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Super-Earths, M Dwarfs, and Photosynthetic Organisms: Habitability in the Lab

Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, INAF, 35122 Padova, Italy
Institute for Particle Physics and Astrophysics, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
Department of Biology, University of Padova, 35131 Padova, Italy
Centro di Ateneo di Studi e Attività Spaziali (CISAS) Giuseppe Colombo, 35131 Padova, Italy
Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies, CNR, 35131 Padova, Italy
Istituto di Radioastronomia, INAF, 40129 Bologna, Italy
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Padova, 35121 Padova, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Life 2021, 11(1), 10;
Received: 4 November 2020 / Revised: 18 December 2020 / Accepted: 18 December 2020 / Published: 24 December 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Frontiers of Astrobiology)
In a few years, space telescopes will investigate our Galaxy to detect evidence of life, mainly by observing rocky planets. In the last decade, the observation of exoplanet atmospheres and the theoretical works on biosignature gasses have experienced a considerable acceleration. The most attractive feature of the realm of exoplanets is that 40% of M dwarfs host super-Earths with a minimum mass between 1 and 30 Earth masses, orbital periods shorter than 50 days, and radii between those of the Earth and Neptune (1–3.8 R). Moreover, the recent finding of cyanobacteria able to use far-red (FR) light for oxygenic photosynthesis due to the synthesis of chlorophylls d and f, extending in vivo light absorption up to 750 nm, suggests the possibility of exotic photosynthesis in planets around M dwarfs. Using innovative laboratory instrumentation, we exposed different cyanobacteria to an M dwarf star simulated irradiation, comparing their responses to those under solar and FR simulated lights. As expected, in FR light, only the cyanobacteria able to synthesize chlorophyll d and f could grow. Surprisingly, all strains, both able or unable to use FR light, grew and photosynthesized under the M dwarf generated spectrum in a similar way to the solar light and much more efficiently than under the FR one. Our findings highlight the importance of simulating both the visible and FR light components of an M dwarf spectrum to correctly evaluate the photosynthetic performances of oxygenic organisms exposed under such an exotic light condition. View Full-Text
Keywords: astrobiology; M stars; super-Earths; photosynthesis astrobiology; M stars; super-Earths; photosynthesis
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MDPI and ACS Style

Claudi, R.; Alei, E.; Battistuzzi, M.; Cocola, L.; Erculiani, M.S.; Pozzer, A.C.; Salasnich, B.; Simionato, D.; Squicciarini, V.; Poletto, L.; La Rocca, N. Super-Earths, M Dwarfs, and Photosynthetic Organisms: Habitability in the Lab. Life 2021, 11, 10.

AMA Style

Claudi R, Alei E, Battistuzzi M, Cocola L, Erculiani MS, Pozzer AC, Salasnich B, Simionato D, Squicciarini V, Poletto L, La Rocca N. Super-Earths, M Dwarfs, and Photosynthetic Organisms: Habitability in the Lab. Life. 2021; 11(1):10.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Claudi, Riccardo, Eleonora Alei, Mariano Battistuzzi, Lorenzo Cocola, Marco S. Erculiani, Anna C. Pozzer, Bernardo Salasnich, Diana Simionato, Vito Squicciarini, Luca Poletto, and Nicoletta La Rocca. 2021. "Super-Earths, M Dwarfs, and Photosynthetic Organisms: Habitability in the Lab" Life 11, no. 1: 10.

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