Nostoc Commune Photo taken by YAMAMAYA

Cyanobacteria are a group of photosynthetic bacteria, who use the energy of light to synthesize organic compounds from carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen this way.

Nostoc Commune is a species of cyanobacterium, common names include star jelly and fah-tsai. Its a colonial species, forming a gelatinous mass with other colonies growing nearby and its cells have no nucleus nor internal membrane system and between the ordinary cells nitrogen-fixing cells occur.

Nostoc Commune is found in many countries around the world and is able to survive in extreme conditions in polar regions and arid areas. The cells also contain pigments that absorb ultraviolet radiation, which enables it to survive in places where high levels of radiation occur.

Under adverse conditions, Nostoc Commune can remain dormant for an extended period of time and revive when conditions improve and water becomes available. The dessicated colony is resistant to heat and to repeated patterns of freezing and thawing and it has been found that extracellular polysaccharides are vital to its stress tolerance and ability to recover.

In 2012, researchers found some lichens and cyanobacteria tough enough to survive conditions on the surface of Mars.

Like all microorganisms, Nostoc Commune needs the trace elements like K (potassium), Mg (magnesium), S (sulfur), P (phosphorus) and Fe (iron) to live so the rock or soil where it resides on will have to support it with those elements, although it can fix essential nitrogen from the atmosphere. Nitrogen was also found as a part of nitrate in sediments on Mars.

But the porosity of the surface of rocks may also play an important role in surviving the harsh conditions on Mars. Nostoc Commune forms a gelatinous mass or biofilm that could cover pores in rocks that may hold the produced oxygen and create a microhabitat this way. Also, the biofilm covering the surface of the rock will increase the possibility to collect deposited water vapour from the atmosphere.

Porous rock

Persevernce image

Screenshots from images captured by the Perseverance rover on Sol 240 with the Mastcam-Z camera, examples of porous rock.
(Click on the images, and then again, for a closer view)

My question now is, what kind of rocks or soils on Mars will be best suited for Nostoc Commune to survive ?

  • $\begingroup$ This question might get a better answer on SE Biology. People there might have a better idea of the best habitats (soil & rock types) for Nostoc Commune - i.e. Fe rich/poor, salty, alkali, acidic, preferred metals within rocks, toxic metals with rocks. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred My question is not about the best habitats for Nostoc Commune, it's about what the best available rocks and soils on Mars are to help Nostoc Commune surviving there. But thanks to your comment i've done some useful editing. $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ Even if a kind of rock is found that will give thes bacteria a good chance to survive they will be inactive without liquid water. But the vapor pressure of liquid water will be higher than the atmospheric pressure. Therefore all liquid water will vanish as vapor. Porosity of rocks will only slow down vaporization a little bit. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe My idea is that the gelatinous mass of the colony will cover the rock and thus can, at least partially, prevent the water to vanish. Also, water could be stored within the gelatinous mass. $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Because of the amount of pervasive perchlorates within Martian regolith the strain of cyanobacteria would need to be carefully chosen. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 9:48

1 Answer 1


It cannot naturally survive on Mars

Just as humans need plants in order to live, plants need a host of other organisms and nutrients in order to live.

Your plant requires nitrates like most plants or in the very least gaseous nitrogen. Mars's atmosphere is less than 2% nitrogen (whereas ours is over 70%) and the soil contains no compounds that I can find in the Martian soil. For that reason alone it will die.

Remember Mars's atmosphere is thinner and colder than ours. Sure this plant can survive some harsh conditions but we are talking daily warming followed by severe freezing combined with nearly desert dry conditions. While this plant may be able to survive exposure to these conditions it does not claim it can flourish in them, if it could the sahara would be covered with them.

The pressure is another factor. Plants work by exchanging gases and water is used inside them to distribute nutrients. At that temperature and pressure water vaporizes rather quickly.

From Google:

-the air pressure on Mt Everest (where plants don't grow) is 33.7 kilo pascals

-the air pressure on Mars is 600 pascals

In short this plant won't make it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Plants dont grow at lower altitudes than Mt Everest too, but the reason is not the low pressure but the cover of ice and snow all the year round. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 22:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The ice and snow is a reason sure, so is the temperature. But to say pressure is not a reason is wrong. Thankfully the biology SE has a post biology.stackexchange.com/questions/1242/… $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 22:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @anon Vascular plants would die, but lichens didn't in that post. Also i changed a sentence in my question that makes it clear that researchers found that also cyanobacteria survived conditions like that on Mars. $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 9:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well that is an interesting experiment, but that doesnt necessarily prove that this species or the unknown species in that experiment will survive on Mars. There is a world of differences between what's conducted in lab vs real world. One thing is that the experiment didnt account for Martian dust storms. For a plant getting buried in sand is a death sentence, not to mention that picture looked wetter than I can believe. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 11:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Equatorial Mars is like a cross between the Sahara, Mt Everest, and the Arctic all rolled into one. For me to believe that some species from our world could thrive there would mean that they could flourish here. While there is some life in these places.... they arent flourishing. Like these places should be covered in something if they could thrive on Mars. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 11:45

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