With all the noise regarding colonising Mars one might wonder who would be Mars’ first residents. Maybe some of Earth’s most intelligent people with several degrees and training in astrophysics. Or it could even be a collection of microbes.
A paper in the journal FEMS Microbiology Ecology suggests that the primary colonists of Mars should be microorganisms such as viruses, fungi that support several life processes on Earth.
Jose Lopez, professor at Nova Southeastern University and the paper’s co-author suggested an approach to the colonisation of the planet starting with the study of microbes that might support life in foreign environments. Since life needs the support of essential microorganisms, surviving on barren planets ask for taking the essential microbes to that planet.
The ideas in the paper violate the strict no-contamination guidelines from NASA and other space programs which have been followed for decades. Every equipment carried to space are sterilised to make them free from germs since no-risk is taken to damage the environments previously untouched. However according to Lopez and his colleagues, helpful microbes might initiate the process of transforming Mars into a planet sustaining life. Exploring new planets without the possibility of delivering microbes is hypothetical.
The paper mentions that introduction of microbes should be considered as inevitable and not an accidental event. It also suggests that the most suitable microbes for this process would be the extremophiles that can survive and tolerate even the most cruel environments such as the tardigrades. But there is a lot of work to follow before permitting the delivery of microorganisms to Mars. They might be exposed to high radiation whereas the humans would evolve at high rates to live in that environment.
The paper mainly argues for change in perspective towards microbes, considering them useful and not dangerous. Scientists are not yet sure of the specific microbes that would be helpful in this effort.
Lopez said that the whole thing needs time for preparation, so they are not asking to rush in any order but to push it through only after proper research conducted on Earth. The paper also argues for a paradigm shift in the space policies essential for colonising space.
The decision to deliver microbes also depends on the final goal. Another fact for consideration is that, for our own planet neither humans nor plants were the first residents, they were the single-celled microorganisms.