Do space microbes like radioactive waste?

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Microbes living under the seabed largely feed on the products of radioactive decay, aided by seabed sediments, a new study finds. This discovery radically changes the way we look at the processes of life in one of the largest ecosystems on our planet. It could also change our view of how life may have evolved on Mars or other alien worlds.

Generally, it was believed that organic matter was the primary source of energy for microbes living far under the oceans. However, most organic material is consumed on the seabed, or just below. The researchers were able to determine that radiolysis (the breakdown of water by radiation) is the main source of energy for these aquatic beings in sediments over a few million years old.

“This work offers an important new perspective on the availability of resources that underground microbial communities can use to sustain themselves. It is fundamental to understand life on Earth and to limit the habitability of other planetary bodies, such as Mars ”, explains Justine Sauvage, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Gothenburg who conducted the research as a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island (URI).

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Welcome to the new era, to the new era
Whoa-oh-oh-oh, oh … Whoa-oh-oh-oh
I’m radioactive, radioactive
“- Radioactive, Imagine Dragons

Water molecules, as most people know, are made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Nature, like college science students, can break the water molecules in their components. They can also be broken down by natural radiation, in a process called radiolysis, providing a source of energy for microbes.

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