Description: Unusual proteins within microbes allow the organisms to survive in cold and salty conditions in Antarctica, and could in theory help support life on Mars as well, according to NASA-funded study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The study revealed slight differences between core proteins in ordinary organisms and those known as Haloarchaea, which can live in severe conditions with extreme salinity or temperatures, for example. They studied such microbes from Deep Lake, a salty body of water in Antarctica, and found that atoms within the core proteins were more loosely connected, "allowing them to be more flexible and functional," DasSarma said.
Researchers: Shiladitya DasSarma, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, led the study. Colleagues in the department. Melinda D. Capes, Ram Karan and Priya DasSarma. co-authored.
Stage of research: The study was published online in PLOS ONE, a scientific journal of the Public Library of Science, on March 11. Continuing research is exploring individual proteins within a particular type of organism to learn about how the proteins could be used in producing useful materials.
Implications: The findings could help understand how microorganisms might be able to live on Mars as NASA's Curiosity rover looks for signs of life on the planet. There have been some indications of possible underground brine pools on the planet that could, in theory, support similar kinds of life as the microbes found in Antarctica.