Biology Faculty Articles

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FEMS Microbiology Ecology


Microorganisms, Solar System, Colonization, Mars, Planetary Protection Policy




Based on modern microbiology, we propose a major revision in current space exploration philosophy and planetary protection policy, especially regarding microorganisms in space. Mainly, microbial introduction should not be considered accidental but inevitable. We hypothesize the near impossibility of exploring new planets without carrying and/or delivering any microbial travelers. In addition, although we highlight the importance of controlling and tracking such contaminations—to explore the existence of extraterrestrial microorganisms—we also believe that we must discuss the role of microbes as primary colonists and assets, rather than serendipitous accidents, for future plans of extraterrestrial colonization. This paradigm shift stems partly from the overwhelming evidence of microorganisms’ diverse roles in sustaining life on Earth, such as symbioses and ecosystem services (decomposition, atmosphere effects, nitrogen fixation etc).

Therefore, we propose a framework for new discussion based on the scientific implications of future colonization and terraforming: (i) focus on methods to track and avoid accidental delivery of Earth's harmful microorganisms and genes to extraterrestrial areas; (ii), begin a rigorous program to develop and explore ‘Proactive Inoculation Protocols’ (PIP). We outline a rationale and solicit feedback to drive a public and private research agenda that optimizes diverse organisms for potential space colonization.


© FEMS 2019. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact





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