OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Corvallis SciencePub: Life on other planets?

02/08/2011

At Corvallis Science Pub on Feb. 14, two Oregon State University scientists will take the audience on a trail from extreme life in the deep Earth, to evidence for life on Mars – and the potential for communicating with intelligent life in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Attendees will get to conduct an exercise to estimate the probability that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the galaxy.

We don’t need to leave the Earth to find organisms that could survive on other worlds, according to Martin Fisk and Rick Colwell. Microbes and microbial fossils found in deeply buried volcanic rocks and in extreme environments on our own planet indicate that life could survive on Mars, on our solar system’s outer moons and around distant stars.

A marine geologist, Fisk reported in 2006 that tunnels in a Martian meteorite were consistent with structures created in rocks on Earth by bacteria. However, Fisk and his colleagues were unable to recover any DNA from the meteorite as they can do with similar rocks on Earth. It’s possible, he said, that the tunnels were created by a non-biological process or that the DNA had decomposed.

Colwell is a geomicrobiologist who specializes in the study of microbial diversity and processes in a range of subsurface environments including ocean sediments, sub-permafrost and continental flood basalts. He analyzes microbial communities to understand what constrains their survival, how they function, and how they influence the Earth’s carbon cycle and groundwater cleanup.

Both Fisk and Colwell are faculty members in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Corvallis Science Pub begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 2nd St. in downtown Corvallis. It is free and open to the public. Sponsors include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.