Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonenseTom Murphy
Pasta looking rocks may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing potential life on the big red planet, Mars. Water or the occasional martian is what you would probably look for when traveling across the Martian landscape.
However, University of Illinois geology professor Bruce Fouke has come up with another potential way to look for signs of life on the red planet.
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Dubbed Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense, this bacterium controls the formation of delicious fettuccine looking rocks that have ancient origins. Researchers recently reported that this bacterium, that can survive in harsh environments that are similar to conditions on Mars, could, in fact, be an easy way to look for life on the planet
Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense, or as it is commonly known, Sulfuri, is a bacterium that belongs to a long lineage that evolved before the oxygenation of the earth almost 2.35 billion years ago. Sulfuri has caught Fouke's attention because of its extreme durability and talent to survive across a host of environments. The bacterium can survive in extremely hot fast flowing water and withstand ultraviolet light.
Sulfuri can even survive in areas with low oxygen by utilizing sulfur and carbon dioxide as an energy source. So where does the "pasta" come into play?
The bacterium catalyzes the formation of crystalline rock formations, causing them to look like pasta. Fouke proposes if these odd pasta shaped rock formations are on Mars, there is a good chance this bacteria will be there alive and well.
"Taken together, these traits make it a prime candidate for colonizing Mars and other planets. And because it catalyzes the formation of crystalline rock formations that look like layers of pasta, it would be a relatively easy life form to detect on other planets," says Fouke
Looking for Pasta
When collecting samples of sulfuri cables, researchers very literally used sterilized forks to collect samples from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, to further understand the bacterium's rock-building capabilities.
"These Sulfuri cables look amazingly like fettuccine pasta, while further downstream they look more like capellini pasta. If we see the deposition of this kind of extensive filamentous rock on other planets, we would know it's a fingerprint of life," says Fouke.
Is anyone hungry?