Chinese scientists identify super moss able to 'survive' on Mars

BEIJING — Scientists have identified a super resilient desert moss species in China’s western region of Xinjiang that could help sustain possible colonies on Mars, a study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed.

When subjected to conditions that simulate the environment on Mars, the moss — Syntrichia Caninervis — was found to be able to withstand extreme dryness, ultra-low temperatures and radiation, the academy said in a research paper published in The Innovation journal.

The moss could serve as the “basis for the establishment and maintenance of the ecosystem by contributing to oxygen production, carbon sequestration, and soil fertility”, the researchers said in the study, published on July 1.

“(It) can help drive the atmospheric, geological and ecological processes required for other higher plants and animals while facilitating the creation of new habitable environments conducive to long-term human settlement,” the paper added.

In the research, scientists found that even after losing more than 98 per cent of its cellular water content, the moss was able to recover photosynthetic and physiological activities within seconds after it was hydrated.

When intact, the plant can also tolerate ultra-low temperatures and regenerate after being stored in a freezer at minus 80 deg C for five years or in liquid nitrogen for a month.

The moss is found in Xinjiang, Tibet, a Californian desert, the Middle East and polar regions.

The race to place a larger footprint in space has spurred China and the United States to launch exploration plans in recent years.

Chinese missions include launching near-Earth asteroid probe Tianwen-2 in 2025, and Tianwen-3 around 2030 to bring samples back from Mars. China retrieved samples from the far side of the moon in June.

In the US, Nasa has formulated a 20-year plan for Mars, seeking answers to whether the red planet is inhabitable for humans.

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