A team of scientists has discovered a type of bacteria that can turn the minimal amount of light present in its environment into energy, which could reportedly someday help humans colonize Mars, and potentially further into space.
Cyanobacteria, the organism in question, absorbs sunlight to create energy, while also releasing oxygen.
Until now, researchers believed these bacteria only absorb specific types of higher-energy light.
As reported by Scientific American, this new study now goes to show that at least one sub-category of cyanobacteria, named Chroococcidiopsis thermalis can intake less light to create energy since it lives in one of the world’s darkest environments.
Jennifer Morton, a researcher at Australian National University (ANU) and a co-author of the new work, said that “This work redefines the minimum energy needed in light to drive photosynthesis. This type of photosynthesis may well be happening in your garden, under a rock.”
Researchers are learning through studying these specific organisms the fine details of photosynthesis as a process, as well as learning how we could potentially use similar low-light-requiring organisms to generate oxygen in places like Mars.
Although scientists know plenty about the process of photosynthesis itself, case-specific scenarios of its exemplification such as the one occurring in Chroococcidiopsis thermalis.
Elmars Krausz, study co-author and a professor emeritus at ANU, added to the statement that “This might sound like science fiction, but space agencies and private companies around the world are actively trying to turn this aspiration into reality in the not-too-distant future. Photosynthesis could theoretically be harnessed with these types of organisms to create air for humans to breathe on Mars.”
“Low-light-adapted organisms, such as the cyanobacteria we’ve been studying, can grow under rocks and potentially survive the harsh conditions on the Red Planet,” Krausz added.
“Chlorophyll adapted to absorb visible light is very important in photosynthesis for most plants, but our research identifies the so-called ‘red’ chlorophylls as critical components in photosynthesis in low-light conditions,” Morton added.
Aside from its practical applications in science, this discovery may very well help further the notion of life beyond our planet.
“Searching for the signature fluorescence from these pigments could help identify extra-terrestrial life,” Morton mentioned, in regard to the potential for alien life
The location of the bacteria, as well as its distinguishing factors, now give scientists insight into what they need to look for when researching life on other planets. Although this is not definitive, it may lead us to make a greater discovery in regards to alien life overall.