baudrunner's space: Are there methanogens inside Mars?
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Are there methanogens inside Mars?

In some of my previous posts I suggested that there is a distinct possibility that there may be oil in Mars. While the jury is still out for most readers on the true natural origins of oil in our own planet's crust there is supporting evidence that oil is continuing to be produced through the digestion of portions of the ferrite substrata by a kind of anaerobic bacterial fungal mold which produces oil and methane as the waste by-product in a process that has been ongoing in this planet's geological history since before the atmosphere contained oxygen. I can now ascribe a name to that peculiar form of life. They are methanogens, previously known as the archaea and which were previously categorised with the prokaryotes which include bacteria. Now they have been given their very own classification.

This is not news, actually. It is just that this month marks the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery that led to the reclassification of these 'non-bacteria' by microbiologist Carl Woese at the University of Illinois based on his analysis of ribosomal RNA. He discovered that the evolution of other prokaryotes and eukaryotes shared common features not found in the methanogens, which in parts were very different, apparently evolving according to a differing subset of rules. This lends some credence to the idea that they arrived here from elsewhere, and that they do not have their origins on this Earth.

As space-based early life forms they probably arrived here after precipitating from the trails left behind by comets, or as aggregate dust clouds wherein they were confined and which drifted through this solar system depositing the methanogens on all the worlds and their moons, wherein they might have continued evolving and producing oil and methane gases in those worlds which have a high ferrite concentration in their crust.

The idea seems not so far-fetched. It turns out that the methanoarchaea are neither bacterial nor fungal, but in a class all by themselves. They are certainly prehistoric, predating oxygen-dependent life.

Unusual methanogens have been isolated from oil-producing wells. In an article found on The Journal of the Society for General Microbiology web site the authors state that "Methanocalculus halotolerans might be indigenous to the oilfield ecosystem". Other studies show that "a mixed group of microorganisms is more effective at biodegrading organic compounds than any of the component strains acting alone". Thus far it has been established with some certainty that a "microbial consortium" converts oil, oil bearing shale and coal into methane. The discovery of life in deep oil wells is fairly recent. It was previously thought that life could not exist in that environment. It was also discovered that introducing oxygen into that environment suppresses methane production.

It may be that the term "fossil fuels" will shortly become obsolete.

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