Survival Potential and Photosynthetic Activity of Lichens Under Mars-Like Conditions: A Laboratory Study
Lichens were repetitively exposed over 22 days to thermophysical Mars-like conditions at low-and mid-latitudes. The simulated parameters and the experimental setup are described. Natural samples of the lichen Xanthoria elegans were used to investigate their ability to survive the applied Mars-like conditions. The effects of atmospheric pressure, CO2 concentration, low temperature, water availability, and light on Mars were also studied. The results of these experiments indicate that- no significant decrease in the vitality of the lichen occurred after exposure to simulated martian conditions, which was demonstrated by confocal laser scanning microscopy analysis, and - a 95% CO2 atmosphere with 100% humidity, low pressure (partial pressure of CO2 was 600 Pa), and low temperature has a balancing effect on photosynthetic activity as a function of temperature. This means a starting low photosynthetic activity at high CO2 concentrations with Earth-like pressure has a reduction of 60%. But, if the simulated atmospheric pressure is reduced to Mars-like conditions with the maintenance of the same Mars-like 95% CO2 concentration, the photosynthetic activity increases and again reaches similar values as those exhibited under terrestrial atmospheric pressure and concentration. Based on these results, we presume that, in any region on Mars where liquid water might be available, even for short periods of time, a eukaryotic symbiotic organism would have the ability to survive, at least over weeks, and to temporarily photosynthesize.