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Endolithic cyanobacteria in halite rocks from the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert.

Authors
  • Wierzchos, Jacek
  • Ascaso, Carmen
  • McKay, Christopher P
Type
Published Article
Journal
Astrobiology
Publisher
Mary Ann Liebert
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2006
Volume
6
Issue
3
Pages
415–422
Identifiers
PMID: 16805697
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

In the driest parts of the Atacama Desert there are no visible life forms on soil or rock surfaces. The soil in this region contains only minute traces of bacteria distributed in patches, and conditions are too dry for cyanobacteria that live under translucent stones. Here we show that halite evaporite rocks from the driest part of the Atacama Desert are colonized by cyanobacteria. This colonization takes place just a few millimeters beneath the rock surface, occupying spaces among salt crystals. Our work reveals that these communities are composed of extremely resistant Chroococcidiopsis morphospecies of cyanobacteria and associated heterotrophic bacteria. This newly discovered endolithic environment is an extremely dry and, at the same time, saline microbial habitat. Photosynthetic microorganisms within dry evaporite rocks could be an important and previously unrecognized target for the search for life within our Solar System.

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