Details such as the shadow of the mast on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity appear in an image taken Aug. 17, 2012, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter...

  • NASA

Labor Day weekend gave me the time to read a book I bought 7 months ago, Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan's What Is Life (I also finished Ernest Mayr's last book What Makes Biology Unique?—he died at the age of 100 in 2005). I will have something to say about Mayr's book in another post—it will relate, if you are wondering, to Terrence Deacon's new book Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. (By the way, a controversy is steadily consuming this work. It appears that Deacon took, without credit, many of his ideas directly from another book, Dynamics in Action, which was written a decade or so ago by a Cuban-born philosopher, Alicia Juarrero, who teaches at a community college in Maryland. I read Juarrero's book and her discussion on constraints and emergent systems is brilliant, lucid, and identical to Deacon's—again, more on this in another post).

In What is Life, Margulis, who died recently, and her son point to a thinking that sees cyanobacteria as the bacteria that could transform Mars. This life form would, it is thought, thrive in that environment. The reason for this thinking can be found on Wikipedia:

Cyanobacteria are arguably the most successful group of microorganisms on earth. They are the most genetically diverse; they occupy a broad range of habitats across all latitudes, widespread in freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and they are found in the most extreme niches such as hot springs, salt works, and hypersaline bays. Photoautotrophic, oxygen-producing cyanobacteria created the conditions in the planet's early atmosphere that directed the evolution of aerobic metabolism and eukarotic photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria fulfill vital ecological functions in the world's oceans, being important contributors to global carbon and nitrogen budgets.
So far Mars is for robots and bacteria.