Survival and germinability of Bacillus subtilis spores exposed to simulated Mars solar radiation: implications for life detection and planetary protection

Astrobiology. 2006 Aug;6(4):592-605. doi: 10.1089/ast.2006.6.592.


Bacterial spores have been considered as microbial life that could survive interplanetary transport by natural impact processes or human spaceflight activity. Deposition of terrestrial microbes or their biosignature molecules onto the surface of Mars could negatively impact life detection experiments and planetary protection measures. Simulated Mars solar radiation, particularly the ultraviolet component, has been shown to reduce spore viability, but its effect on spore germination and resulting production of biosignature molecules has not been explored. We examined the survival and germinability of Bacillus subtilis spores exposed to simulated martian conditions that include solar radiation. Spores of B. subtilis that contain luciferase resulting from expression of an sspB-luxAB gene fusion were deposited on aluminum coupons to simulate deposition on spacecraft surfaces and exposed to simulated Mars atmosphere and solar radiation. The equivalent of 42 min of simulated Mars solar radiation exposure reduced spore viability by nearly 3 logs, while germination-induced bioluminescence, a measure of germination metabolism, was reduced by less than 1 log. The data indicate that spores can retain the potential to initiate germination-associated metabolic processes and produce biological signature molecules after being rendered nonviable by exposure to Mars solar radiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology
  • Bacillus subtilis / radiation effects*
  • Exobiology
  • Extraterrestrial Environment
  • Mars*
  • Space Flight
  • Space Simulation
  • Spacecraft
  • Spores, Bacterial / physiology
  • Spores, Bacterial / radiation effects
  • Surface Properties
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Aluminum