Spores of Bacillus subtilis, conidia of Aspergillus niger, versicolor and ochraceus and cells of Deinococcus radiodurans have been exposed in the dark at two locations (at about 23 degrees S and 24 degrees S) in the Atacama Desert for up to 15 months. B. subtilis spores (survival approximately 15%) and A. niger conidia (survival approximately 30%) outlived the other species. The survival of the conidia and spores species was only slightly poorer than that of the corresponding laboratory controls. However, the Deinococcus radiodurans cells did not survive the desert exposure, because they are readily inactivated at relative humidities between 40 and 80% which typically occur during desert nights. Cellular monolayers of the dry spores and conidia have in addition been exposed to the full sun light for up to several hours. The solar fluences causing 63% loss in viability (F37-values) have been determined. These F37-values are compared with those determined at other global locations such as Punta Arenas (53 degrees S), Key Largo (25 degrees N) or Mainz (50 degrees N) during the same season. The solar UVB radiation kills even the most resistant microorganisms within a few hours due to DNA damages. The data are also discussed with respect to possible similarities between the climatic conditions of the recent Atacama Desert and the deserts of early Mars.