Researchers Discovered Microbial Oasis Beneath Atacama Desert

According to the journal Astrobiology a Spanish-Chilean team of scientists have found bacteria and archaea (primitive microorganisms) living two metres below the hypersaline substrates in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Researchers from the Center of Astrobiology (Spain) and the Catholic University of the North in Chile have found it in hypersaline substrates thanks to SOLID, a detector for signs of life which could be used in environments similar to subsoil on Mars. According to Victor Parro, researcher from the Center of Astrobiology (INTA-CSIC, Spain) and coordinator of the study they have named it a microbial oasis because they found microorganisms developing in a habitat that was rich in halite (rock salt) and other highly hygroscopic compounds (anhydrite and perchlorate) that absorb water.The substrates where the microbes live favour deliquescence, which means they can attract the limited moisture in the air, condensing it on the surface of the salt crystals. Thin films of water that are a few microns thick are thereby formed. In this environment, the underground microorganisms grow with everything they need to live: food and water. The species are not very different from others in similar hypersaline environments, but the peculiar thing is that they were discovered at a depth of between 2 and 3 metres, without any oxygen or sunlight. They also took samples from a depth of up to 5 metres and took them to the laboratory, where not only were they able to photograph the microorganisms with the electron microscope, but also ‘brought them into life’ when supplied with water. Accroding to researchers if there are similar microbes on Mars or remains in similar conditions to the ones they have found in Atacama, they could detect them with instruments like SOLID. Saline deposits have been found on the red planet,because of that it is possible to think that there maybe hypersaline environments in its subsoil.
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