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What insects will thrive on the Red Planet?

written by Alex Moore on August 28, 2000 | author profile | forum profile | contact me
number of views: 76979 |   printable version (text) (PDF)

Insects on Mars.
Insects on Mars.
Credit: Maxis
Developing an ecosystem on Mars will perhaps be our greatest challenge. It goes without saying that plants must slowly be introduced to Mars, and over the decades they will increase in size and complexity. But what many don't realize is the need for simple insects. Without them, plant life, and therefore all life, could not exist.

Insects on Earth are not adapted for the Martian atmosphere. An insect on Mars today would literally explode. But with biological engineering of the future, we will be able to adapt insects to the harsh conditions of the red planet.

The first step in bioengineering is study. The affects of low atmospheric pressure on insects are not fully understood. Today, we believe that insects and other animals can not function under pressures of 5 millibars, the current atmospheric pressure on Mars. This is in contrast to some 500 millibars present at sea level on Earth.

This first hurdle is significant in more ways than one. Future terraforming efforts will have these years of research to learn from and improve. In this way, biologically engineered insects on Mars will serve as an example for coming projects.

After extensive studying, we must decide exactly what insects will be released. Since most organisms rely on others, it will be a process of which ecosystem shall be introduced at what time. Lichen and small plants will be already in great abundance in areas of the planet, and current ecosystems must not be destroyed.

Insects' prime functions on Mars will be pollination and filtration. Bees for instance will be responsible for the reproduction of thousands of species of terran vegetation, to be release in later terraforming stages. And worms and other insects will filter the soil, providing a hold for developing roots. Considering that soil is nearly 90% organic, this is no easy task. Once again, we are going to have to adapt to the Mars' regolith and find organisms that can gradually make it more efficient for vegetation.

The process of biological engineering is relatively simple. By mixing traits from one organism to another, a hybrid is created with the genes of both parent. So, the ideal hybrid to adapt with the below freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen on Mars would owe its existence to: Parent I, insect found near the arctic regions of earth, and Parent II, similar insect living deep underground or under the ocean. Unfortunately, all hybrids must branch back to their limited terran relatives, and until life is found outside Earth it will remain that way.

Biological engineering has a long way to go before we can create entire ecosystems on Mars. Until then, using organisms found on Earth, we can expand our presence in the solar system, adapting life everywhere we go.

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