Wanna grow corn on Mars?

After generations of humans whined and moaned about how awful viruses are, turns out those ‘wads of nucleic acid and protein’ might just save our sorry asses when we ruin Earth and are forced to establish colonies on other planets/moons.

A key to establishing permanent residence on another planet is our ability to terraform. A key to terraforming is getting plants to grow to transform the land and atmosphere.

Well, there is a grass that grows in Yellow Stone National Park (among other places). Nothing much special about it– just a regular switchgrass/panicgrass sorta thing, Dichanthelium lanuginosum.

Yeah, nothing much special about it.

Except the fact it can grow in soil around thermal vents.

Soil thats, oh, about 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 C).

Actually, its not the plant itself thats important. If you or I would order seeds of Dichanthelium lanuginosum and throw it in a pot– the grass wouldnt be happy outside of a ‘normal’ plant range (about 100 degrees F, 38 C).

The grass has to be infected with a fungus, Curvularia protuberata. Grasses that arent infected with this fungus cant survive in thermal vents.

Actually, again, its not the fungus thats important.

The fungus has to be infected with a dsRNA virus, ‘Curvularia thermal tolerance virus’.

If a virus infects a fungus, and that fungus infects a grass, the grass gains the ability to grow in an extreme environment.

A Virus in a Fungus in a Plant: Three-Way Symbiosis Required for Thermal Tolerance

In other scenarios, with other plants and other viruses– persistently infected plants have an advantage in colder temperatures, or drought.

*blink*

We have to study ‘good’ viruses. We have to learn how to harness their evolutionarily honed abilities. Yeah, viruses might end up killing everything on this planet– but they might end up saving our sorry asses, too.

Comments

  1. #1 clinteas
    October 14, 2008

    Am I getting old? dsRNA viruses? I dont seem to remember any of those except some obscure Orbivirus…(grabs microbio book off the shelf)

    Cool concept tho…

  2. #2 arby
    October 14, 2008

    Yeah, cool!

  3. #3 Jared
    October 14, 2008

    You’re probably not getting old, dsRNA viruses are a relatively recent discovery. They are actually pretty common, though. Rotavirus is another one that is a dsRNA virus. There are at least 5 dsRNA viruses I can think of, though…

  4. #4 Christie
    October 14, 2008

    Reminds me of the Descolada in Orson Scott Card’s “Speaker for the Dead.”

  5. #5 SN
    October 14, 2008

    Cool plant though it will be a bit tough to find one that can survive harsh freezing conditions and a xeric habitat. Also sunlight on Mars is weaker when compared to earth.

    You can always talk about Desulforudis audaxviator.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/7663927.stm

    Or you can send all the nuclear weapons on Earth over to Mars to melt the polar caps and the frozen CO2. It’ll be radioactive for a few thousand years but it’ll be faster than some of the other processes.

  6. #6 The Chemist
    October 14, 2008

    What we really need is to jump the phos barrier. We’re dependent on ATP for energy and can’t survive multiple generations on any planet that lack relatively abundant phosphorus.

    At least I think so. Am I talking out of my ass? Yeah. It’s fun to speculate.

  7. #7 Christopher Sisk
    October 15, 2008

    Just goes to show… you push ‘life’ hard enough and it’ll find a way to push back. Ahh… evolution. Reminds me of a section near the end of Robert Hazen’s book “Gen•e•sis” where a group was forcing molecules to become more efficient at specific tasks.

  8. #8 Freidenker
    October 15, 2008

    Holy crap!

    How can we possibly preempt an unwanted evolutionary course for something as haphazard as a virus?

  9. #9 Eric
    October 15, 2008

    This is why research of all varieties needs to be funded. Major advancements can be found in the most unlikely of areas.

    It’s also about time that viruses get a positive reputation.

  10. #10 Tatarize
    October 16, 2008

    There were some humans who didn’t want to die, I don’t know why they didn’t want to die.

    There were some humans who moved to Mars. So they didn’t have to die; I don’t know why they didn’t want to die.

    There were some humans who planted some corn. So they could live on Mars, so they didn’t have to die; I don’t know why they didn’t want to die.

    There were some humans who bred some fungus, to help the corn, to live on Mars, so they didn’t have to die; I don’t know why they didn’t want to die.

    There were some humans who had a dsRNA virus, to help the fungus, to help the corn, to live on Mars, so they didn’t have to die; I don’t know why they didn’t want to die.