Researchers studying a 4.5 billion-year-old Martianmeteorite have found evidence that 25 percent of themagnetic material in it was produced by bacteria from Mars.Ever since the meteorite was recently rediscovered, therehas been a controversy about whether the markings on thesurface are the remains of Martian bacteria.

The researchers used the Magnetite Assay for Biogenicity(MAB) to compare the magnetic material found in the ancientmeteorite with similar bacteria on Earth. “No non-biologicmagnetite population, whether produced by nature or in thelaboratory, has ever met the MAB criteria,” says KathieThomas-Keprta of NASA. “This means that one-quarter of themagnetite crystals embedded in the carbonates in Martianmeteorite ALH84001 require the intervention of biology toexplain their presence.”

Magnetotactic bacteria, which occur in all life on Earththat lives in water, arrange magnetite crystals in chainswithin their cells to form compasses, which help thebacteria find sources of food and energy. Magnetotacticbacteria are very different from inorganic crystals, becausethey are chemically pure, with distinctive sizes and shapes.

Since the bacteria-produced crystals in the meteorite andcrystals produced by Earth bacteria are similar, this isstrong evidence that the meteorite carried bacteria to Earthfrom Mars. Scientists speculate that life on Earth couldeven have been ?seeded? by this and other meteorites,especially now that we know Mars once had enough water tosustain life.

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