Moldy Mars – Mushrooms From Space?

Well that’s unexpected…

MARS’ MAGIC MUSHROOMS Life on Mars shock claim as ‘growing FUNGI’ spotted in Mars Curiosity Rover snaps
A group of scientists claim to have found ‘proof’ of mushrooms growing on the surface of the supposedly barren planet

By Jenny Awford
26th March 2019, 3:15 am Updated: 26th March 2019, 9:07 am

A GROUP of scientists claim to have found ‘proof’ of mushrooms growing on the surface of the supposedly barren planet

In the controversial study, the alien life-hunters say they have seen what appeared to be algae, lichens and ‘Martian mushrooms’ in images taken by NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity.

To me, the images look like some muck frothing up as a liquid vaporizes inside of it making a puff ball… but who knows.

NASA has not confirmed or denied that the conclusions drawn by the Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science have any scientific merit.

Many scientists believe that Mars is currently the only planet in the Solar System which has a strong possibility of hosting life.

But the consensus in the scientific community is that if there is life on Mars, it’s probably below the surface.

The new study claims that 15 fungi specimens were photographed by NASA growing out of the ground on the red planet in just three days.

I’ve bolded some bits…

Evidence of Life on Mars?
Evidence of Life on Mars?
Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews, 1, 40–81, 2019

Evidence of Life on Mars?
Rhawn Gabriel Joseph1, Regina S. Dass2, V. Rizzo3,
N. Cantasano4, G. Bianciardi5


Evidence is reviewed which supports the hypothesis that prokaryotes and eukaryotes may have colonized Mars. One source of Martian life, is Earth. A variety of species remain viable after long term exposure to the radiation intense environment of space, and may survive ejection from Earth following meteor strikes, ejection from the stratosphere and mesosphere via solar winds, and sterilization of Mars-bound spacecraft; whereas simulations studies have shown that prokaryotes, fungi and lichens survive in simulated Martian environments–findings which support the hypothesis life may have been repeatedly transferred from Earth to Mars. Four independent investigators have reported what appears to be fungi and lichens on the Martian surface, whereas a fifth investigator reported what may be cyanobacteria. In another study, a statistically significant majority of 70 experts, after examining Martian specimens photographed by NASA, identified and agreed fungi, basidiomycota (“puffballs”), and lichens may have colonized Mars. Fifteen specimens resembling and identified as “puffballs” were photographed emerging from the ground over a three day period. It is possible these latter specimens are hematite and what appears to be “growth” is due to a strong wind which uncovered these specimens–an explanation which cannot account for before and after photos of what appears to be masses of fungi growing atop and within the Mars rovers. Terrestrial hematite is in part fashioned and cemented together by prokaryotes and fungi, and thus Martian hematite may also be evidence of biology. Three independent research teams have identified sediments on Mars resembling stromatolites and outcroppings having micro meso and macro characteristics typical of terrestrial microbialites constructed by cyanobacteria. Quantitative morphological analysis determined these latter specimens are statistically and physically similar to terrestrial stromatolites. Reports of water, biological residue discovered in Martian meteor ALH84001, the seasonal waning and waxing of atmospheric and ground level Martian methane which on Earth is 90% due to biology and plant growth and decay, and results from the 1976 Mars Viking Labeled Release Experiments indicating biological activity, also support the hypothesis that Mars was, and is, a living planet. Nevertheless, much of the evidence remains circumstantial and unverified, and the possibility of life on Mars remains an open question.

Which also raises the question of who / what “contaminated” the clean room?

NASA fungus problem puts theory of ‘Martian mushrooms’ on toast
Fungus found in the lab makes amino acids we think are alien

By Richard Speed 26 Mar 2018 at 04:02

Festering fungus has become a problem way down in the bowels of NASA, and could lead to false identification of extraterrestrial material.

Research (PDF) presented at the 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference revealed that, in one clean room at least, NASA has a bit of an issue with earthly fungi.

Scientists at the NASA Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation office, which holds samples from the moon, meteorites, and pretty much anything that has come from space, took a closer look at one of their labs as part of a curation initiative.

What they found wasn’t too pretty. The agency’s meteorite receiving lab, for example, may conform to ISO class 6 cleanliness standards, but swabs taken from the floor, a table, the inside of a laminar flow bench used to process meteorites and a nitrogen filter all produced fungal growths.

And not just any funguses, but some species capable of producing amino acids that are usually considered to be extra-terrestrial when found in meteorites.

The team were able to cultivate healthy fungal colonies from environments that had been isolated for as long as 30 years, with the fungal counts in the samples being far higher than those of bacteria and accounting for between 83 – 97% of a Colony Forming Unit (CFU).

So is that “Earthly Fungus” that got into a Class 6 clean room, or is it something that arrived on the space rocks and found the room nicer than the vacuum of space?

That it makes “odd” amino acids is, er, “odd”….

NASA astrobiologist Daniel Glavin, author of a paper concerning amino acids in meteorites told Science magazine that the findings had caused him to rethink his research, with the acids possibly having a more earthly origin.

Armed with this new knowledge, and with missions such as OSIRIS-REx bringing bits of the asteroid Bennu back to Earth in 2023, boffins plan to up their microbial game to make sure fungus from Earth does not get confused with mushrooms from Mars. ®

OK, so he’s going to have a rethink… One hopes that includes looking at these particular mushrooms / fungi and seeing if they actually exist anywhere on Earth… If not, they need to get a bit closer look at that rock collection…

BUT, the big question: Are they any good in an omelette or sauteed with onions in butter next to a big steak? Will Martian Cuisine embrace the Mushroom Burger?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in cooking, Plants - Seeds - Gardening, Science Bits and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Moldy Mars – Mushrooms From Space?

  1. Larry Ledwick says:

    Sounds like the need to conduct some follow up stardust missions with alien life capture as the primary objective.

  2. H.R. says:

    Were the Mars rovers and the transport bay completely sterilized before it was sent to Mars?

    If so, how can NASA be really, really sure given the bio-contaminants they found in their squeaky-clean meteorite receiving room?

    One door opens and another one slams shut on your thumb.

  3. Larry Ledwick says:

    They “try” to sterilize every extraterrestrial probe for just that reason but hard to tell give how tough some small organisms are.

  4. Bill in Oz says:

    Happy April fool’s day folks !

  5. Larry Ledwick says:

    Well it will be in 4 minutes in Europe, still 3/31/19 here in the US. ;)

  6. ossqss says:

    LOL, what was that prime directive in Star Trek?

    So we literally spawn life on another planet? Chances are that ain’t the first time.

    Interesting enough I was reading about some discoveries about this Lichen stuff a month or so ago. Can’t find the original, but here ya go.

  7. Graeme No.3 says:

    Is there a possibility that various Democrats are really alien fungi or infected by such?

  8. Larry Ledwick says:

    Hmmm interesting thought – perhaps we should conduct an experiment and fling them into deep space and see if they thrive when they return.

  9. Chris in Calgary says:

    It’s a no-brainer that microscopic life forms from Earth have landed on Mars. The occasional meteorite strike ensures that. (I’ve seen studies that say that rocks from Earth can get as far as 20 light years away and life might potentially remain viable at that distance.)

    The only question is, can life survive on Mars long enough to adapt to the near-airless frozen desert conditions? If it has, then it’s quite possible that life has adapted (say over 65 million years) and peppers the surface of Mars.

    That scenario is much more likely than the scenario of a few spores hitching a ride on the Mars lander and instantly beginning to grow on the surface.

    Also, this implies that Mars-adapted fungi are regularly returned to Earth by the same mechanism (asteroid or comet strikes throwing rocks into space and those rocks eventually land elsewhere).

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    The problem with declaring anything “sterilized” is that there are kinds of life that can put up with damn near anything short of incandescent….

    Take your garden variety botulism spores. Pressure cook at 240 F for an hour. That usually does it. Or your tardigrade: Dehydrate and expose to space for a few days? No problem.. just add water and “Presto!” life… Then there’s the stuff that lives in the hot acid water discharge of volcanoes and the whole colonies of stuff that live in mid ocean spreading trenches in water at about oven temperature and thousands of PSI.

    Ever try to kill mildew on an outdoor surface? I’ve had straight bleach fail.

    So sure, you can do all sorts of things that kill off the easy stuff. But kill everything? Um…

    Hard radiation, maybe… except some insects don’t seem to mind high doses….

    @Bill In Oz:

    Not here, for me, yet… Couple of more hours… This story is legit.

    @Graeme No.3:


    Or have been infected by a fungi that ate their brain…

    A parasitic fungus known to manipulate the brains of ants doesn’t make slavelike “zombies” out of any old host.

    Instead, the microorganism is somehow able to recognize the brains of different ant species, and releases its mind-controlling chemical cocktail only when in its preferred host, new research shows.

    We need to find out if it crossed the species barrier or finds socialist ant colony like behavior in Democrats to it’s liking…

    @Chris In Calgary:

    There’s also the scenario that says Mars had less fission material in it’s core and didn’t get the Big Wallop Earth did (to make the moon) so ran ahead of us as a nice warm wet world for, oh, 1/2 Billion years or so… THEN some stuff from Mars seeded life on Earth… We might be the Martian Contaminant… In theory, Mars was wet and nice when we were just re-condensing from the moon formation planet impact event…

  11. Bill in Oz says:

    IGlad to be told this is a real story not an April fools day joke.

    I am actually all in favour of spreading life about. The idea that we should try and prevent any life forms from ever getting to Mars and evolving there, seems a bit hubristic to me…

    Why ? Well as you outlined above, there are life forms which sem able to cope with anything that ‘should’ kill it.

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Bill in Oz:

    I think the idea is that eventually life is OK to “spread about” but just right now they’d rather not as they want to know if life evolved twice…. So first they want to find out “No Life – We are ALONE!” or “Life Twice! It is likely everywhere!” then it would be fine to plonk a load of germ bag mushroom sucking people on Mars and let them dump their crap in the dirt…

    You can bet that any find of any actual Martian Life will set back any proposed Mars Colony by a generation as folks demand to study it to death before “contamination”…. even if it IS life from contamination…

  13. Bill in Oz says:

    Where is John Cleese or the Goons, when we need them.

    Do you suppose any “scientist” wanting to study such life forms (whether Earth derived or alien ) should automatically be sent to Mars to conduct their ‘research’ in perpetuity, via a one way trip ?

  14. Graeme No.3 says:

    The Goons. “I am a Daisy, and there is a cow on the roof”.
    Or possibly “Neddy, what are you doing here? Why aren’t you in kindergarten?”
    “I’ve passed Father”.
    ” What? In only 13 years? It’s politics for you, my boy.”

  15. ossqss says:

    Do we really think humans could colonize Mars? We did not do so good emulating it last time it was tried. without cheating. There is no cheating on Mars :-)

  16. Bill in Oz says:

    @ossqss I’m sure that Mars would be even more difficult. But then I’m not interested in going there to do research. But there are foolhardy individuals who could be the pioneers..That’s how humans spread all across the planet after all.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    Biosphere was NOT an attempt to make a stand alone colony environment.
    Biosphere WAS a political statement about ecology wrapped up in the trappings of science.

    You can tell this from the very design of it. They set out to create small versions of major biomes (like The Sea and The Forest) and then stick a few people in the box too.

    Realize that one of THE biggest “failures” was when they had too much CO2 and not enough O2 – WHY? Because the “Idiots In Charge” didn’t like the way the forest looked so ordered a large load of forest litter (compostables ) be added DESPITE their technical expert telling them it would rot and absorb O2 / release too much CO2. Technology can’t fix stupid — but at the same time Stupid does not invalidate technology.

    Essentially it was a giant toy model of the Global Biosphere, done badly, with a few people sprinkled in.

    Now a Technology Based Colony would be far far different. For one thing you would have machinery making your 02 and scrubbing your CO2 and you would not bring an excess of ants with you… (Biosphere had an ant problem after some got in with a load of the forest stuff but nothing was around that ate ants…)

    FWIW, I’ve put a fair amount of “Think Time” into what it takes to make a colony structure and I did participate in a NASA study at isolated living in a box (for 105 days when Skylab was planning for 85 so pushing the envelope a little). So I do have a bit of clue what you need to live in a tin can on a planet…(a window and a video link home would both have made things better…)

    One of the things I periodically think about is just what plants are mostly edible and with least “waste” to recycle. (Carrot greens, for example, ARE edible, as are beet tops. So those crops have almost nothing to compost – of feed to bunnies ;-) while corn is mostly wasted for people food.) It is one of the motivations for my talking about “odd foods” like green bean leaves.

    Putting a technical based colony on Mars would not be all that hard. You have ready sources of CO2 and Water (thus air, water, and hydrogen for fuel uses) along with plenty of sunshine for plants. There is also a well mineralized soil available (so at most you need to ship up the starter batch of hydroponics trace minerals)

    What I’d do? Well, look at what Elon Musk is busy developing. Remember that his real goal of his companies is a Mars Colony. Take a nice sized boring machine to Mars and put it to work making a nice tunnel about 10 meters underground (like into a cliff side) and coat it with cement (preferably made with martian source binder but if necessary cement shipped from Earth and aggregate from Mars) and a sealing coating of a waterglass like material (or worst case, flame sealed with a hydrogen torch)

    Now you have a secure structure, air tight, protected from radiation and minor impacts along with “Mars weather”. Put a nice metal air lock in the end of it and set up your oxygen generator / pressurizing equipment. (I’d set up near the ice fields at the pole so there was a short run for any water / CO2 ice used).

    On the surface, lay out a solar panel for most of your power AND at a nice discrete distance in it’s own small tunnel, a SNAP generator sufficient for emergency power for a decade+.

    Now you have a choice of either an inflated pressurized greenhouse on the surface using sunshine (and a transparent pressure vessel) or fitting out a part of the protected tunnel with LED lighting and go full indoors growing. Personally, just for the better control of temperatures (especially at “night” in a dust storm) I’d use a full underground grow. But I could be convinced to do some of each. A controlled hydroponics system can produce an extraordinary amount of produce in a very small space. Once running, a “compost tea” would make up most of the nutrients and only adjusting it with Earth shipped chemicals would be needed.

    At that point you are basically down to furniture & fitting out residential quarters, replacement parts, the odd medicines and industrial appliances, and what to do with your time.

    THE big question is just what of value Mars Colony can provide to Earth in exchange for the very expensive shipments of “stuff” needed to expand it. Youtube videos of growing beets on Mars will only generate so much revenue…

    Do remember that every nuclear submarine is essentially an isolated colony that can live for months without physical resupply from the “outside world”. We know how to do this stuff.

    The biggest issues for keeping people and plants alive are water and power. Both available on Mars. The rest is just engineering… (With power and water you can make air… and food if dirt and a few chemicals are available / brought along).

    Part of the “silly” of Biosphere was ignoring the technical path and known available machinery, expecting to recreate an ecology in balance instead of accepting an out of balance “trade” with the rest of humanity & the world.

  18. Larry Ledwick says:

    Much of what you describe E.M. is already laid out in detail by Zubrin.

    Colonizing Mars will be much like a new colony springing up in unsettled land.

    First you clear some land and create a safe zone you can incrementally improve over time. All you need to do is (no small task) is get through the first year or two. Over that time you can successively solve most of or the problems you need to solve.

    A reasonably economical (short flight time) supply ship from earth can take care of the rest until you become self sufficient in 10 years or so. (think periodic supply ships from Britain to the colonies when they first formed to bring essential tools and other items that they could not at that time produce themselves.

    Most of the challenges of Mars involve fairly simple chemistry and engineering. For construction you would need some locally produced version of concrete or masonry along with a reinforcing method like basalt rebar and a source of silica to make a glass fiber or window panes.

    Then after a few years of scouting out resources began producing locally sourced metals. In the beginning might be easier to source metal from Iron Nickle asteroids than to conduct mining on the surface of the planet.

  19. E.M.Smith says:

    @Larry L:

    In the era of giant steel mills folks forget that the FIRST metals were made by a couple of guys and a camp fire. The local Smith. Coppersmith, tinsmith, etc. It isn’t hard to do at all as long as you have a source of a reducing agent (hydrogen) and some metal ore. Since just about every rock is a metal oxide, metal silicate, or similar metal FOO compound, it is mostly about finding the metal you like the most attached to something not too hard to remove.

    IF (and it’s a moderately large sized if) there was water activity and vulcanism in the past on Mars, the stratification of minerals into suited ores ought to have happened. (You find copper, for example, where volcanic driven water was percolated through the soils… concentrating and fractionating. If that did NOT happen, you need to recreate that process – things like float tanks and other big expensive bits). Similarly, lithium is found concentrated in evaporation pans. Any of those on Mars? Maybe…

    But what is clear is that metals can be separated even on a laboratory scale (how it was first done here, BTW) and that pretty much every rock has some kind of metal in it.

    That said, I’d expect most of the first local manufactures to be from plant products and ceramics. It’s nearly trivial to grow things like hemp and flax for fiber and with straw you can make “Strawboard” by just applying heat and pressure. Yeah, not the greatest for stuff like cabinets and tables, but a nice core for a stiffer outer layer.

    Ceramics can be used for a LOT of stuff needed in daily life. I would expect a significant “cottage industry” in making things like cups, saucers, boxes, clip boards, etc. etc. out of ceramics. It takes the heat of making metals, but not the chemical reduction / separation. Similarly glass working. There’s lots of glasses (chemically) so odds are good there’s some dirt up there suited to making some kind of glasses / glazes. If not, silicate glass is infinitely recyclable, so once you have shipped up the basic amount needed, “remanufacture” into other stuff is easy.

    Folks who depend on Amazon and Target for everything they use in life don’t “get it” the way folks who do “prepper” stuff do, about just how much you can DIY out of found materials + tech. To a very large extent the whole “Running OUT!!!! Panic” over resources depends on that level of stupid.

    Will you be able to make a digital camera from scratch on Mars? Not for generations. But can you make the basics like shelter, air, water, soil, food, ceramic goods, some metals, fibers & plastics? Oh Yeah. (Plastics are easily made from plants… you do NOT need oil for “petro” chemicals – it is a misnomer). So I’d also expect a lot of 3-D printed stuff made from some basic plant / bacteria origin plastic feedstock. We use oil because it is cheapest and widely available, not because it is best or necessary. Making rayon from cellulose would likely come early… so a lot of “cotton / rayon blend” clothing ;-)

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    A very nice series on polymer chemistry.

    FWIW, we made Nylon 6,6 in High School Chemistry, as he does here:

    Click to access chapter2-1.pdf

    4 slides from the end…

    I’ve also made a kind of cellulose polymer stuff starting from cotton and acetone (that can be grown using bacteria…). Done well you get rayon. Done the way I did it not so much ;-)

    The more industrial process:

    Or if folks prefer, make your plastic from potato starch:

  21. Larry Ledwick says:

    yes people forget how durable very simple structures can be. Here on earth we have rammed earth and adobe structures with are over 1000 years old, likewise stone construction much older. If the soils on Mars support some sort of simple adobe, rammed earth or mud concrete type structure, you could bring in a machine that 3D prints the structure from locally available adobe or mud, then once the basic shell is completed, bury it under a deep soil cover and then fashion an internal liner, that is air tight.

    There are several models for this already in use here on earth.

    One pours concrete over a sand dome then removes the sand after the concrete cures creating a large dome structure. Alternately you can also use an inflatable bladder for temporary support.

    3D printing is now being used also.

    Shotcrete lining of an inflatable dome is another option to create the base structural element.

  22. David A says:

    E.M. says, “The problem with declaring anything “sterilized” is that there are kinds of life that can put up with damn near anything short of incandescent…”

    True that, yet the flip side is that this makes finding life in what is traditionally called a hostile environment far more likely.
    “Where there is a will, there is a way”; and life appears to have a will.

  23. richard verney says:


    …so ran ahead of us as a nice warm wet world for, oh, 1/2 Billion years or so… THEN some stuff from Mars seeded life on Earth… We might be the Martian Contaminant… In theory, Mars was wet and nice when we were just re-condensing from the moon formation planet impact event…

    Herein lies a problem. In the distant past, it is claimed that the sun was weak, ie., the feint sun paradox.

    If the sun, during the early period of the solar system, was weak, how was Mars, at that time, warm?

    There is strong evidence of running water on Mars, but how old is that water (if indeed it existed)?

    What does this tell us about the feint sun paradox? Perhaps, we do not understand the early solar system (the sun, the position of the planets etc), and how it evolved.

  24. Larry Ledwick says:

    At that same time period Mars likely had deep atmosphere much like earth does today, plus internal volcanic heat for at least two factors that might counter the faint sun hypothesis.

  25. cdquarles says:

    Vulcanism is just one way. Anything that produces supercritical water would be sufficient, I think. That and most chemical processes follow a course that fits a logistic function. (Starts slow, builds to a peak, then slows down.)

  26. Chris in Calgary says:

    Re the faint Sun paradox (to add to what Larry said): (1) Planets were still cooling off from their formation; (2) Mars had an active interior core that provided vulcanism at that time; (3) Heat was transferred during the Late Heavy Bombardment when huge numbers of rocks, meteors, and asteroids pummelled the inner planets.

  27. p.g.sharrow says:

    “the feint sun paradox” is solved by the gas pressure laws. The early planets had more atmosphere higher surface pressures and therefor warmer surface temperatures…pg

  28. Pingback: Small Scale Aquaponics | Musings from the Chiefio

  29. cdquarles says:

    Hmm, what’s the Earth’s first plastic (chemically)? Starch or cellulose -> wood, depending.

  30. Larry Ledwick says:

    Amber, pine tar etc would also qualify. Lignin is the binder in wood which is a true natural bonded fiber composite.

  31. E.M.Smith says:

    Trees came after fungi so most likely chitin was first… also a polysaccharide. Though I think you can make a case that the protein cell membrane is a polymer too. In fact, life is sort of liquid chemistry in a polymer bag….

  32. Chris In Calgary says:

    > We might be the Martian Contaminant… In theory, Mars was wet and nice when we were just re-condensing from the moon formation planet impact event…

    Here’s a new theory about moon formation that has just been released. The upshot: the Moon formed inside the Earth.

    This actually makes sense when it’s explained. And it adds more fuel to the what-is-a-planet debate:

  33. jim2 says:

    Bakelite is among the first commercial polymers and it has a structure similar to lignin. It can be one huge molecule, huge in three dimensions, i.e. not linear as many polymers are.

  34. jim2 says:

    RNA may be the first biological polymer, ,but that’s anyone’s guess. Cell membranes are technically micelles. The micelle units can “flow” around in the membrane.

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