Viking Labeled Release Biology Experiment: Interim Results

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Science  17 Dec 1976:
Vol. 194, Issue 4271, pp. 1322-1329
DOI: 10.1126/science.194.4271.1322


This report summarizes all results of the labeled release life detection experiment conducted on Mars prior to conjunction. Tests at both landing sites provide remarkably similar evolution of radioactive gas upon addition of a radioactive nutrient to the Mars sample. The "active" agent in the Mars sample is stable to 18°C, but is substantially inactivated by heat treatment for 3 hours at 50°C and completely inactivated at 160°C, as would be anticipated if the active response were caused by microorganisms. Results from test and heat-sterilized control Mars samples are compared to those obtained from terrestrial soils and from a lunar sample. Possible nonbiological explanations of the Mars data are reviewed along with plans for resolution of the Mars data. Although such explanations of the labeled release data depend on ultraviolet irradiation, the labeled release response does not appear to depend on recent direct ultraviolet activation of surface material. Available facts do not yet permit a conclusion regarding the existence of life on Mars. Plans for conclusion of the experiment are discussed.

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