A type of bacteria that is highly resistant to radiation and other environmental hazards survived outside of the International Space Station for three years, according to a new study.
The Japanese Tanpopo mission involved including pellets of dried Deinococcus bacteria within aluminum plates that were placed in exposure panels outside of the space station.
Deinococcus bacteria is found on Earth and has been nicknamed Conan the Bacterium by scientists for its ability to survive cold, dehydration and acid. It’s known as the most radiant-resistant life form in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
It can resist 3,000 times the amount of radiation that would kill a human and was first isolated in cans of meat subjected to sterilizing radiation.
This mission was designed to test the “panspermia” theory, which suggests that microbes can pass from one planet to another and actually distribute life.
Tanpopo means dandelion in Japanese.
Study author Akihiko Yamagishi, who is the principal investigator of the Tanpopo space mission, and his team in 2018 used an aircraft and scientific balloons to find Deinococcus bacteria that was actually floating 7.5 miles above Earth’s surface.
This caused Yamagashi, also a professor of molecular biology at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, and his team to wonder if this bacteria, which was resistant to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, could actually survive in space and even the journey to other planets through extreme temperature fluctuations and even harsher radiation.
Deinococcus is known to form colonies larger than 1 millimetre. For the Tanpopo mission, samples of bacteria were prepared in pellets of various thickness and placed in the wells of aluminum plates. Data was collected on the plates after one, two and three years.
Then, the bacteria were tested to see how they fared.
The results entirely depended on the thickness of the bacteria. Those that were larger than 0.5 millimetres were able to partially survive, sustaining DNA damage. Although the bacteria on the surface of the aggregate, or colony formed by the bacteria, died, the researchers found a protective layer beneath it that ensured the colony survived.
“Collectively, these results support the possibility of pellets as an ark for interplanetary transfer of microbes within several years,” the authors wrote.
The study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
The Deinococcus bacteria studied inside the space station didn’t fare so well, where oxygen and moisture proved harmful to the bacteria, Yamagishi said.
Based on the scientists’ estimates, bacteria pellets thicker than 0.5 millimetres could survive between 15 and 45 years outside of the space station in low-Earth Orbit. The team predicted that colonies of this bacteria more than 1 millimetre in diameter could survive as long as eight years in outer space.
“The results suggest that radioresistant Deinococcus could survive during the travel from Earth to Mars and vice versa, which is several months or years in the shortest orbit,” Yamagishi said.
Previous studies have suggested that bacteria could survive longer in space if it was shielded by rock, known as lithopanspermia, but this study has shown that bacteria aggregates, or colonies, can survive in space, which is called massapanspermia.
Based on the research team’s results, Yamagashi believes that “it is very important to search for life on Mars before human missions to Mars.” Bacteria from Earth could present a false negative for life on Mars or act as a contaminant on Mars.
The NASA Perseverance Rover, which is currently en route and due to land on Mars in February after launching in July, went through rigorous cleaning from assembly to prelaunch. The rover will collect samples, returned to Earth in the next 10 years, that could contain proof of ancient life that once flourished on the red planet.
The team is also considering how microbial pellets could end up in space. Yamagashi and his team suspect that bacteria could potentially be launched from Earth by the electric field generated in thunderstorms, landing the way that micrometeorites do in the atmosphere of Earth.
“Tens of millions of kilograms of micrometeorites are reaching to the Earth’s surface every year,” Yamagashi said. “(A) similar landing process may be present in the thin atmosphere of Mars.”
Next, Yamagashi and his team are interested in conducting more exposure experiments for microbes on NASA’s Lunar Gateway.
The Lunar Gateway will act as an outpost orbiting the moon that provides support for the sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface, as well as a staging point for deep space exploration, according to NASA. It’s a critical component of NASA’s Artemis Program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024.
“The origin of life on Earth is the biggest mystery of human beings,” Yamagashi said. “Scientists can have totally different points of view on the matter. Some think that life is very rare and happened only once in the Universe, while others think that life can happen on every suitable planet. If panspermia is possible, life must exist much more often than we previously thought.”
One new case of COVID-19 reported Sunday in Newfoundland and Labrador – Squamish Chief
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Public Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are reporting one new confirmed case of COVID-19.
The new case, announced Sunday, involves a man between 20-39 years of age in the Eastern Health region.
They say the case is travel-related.
The man was returning home to the province from Manitoba.
Officials say he has been self-isolating since arrival and following Public Health guidelines.
However, the Department of Health and Community Services is asking people who travelled on WestJet Flights 306 and 328 departing Winnipeg and Toronto for St. John’s on Monday, Sept. 21 to call the 811 non-urgent health line to arrange for COVID-19 testing.
They say the request is out of an abundance of caution.
The province has two active cases of COVID-19 and 268 people have recovered from the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2020.
Paradox-Free Time Travel Is Theoretically Possible, Researchers Say – WBFO
“The past is obdurate,” Stephen King wrote in his book about a man who goes back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination. “It doesn’t want to be changed.”
Turns out, King might have been onto something.
Countless science fiction tales have explored the paradox of what would happen if you do something in the past that endangers the future. Perhaps one of the most famous pop culture examples is Back to the Future, when Marty McFly went back in time and accidentally stopped his parents from meeting, putting his own existence in jeopardy.
But maybe McFly wasn’t in much danger after all. According a new paper from researchers at the University of Queensland, even if time travel were possible, the paradox couldn’t actually exist.
Researchers ran the numbers, and determined that even if you make a change in the past, the timeline would essentially self-correct, ensuring that whatever happened to send you back in time would still happen.
“Say you travelled in time, in an attempt to stop COVID-19’s patient zero from being exposed to the virus,” University of Queensland scientist Fabio Costa told the university’s news service.
“However if you stopped that individual from becoming infected — that would eliminate the motivation for you to go back and stop the pandemic in the first place,” said Costa, who co-authored the paper with honors undergraduate student Germain Tobar.
“This is a paradox — an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe.”
A variation is known as the “grandfather paradox” — in which a time traveler kills their own grandfather, in the process preventing the time traveler’s birth.
The logical paradox has given researchers a headache, in part because according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, “closed time-like curves” are possible, theoretically allowing an observer to travel back in time and interact with their past self — and potentially endangering their own existence.
But these researchers say that such a paradox wouldn’t necessarily exist, because events would adjust themselves.
Take the coronavirus patient zero example. “You might try and stop patient zero from becoming infected, but in doing so you would catch the virus and become patient zero, or someone else would,” Tobar told the university’s news service.
In other words, a time traveler could make changes — but the original outcome would still find a way to happen. Maybe not the same way it happened in the first timeline; but close enough so that the time traveler would still exist, and would still be motivated to go back in time.
“No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you,” Tobar said.
The paper, “Reversible dynamics with closed time-like curves and freedom of choice,” was published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Classical and Quantum Gravity. The findings seem consistent with another time travel study published this summer in the peer-reviewed journal Physical Review Letters. That study found that changes made in the past won’t drastically alter the future.
Best-selling science fiction author Blake Crouch, who has written extensively about time travel, said the new study seems to support what certain time travel tropes have posited all along.
“The universe is deterministic and attempts to alter Past Event X are destined to be the forces which bring Past Event X into being,” Crouch told NPR via email. “So the future can affect the past. Or maybe time is just an illusion. But I guess it’s cool that the math checks out.”
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