Endolithic Cyanobacteria in Halite Rocks from the Hyperarid Core of the Atacama Desert

Jacek Wierzchos, Carmen Ascaso, Christopher P. McKay
2006 Astrobiology  
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
more » ... 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.
doi:10.1089/ast.2006.6.415 pmid:16805697 fatcat:5zhsq6v4mfbtdplgphwqvplamm