Scientific discoveries
Green trees deliver green benefits
Food supply may fall 25% by 2050, says UN
Argentine ants give weeds a boost
Temperature spikes key to malaria spread
Galactic impact leaves Milky Way ringing
Biomaterial helps rebuild broken bones
Biofuel rocket engine passes test run
Resistance gene stops rust in wheat
Stress, abuse damages childhood genes
Most wars occur in rich wildlife areas: study
Mice shed light on obesity gene
Dark energy to erase Big Bang's signal
Mexican corn contamination confirmed
Peanut allergy rate doubles despite avoidance
CO2 satellite plummets into ocean
Sharks fall foul of fishing bias
Fossil fish reveal prehistoric lovemaking
HIV proves to be a fast learner
Motor neurone disease culprit identified
Planet hunter ready for take-off
Visual adaptation stops life in the fast lane
Roofs can boost rainwater lead levels
Daily dose of TV doubles asthma risk
Biochar needs 'years more research'
  Earth critters to take a trip to Phobos
No one knows if there is life on Mars, but if all goes well with a Russian science mission later this year, there will be life on the Martian moon Phobos - for a short time anyway.

An assortment of critters are scheduled to make a round-trip journey to Phobos as passengers aboard a Russian spacecraft, scheduled to launch in October.

The mission, called Phobos-Grunt, aims to return samples of the Martian moon to Earth for analysis.

It will be the first Russian-led mission to Mars since the loss of the Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 probes in 1988 and the botched launch of the Mars 96 spacecraft.

"I wish them luck," says University of Colorado planetary scientist Dr Larry Esposito, who was a science team member on two of the failed Russian missions.

He's not part of the latest Russian endeavour, though he is very interested in learning more about Phobos, which is believed to be an asteroid that was pinned into orbit by the planet's gravity and became an adopted moon.

"It's an opportunity to look at a primitive body in the solar system," says Esposito.
Life experiments

In addition to planetary sciences, two teams of researchers are interested in learning how living organisms fare during the three-year round-trip journey to Mars.

The Pasadena, California-based Planetary Society is flying 10 different species in a small canister to test a theory that life could have been carried to Earth inside meteorites.

The samples include tardigrades - also known as water bears, seeds and microscopic bacteria.

"The organisms are being sent in a dormant state, like spores," says program manager Dr Bruce Betts.

Upon return to Earth, the organisms will be revived and tested to see if they can reproduce.

Russia's Space Research Institute in Moscow has a more ambitious plan.

Scientists there are proposing to send crustaceans, mosquito larvae, bacteria and fungi to visit Phobos and then return the critters to Earth. The point of the Russian experiment is to study how cosmic radiation affects living organisms during the various stages of flight.

Phobos-Grunt - 'grunt' is a Russian word for 'soil' - also includes a small satellite built by China.

Yinghuo-1 will ride piggyback with Phobos-Grunt and then be released for an independent study of Mars.

The European Space Agency and NASA are developing a mission to retrieve rock and soil samples from Mars in an attempt to learn if the planet ever supported life.

Astrobiologist Professor Jack Farmer, with Arizona State University in Tucson, sees the Phobos-Grunt mission as a good opportunity to test techniques and procedures to assure Mars samples do not become contaminated upon reaching Earth, and vice-versa.

"Containment is a big issue," says Farmer, who served on a National Research Council panel that recently concluded a review of planetary protection procedures.

"NASA has a stringent view of planetary protection, particularly from places that had the potential to harbour life,"

Phobos is not regarded as a potential haven for extraterrestrial life, but it hasn't been ruled out either.

Its visitors will remain contained during their stay on Phobos, but even if they were somehow released, Farmer believes their chances of survival are very slim.

"There's always a finite risk associated with these kinds of events," he says.
Chernobyl wildlife depleted, deformed
Prostate studies give conflicting results
Indigenous fire to save CO2 emissions
Maggots no wonder cure for wounds
Finch head colour affects mating outcome
Abnormal sperm found in inbred animals
New genes linked to heart failure
Cold gas sparks cosmic stream debate
Red meat under the spotlight
Science nabs two new greenhouse gases
Calls to protect workers from nano risks
Bushfire origins lie in Indian Ocean
Sceptics cold over new fusion claim
Family homecomings put travellers at risk
Scientists find pieces of a shooting star
Nanotube tech transforms CO2 into fuel
Decoding the secrets of platypus venom
Very hot tea may cause throat cancer
Sickness certificates more harm than good
Australians 'complacent' to earthquakes
Action video games sharpen vision
Shells give new take on human evolution
Native ant may stop toad in its tracks
Stressed female corals become male
Pen-clicking 'should be investigated'
Call to halt falling Oz food productivity
Tropics are a boon for baby girls
GM viruses build a better battery
Earth critters to take a trip to Phobos
Two black holes found circling each other
Horses first ridden 5500 years ago
Japanese astronaut to fly 'magic carpet'
Amazon drought reduces carbon sinks
Shells 'thinning due to fossil fuels'
Lunar cycle affects cyclone strength
Piezoelectrics harness hamster power
Vitamin C wards off gout: study
Aussie turtles 'ride the EAC' to Peru
Alien worlds examined in the lab
Sea level rise underestimated: scientists
Blood type link to pancreatic cancer risk
Peking man much older than first thought
Americium dampens plutonium's punch
Global skies becoming dimmer: study
Clever coating makes scratches disappear
Call for carbon tax gets lukewarm response
Great white sharks had humble beginnings
Discovery to help power up space station
Early oceans had oxygen-loving life
Bushfire risk to water quality lingers
South America needs elephants: ecologist
Omega-3 benefits hurting fish numbers