S. caninervis is a promising candidate pioneer plant for colonizing extraterrestrial environments, laying the foundation for building biologically sustainable human habitats beyond Earth.”

Surviving on Mars? Piece of cake (or moss)

The true test of the moss was its ability to survive simulated Martian conditions within the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Planetary Atmospheres Simulation Facility.

This simulator mimicked Mars’ harsh environment, complete with fluctuating temperatures, high levels of UV radiation, low atmospheric pressure, and a CO2-heavy atmosphere.

Astoundingly, the moss demonstrated a 100% regeneration rate, even after enduring these conditions for up to a week. The hydrated plants, though regenerating more slowly than their dried counterparts, also survived the Martian simulation.

A giant leap for moss

Clearly, Syntrichia caninervis is no ordinary moss but an extraordinary potential pioneer for extraterrestrial colonization. The researchers see a bright future where this moss might find a home on Mars or the Moon.

“Although there is still a long way to go to create self-sufficient habitats on other planets, we demonstrated the great potential of S. caninervis as a pioneer plant for growth on Mars,” said the researchers.

“Looking to the future, we expect that this promising moss could be brought to Mars or the Moon to further test the possibility of plant colonization and growth in outer space.”

Study significance

The resilience of Syntrichia caninervis is a promising leap toward a future where we might see sustainable human habitats in outer space. So, the next time you come across a patch of moss, take a moment to marvel at the potential it might hold.

Are we ready to move to Mars? Will this small plant be the key to colonizing the Red Planet? Only time will tell. Scientists around the world are working tirelessly to unlock the secrets of Mars’ environment and its potential to support human life.

Until then, keep your eyes peeled for the next big revelation in the world of science. Advances in technology and space exploration are happening at an unprecedented rate, promising exciting discoveries just around the corner.

The extensive research on Syntrichia caninervis is supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Leading Talents in Technological Innovation Program, and The Third Xinjiang Scientific Expedition Program.

The study is published in the journal The Innovation.


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