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Microbes To Terraform Mars?

Gary King, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University who studies life that survives in extreme environments, suggests that energy, nutrients and water present on Mars could be used in a terraforming project, given the addition of extremophile Earth microorganisms.

According to King, seeding hand-picked, specially cultivated microbial communities in Mars' harsh environment is not only possible, but could serve as our very first step in terraforming the planet: transforming our solar neighbor from a desolate hellscape to a thriving environment that could support increasing complex forms of life, and possibly one day even humans.

King is clear about the difficulties and caveats such a theoretical project would entail. But that doesn't stop him from believing it's possible.

"This could just be my naiveté, I don't think that it's entirely farfetched to imagine us developing something like a microbial farm on Mars," he says, "and not in something like 200 years, but far sooner."

The concept starts small. Microorganisms that munch on Mars's natural resources could not only transform the red planet's soil, but could pump out gasses to bolster the Mars's embarrassingly thin atmosphere to boot. This is not simply theoretical. Such a process has already been proven already in Earth's history, King says. We owe all our planet's atmospheric oxygen to microbe photosynthesis.

The word terraforming was coined by Jack Williamson in a 1941 story Collision Orbit:

He had been the original claimant of Obania, forty years ago; and Drake was the young spatial engineer he employed to terraform the little rock, only two kilometers through...
(Read more about terraforming)

The concept was used earlier by Olaf Stapledon in his 1930 novel Last and First Men:

On the other hand, Mars could not be made habitable without first being stocked with air and water; and such an undertaking seemed impossible. There was nothing for it, then, but to attack Venus...

It was necessary, then, to equip Venus with an appropriate vegetation, which in the course of ages should render the planet's atmosphere hospitable to man.
(Read more about planets made habitable)

However, if you really wanted to look further (and who wouldn't?), you find references to the idea in HG Wells' 1898 novel The War of the Worlds:

Apparently the vegetable kingdom in Mars, instead of having green for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red tint. At any rate, the seeds which the Martians (intentionally or accidentally) brought with them gave rise in all cases to red-coloured growths. Only that known popularly as the red weed, however, gained any footing in competition with terrestrial forms. The red creeper was quite a transitory growth, and few people have seen it growing. For a time, however, the red weed grew with astonishing vigour and luxuriance. It spread up the sides of the pit by the third or fourth day of our imprisonment, and its cactus-like branches formed a carmine fringe to the edges of our triangular window. And afterwards I found it broadcast throughout the country, and especially wherever there was a stream of water.
(Read more about red weed (terraforming plant))

And yes, I anticipate your quibble with the use of terraforming to describe making the Earth habitable for Martians; consider David Gerrold's use of the word "Chtorraform" to describe remaking Earth for Chorrans.

Read more in Popular Mechanics.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/7/2015)

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