ISU scientist works to find life on Mars

Tomy Hillers

In recent months, an ISU professor has worked closely with scientists around the United States to solidify a theory of primitive life buried in ancient Martian soils. Dennis Bazylinski, associate professor of microbiology, said he recently has been involved with a report involving the potential for microorganisms to have once survived on the surface of Mars. “In 1984, a meteorite the size of a women’s basketball was discovered on the Antarctic continent,” he said. “As the stone was broken into smaller specimens, it was realized that there were small magnetic crystals within the composition of the meteor.” Bazylinski said the small magnetic crystals were only 20-100 nanometers dimensionally. “The small magnetic crystals are formed of iron and oxygen better known as magnetite,” he said. “Magnetite crystals larger than the ones in the specimen have been synthesized for use in video and audio tapes for years.” There is no human or geological way to make magnets this small, Bazylinski said.”There is one species here on earth that can form magnetite crystals this small,” he said. “It is a protozoan found in many Iowa farm ponds.” The microorganism produces magnates identical to those found in the meteor specimen, Bazylinski said. “The microorganisms form the magnetite in a chain with all of the crystals oriented in the same direction,” he said. “This turns the protozoan into a tiny compass needle, which helps them stay in the anaerobic environment near the bottom of the pond.” Bazylinski said NASA scientist Kathie Thomas-Keprta was responsible for the dissection of the meteor and the intensive research on the magnetite crystals.Thomas-Keprta, who has been working at NASA since 1993, was involved with the original announcement of the meteor. She said there is no evidence that the magnates can be formed by inorganic processes, so modern science points to a biological signature upon the crystals. “Recent research by Irme Friedman, University of Florida, Tallahassee, suggests that some of the magnetite specimens are in chains,” Thomas-Keprta said. “My belief is these magnates have been formed by processes similar to the formation of MV-1 [a farm pond microorganism magnetite].”This finding may take earthlings one step closer to discovering whether life exists on Mars. “Myself and many of my colleagues within the scientific community feel this discovery may be one of the most important observations in support of extraterrestrial life on Mars,” she said.