Could lichens grow on Mars?

Richard A. Armstrong

Research output: Contribution to specialist publication or newspaperArticle


Lichens meet some but not all of the criteria that must be fulfilled by inhabitants of Mars. They could withstand many aspects of the hostile environment especially if they live within the rocks as they do in the dry valleys of Antarctica. Lichens, however, are dual organisms and we have to presuppose the successful establishment of a variety of microorganisms on Mars and especially algae and fungi. To date, the evidence for the existence of microorganisms in Martian meteorites is controversial and there is no conclusive evidence of present life on the surface. In addition, if endolithic lichens have evolved on Mars and are alive today they would be subjected to a considerably more hostile environment than the extreme environments on Earth, which are regarded as at the limit of tolerance of present day lichens. The lack of liquid water over most of the surface and the problem of obtaining sufficient nitrogen resources are particular problems for Martian lichens. Further landings on Mars, scheduled for 2005 and future missions are likely to increase substantially our knowledge of the Martian surface and the possibilities for life by attempting to bring back samples of rock and minerals. In addition, the use of techniques such as Laser Raman technology and the development of gas chromatographic methods for use in space increase the probability that an answer to the question of whether lichens have existed on Mars will be obtained in the near future.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Specialist publicationMicrobiologist
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


  • lichens
  • Mars
  • hostile environment
  • microorganisms
  • Martian meteorites


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