A triumph of the microbial spirit

A triumph of the microbial spirit

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

A stalwart band of travelers, stranded in a hostile alien land, must fight against a host of dangers and the evil powers that be in a valiant attempt to return home.

Sounds like any of a hundred legends and stories, from Dante’s Inferno and The Odyssey to E.T the Extraterrestrial and Starman. But those are fictional. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life…

Think again.

Allow me to introduce you to the intrepid members of Tersicoccus phoenicis, a species of bacterium found inside cleanrooms in Florida and French Guiana.

Thousands of years ago, a Tersi colony was ripped from their home on Mars when their rock was inadvertently picked up by Martian space dinosaurs who brought the first rocks to Earth. The Tersis, who lived in the molybdenum-rich soil of the red planet, were suddenly thrust into an alien environment that Maybe didn’t have as much molybdenum, based on the amount of boron in the space rock that brought them here.

For centuries, they huddled together for warmth in caves or deserts, struggling to survive on a diet of almost no nutrients. But they persevered, buoyed by an ancient Tersicoccus Phoenician prophecy which said that one day there would arise two Space Agencies, which would provide them the means to return to their beloved home.

So the stalwart bacteria, having mastered the technology of binary fission, divided into two groups, calling themselves Zero and One, and left behind their caves or deserts to make the arduous trek to the mythical Rooms of Cleanliness where their destiny awaited.

The One group finally made it to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the first Room of Cleanliness could be found. They hid in the soil outside, among the overwhelming numbers of other bugs. Eventually, they found their way inside the vast Room of Cleanliness, where they found humans building a great ark, the Phoenix Mars Lander, which was destined to be launched at the small town of Phoenix, Mars, the home of the Tersi people.

However, the ark was guarded by an evil wizard named Parag Vaishampayan, who hated the people of Tersicoccus phoenicis because their name was even harder to pronounce than his. Parag thought the Tersis were “weird”, and feared that they would hitch a ride to Mars, impeding his plan to hunt down the rest of the bacteria on Mars.

So he dispatched his minions to attack the weary bacteria. He ordered them to be poisoned with chemicals, bombarded with ultraviolet radiation, and force-fed a veritable dearth of nutrients. But still, the now sickly, sunburned, and dearth-filled Ones, stopping only to mourn their fallen comrades, continued their inexorable march toward the Lander, and home.

Today, nobody knows what has become of the bacterial wanderers. Some believe that all the Ones perished in the Great Anti-bacterial Soap Massacre of 2013. Some believe that the Zeroes live on in the soil of the plethora of Guianas (French, British, Dutch) scattered across Central and South America. But there are some of us who, filled with hope, believe that the brave survivors of Tersicoccus phoenicis will someday return home.

(Click on the portrait above to read the incredible true story for yourself.)

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