The BOSS and BIOMEX space experiments on the EXPOSE-R2 mission: Endurance of the desert cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis under simulated space vacuum, Martian atmosphere, UVC radiation and temperature extremes.
The proposed space experiments BOSS (Biofilm Organisms Surfing Space) and BIOMEX (BIOlogy and Mars experiment) will take place on the space exposure facility EXPOSE-R2 on the International Space Station (ISS), which is set to be launched in 2014. In BOSS the hypothesis to be tested is that microorganisms grown as biofilms, hence embedded in self-produced extracellular polymeric substances, are more tolerant to space and Martian conditions compared to their planktonic counterparts. Various microbial biofilms have been developed including those obtained from the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis isolated from hot and cold deserts. The prime objective of BIOMEX is to evaluate to what extent biomolecules are resistant to, and can maintain their stability under, space and Mars-like conditions; therefore a variety of pigments and cell components are under investigation to establish a biosignature data base; e.g. a Raman spectral library to be used for extraterrestrial life biosignatures. The secondary objective of BIOMEX is to investigate the endurance of extremophiles, focusing on their interactions with Lunar and Martian mineral analogues. Ground-based studies are currently being carried out in the framework of EVTs (Experiment Verification Tests) by exposing selected organisms to space and Martian simulations. Results on a desert strain of Chroococcidiopsis obtained from the first set of EVT, e.g. space vacuum, Mars atmosphere, UVC radiation, temperature cycles and extremes, suggested that dried biofilms exhibited an enhanced survival compared to planktonic lifestyle. Moreover the protection provided by a Martian mineral analogue (S-MRS) to the sub-cellular integrities of Chroococcidiopsis against UVC radiation supports the endurance of this cyanobacterium under extraterrestrial conditions and its relevance in the development of life detection strategies.