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Spaceward Bound Expedition: Mojave
Q & A

A Question to Penny Boston from Bill Taylor that may be of interest to the whole group:

Question: Do some of the life-forms that you have found use ROCK as FOOD?  I.e. they get their ENERGY from the chemical bonds they they break apart in rocks.  That is AMAZING -- I just want to make sure I get this right.  Do you know which chem bonds?

Answer: Yes, we have a lot of organisms that get their energy from oxidizing various inorganic compounds.  These are called chemolithoautotrophs, which essentially just means rock eaters.  Hahaha, but it has to be more scientifically stuffy of course.  Types or compounds that they use can be mineral, so for example taking a more reduced for of a Mn or Fe compound, and oxidizing it.  Some use gaseous compounds, so there are many organisms that oxidize H2S.  That latter reaction produces sulfuric acid and ultimately some transform that to sulfate or thiosulfate or elemental sulfur.  There are even WEIRDER ones that we and other investigators are working on that work on rare earth elements, gold, and uranium amongst others.

Question: Can I use physics physics to explain the extreme environments of these life forms?

Answer: Both Chris McKay and I take a pretty "physicsy" approach to our astrobiology work.  Chris specializes in the physics of these environments, and my work involves the intersection between life and the geology and atmosphere, which is mainly chemistry and physics aspects of the system. 


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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: April 2007
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