Meet Conan the Bacterium

Humble microbe could become "The Accidental (Space) Tourist"

Dec. 14, 1999: Like a muscle-bound movie hero, it withstands attacks from acid baths, high and low temperatures, and even radiation doses. Then, in a science fiction sequel, it dispenses lifesaving medications and reshapes a planet for new settlers.

And in true Hollywood fashion, the star of this epic had humble beginnings, living in cow patties and elephant dung, and coming to the attention of scientists when it refused to die in food sterilization tests. You need a microscope to see this miniature future hero listed as Deinococcus radiodurans and known to its fans as Conan the Bacterium.

"Deinococcus radiodurans beats most of the constraints for survival of life on Mars - radiation, cold, vacuum, dormancy, oxidative damage, and other factors," said Dr. Robert Richmond, a research biologist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. With other scientists, he is investigating the possible utility of extremophiles to serve human exploration to inhospitable locations.

Humble origins

Richmond and his colleagues see D. radiodurans as playing the part of possible Martian microbes in simulations to help direct the search for life on Mars. Next, it could be genetically altered to produce medicines for astronauts in the short-term, rather than hauling an entire pharmacy along on the trip, and restructuring Mars for human habitation in the long-term.

With R. Sridhar of Howard University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and Dr. Michael J. Daly of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services in Bethesda, Md., Richmond presented a paper at the 1999 SPIE Conference in Denver on the "Physico-Chemical Survival Pattern for the Radiophile D. radiodurans: A Polyextremophile Model for Life on Mars."

Daly and his co-workers, in a recent article in Science magazine, announced that they

Contact: John Horack
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory

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