Experimental Evolution to Explore Adaptation of Terrestrial Bacteria to the Martian Environment

  • Wayne L. NicholsonEmail author
Part of the Grand Challenges in Biology and Biotechnology book series (GCBB)


Since their origin some 3.8 billion years ago, microorganisms have diversified such that they now inhabit practically every conceivable niche on planet Earth. Many of these earthly niches are at physical and/or chemical conditions considered to be at the extreme margins of habitability. But what are the true extremes at which life can exist? Recent robotic explorations of our solar system have led to the discovery of potentially habitable environments on other celestial bodies such as the planet Mars or in subsurface oceans under the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In order to investigate whether life could exist in such extraterrestrial environments, laboratory evolution experiments have been undertaken to probe the physical limits at which life can be forced to adapt. Results from these experiments are informing us about the molecular mechanisms microbes utilize to perform critical life functions at environmental extremes both on and off Earth.



The author thanks Andrew Schuerger and Patricia Fajardo-Cavazos for helpful discussions and Hoang Nguyen for communication of data before publication. This work has been supported over the years by grants from the NASA Exobiology (NNA04CI35A, NNX08AO15G) and Planetary Protection (NNA05CS68G, NNA06CB58G) programs.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Microbiology and Cell ScienceUniversity of FloridaMerritt IslandUSA

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