Editors’ word: This text is a part of Expensive Future, a collaboration between Proinertech and VICE Motherboard that appears at main improvements — in robotics, house journey, VR and extra — shaping the world round us. 

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Expensive Future: The place we’d discover life on Mars

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Touring four,600 ft underground into the tunnels of South Africa’s Beatrix Gold Mine just isn’t for the faint of coronary heart.

The one gentle comes from headlamps, casting solely sufficient gentle to point out the bottom just a few meters forward. Stray beams define the tunnel’s jagged partitions and ceilings. Water trickles in a shallow stream and rushes behind the partitions. However none of this bothers Gaetan Borgonie, a Belgian zoologist who has devoted his personal life to discovering organisms that survive in nature’s most inhospitable situations.

In June, Motherboard accompanied Borgonie on his first journey again to the Beatrix Gold Mine since 2015. He was trying to find “mephisto worms,” microscopic extremophiles that may survive being frozen in liquid nitrogen, having virtually no oxygen, and being dropped from a top of 65 kilometers.

After discovering reside mephisto worms virtually 12,00zero ft underground in 2009, Borgonie’s analysis crew nicknamed it “the Satan Worm.” They’re a sort of nematode. When information of his analysis obtained out, the title caught.

Gaetan Borgonie at work in a mine.

Xavier Aaronson

“I might not name the Satan ‘invincible,'” Borgonie informed Motherboard. “However it’s a very robust animal.”

Borgonie’s love for mephisto worms is inseparable from his curiosity about Mars. He believes that if there may be life on Mars, it will exist like mephisto worms: quietly thriving deep underground.

“I’m fascinated by the planet Mars,” he mentioned. “On the floor, discovering life shall be extremely unbelievable. If life exists on the planet, it will likely be deep beneath the floor.”

Whereas I did not accompany Borgonie to the Beatrix Gold Mine, I had the possibility to fulfill him on Wednesday in a Skype name. He informed me that over the previous 4 months, he is been analyzing the samples he collected in June, and he is been planning one other journey to South Africa in early 2018. However this journey would not be to the Beatrix Gold Mine. As an alternative, Borgonie hopes to seek for nematodes on the floor of sizzling springs throughout the nation.

Gaetan Borgonie

“A number of years in the past, we [found] a worm deep underground that turned out to be solely identified to marine water,” he informed me. “It was discovered in the course of South Africa underground, the place there is no such thing as a sea. The query is, how did it get there within the first place?”

Borgonie mentioned that eons in the past, South Africa was underwater. Because the water receded, nematodes might have sunk underground in pockets of salt water. Discovering nematodes on the floor of sizzling springs is not nearly investigating the previous, he mentioned. It is concerning the future.

Xavier Aaronson

If a disaster similar to an asteroid collision wipes out all life on the Earth’s floor, Borgonie theorizes that nematodes and different extremophiles might emerge via sizzling springs and kickstart life on the floor.

“Nematodes can survive virtually something,” Borgonie informed me. “What I’ve realized over time is that ‘unimaginable’ is a phrase that can’t apply to biology. Life at all times finds a means.”

In different phrases, Satan Worms could possibly be the Adam and Eve of a barren, humanless Earth.

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