alexa Lichens, new and promising material from experiments in astrobiology

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Lichens, new and promising material from experiments in astrobiology

Many lichen species are regarded as extremophiles in terms of temperature, radiation and desiccation survival. Therefore, lichens have been previously proposed, together with unicellular algae and bacteria, as the living system most likely to resist the extreme conditions of outer space. This enables, following the “Panspermia” theory, speculation about the possibility of life transfer between Earth and other planets. Different experiments have been designed to establish the survival capability of these organisms exposed to space conditions. In particular, the damaging effect of solar UV was studied under various protecting conditions. Different lichen species were exposed to space in the BIOPAN-5 and BIOPAN-6 facilities of the European Space Agency located at the outer shell of the Russian Earth orbiting FOTON M2 satellite. Chlorophyll fluorescence and gas exchange systems were used for the measurement of photosynthetic parameters. All exposed lichens, independently of the filters used, showed after the flight nearly the same photosynthetic activity as measured before the flight. These findings suggest that lichens could stay alive in space even completely exposed to massive UV and cosmic radiation, which have been proved being lethal for bacteria and other microorganisms. Improvements and possible upgrading of the existing experiment designs are also explored in view of a future and more intensive use of lichens in Astrobiology.

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