The Earth’s most extreme microbes, including bacteria that eat radioactive metals, tolerate lethal doses of radiation and thrive in the planet’s driest desert, are fascinating in their own right. But it is what they are teaching scientists about how to hunt for life on other worlds that may be their most important legacy.
That search isn’t hypothetical. Scientists at NASA are planning missions to Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus that may yield conclusive evidence of life on those worlds. But to get there, the research teams first have to decide precisely where to look and what signs of life to target
That’s where so-called “extremophiles,” and the harsh environments they inhabit, come in. They serve as living laboratories here on Earth to study what scientists hope to discover beyond it.
The Kavli Foundation brought together three prominent astrobiologists to discuss microbes and the search for extraterrestrial life. It’s the second of a three-part series of roundtable discussions on the microbiome, the microorganisms that inhabit the Earth’s different environments, from the soil to the human body. . . .