Microbial colonization of halite from the hyper-arid Atacama Desert studied by Raman spectroscopy.

  • Vítek P
  • Edwards H
  • Jehlicka J
 et al. 
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The hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert (Chile) is the driest place on Earth and is considered a close analogue to the extremely arid conditions on the surface of Mars. Microbial life is very rare in soils of this hyper-arid region, and autotrophic micro-organisms are virtually absent. Instead, photosynthetic micro-organisms have successfully colonized the interior of halite crusts, which are widespread in the Atacama Desert. These endoevaporitic colonies are an example of life that has adapted to the extreme dryness by colonizing the interior of rocks that provide enhanced moisture conditions. As such, these colonies represent a novel example of potential life on Mars. Here, we present non-destructive Raman spectroscopical identification of these colonies and their organic remnants. Spectral signatures revealed the presence of UV-protective biomolecules as well as light-harvesting pigments pointing to photosynthetic activity. Compounds of biogenic origin identified within these rocks differed depending on the origins of specimens from particular areas in the desert, with differing environmental conditions. Our results also demonstrate the capability of Raman spectroscopy to identify biomarkers within rocks that have a strong astrobiological potential.

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  • P Vítek

  • H G M Edwards

  • J Jehlicka

  • C Ascaso

  • A De los Ríos

  • S Valea

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