The oxygen that human beings breathe on Earth is generated by plants through the process of photosynthesis which involves converting light and creating energy. The Photosynthesis process allows plants to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Scientists have discovered a type of cyanobacteria called Chroococcidiopsis which carries out a unique photosynthesis process that requires less light to create oxygen. While other organisms require high-energy wavelengths, cyanobacteria absorb light at the far-red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. This means that the newly discovered photosynthesis process could be efficiently used to populate a planet like Mars that receives much less sunlight and light energy than Earth.
The research has been conducted by scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) in collaboration with researchers from France, Italy and aided London’s Imperial College.
According to the researchers, Cyanobacteria is among the world’s largest groups of bacteria. It is believed to be present on Earth for over 2.5 billion years now. It has survived in extremely low-light areas such as Antarctica, the Mojave Desert, and even outside the International Space Station.
“This might sound like science fiction, but space agencies and private companies around the world are actively trying to turn this aspiration into reality in the not-too-distant future,” said Professor Krausz from ANU.
He explained that low-light adapted organisms like cyanobacteria can be used to conduct photosynthesis to create air for humans to breathe on Mars. Such organisms can easily grow under rocks and potentially survive the harsh conditions on the Red Planet, which has plenty of carbon dioxide and low light levels.
The study co-author Jennifer Morton from the ANU Research School of Chemistry said that their research has found that the ‘red’ chlorophylls are critical components in photosynthesis in low-light conditions.
“Searching for the signature fluorescence from these pigments could help identify extraterrestrial life,” Morton said.
The research results have been published in the journal Science.