Mars-Like Soils in the Atacama Desert, Chile, and the Dry Limit of Microbial Life

  title={Mars-Like Soils in the Atacama Desert, Chile, and the Dry Limit of Microbial Life},
  author={Rafael Navarro‐Gonz{\'a}lez and Fred A. Rainey and Paola Molina and Danielle R. Bagaley and Becky J. Hollen and Jos{\'e} de la Rosa and Alanna M. Small and Richard C. Quinn and Frank J. Grunthaner and Luis C{\'a}ceres and Benito G{\'o}mez-Silva and Christopher P. McKay},
  pages={1018 - 1021}
The Viking missions showed the martian soil to be lifeless and depleted in organic material and indicated the presence of one or more reactive oxidants. Here we report the presence of Mars-like soils in the extreme arid region of the Atacama Desert. Samples from this region had organic species only at trace levels and extremely low levels of culturable bacteria. Two samples from the extreme arid region were tested for DNA and none was recovered. Incubation experiments, patterned after the… 
Life at the dry edge: Microorganisms of the Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is the driest and oldest Desert on Earth, and research aimed at the understanding of this unique habitat and its diverse microbial ecosystems begun only a few decades ago, mainly driven by NASA's astrobiology program.
Mars-Like Soils in the Yungay Area, the Driest Core of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile
The data obtained from the Viking lander’s analyses of soils on Mars were unexpected. First, was the finding that when soil samples were exposed to water vapor in the gas exchange experiment (GE)
The Hyperarid Core of the Atacama Desert, an Extremely Dry and Carbon Deprived Habitat of Potential Interest for the Field of Carbon Science
It is proposed that due to the meager amounts of carbon and extremely dry conditions, the microbial communities of the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert may be of interest for the field of carbon science.
The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile as an Analog Model of Mars
The Atacama Desert is by far the driest and oldest desert on Earth, showing a unique combination of environmental extremes (extreme dryness, the highest UV radiation levels on Earth, and highly
Microbial colonization of halite from the hyper-arid Atacama Desert studied by Raman spectroscopy
  • P. Vítek, H. Edwards, +6 authors J. Wierzchos
  • Geology, Medicine
    Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
  • 2010
Non-destructive Raman spectroscopical identification of endoevaporitic colonies in the Atacama Desert revealed the presence of UV-protective biomolecules as well as light-harvesting pigments pointing to photosynthetic activity, demonstrating the capability of Raman Spectroscopy to identify biomarkers within rocks that have a strong astrobiological potential.
The Enigma of the Martian Soil
  • A. Banin
  • Environmental Science, Medicine
  • 2005
In his Perspective, Banin discusses what has been learned about martian soil from past missions to the Red Planet and suggests soils in the Atacama Desert in Chile may offer valuable information on Mars-like soils.
The Atacama Desert: Technical Resources and the Growing Importance of Novel Microbial Diversity.
This review traces the progress of microbiology research in the Atacama and dispels the popular view that this region is virtually devoid of life, demonstrating that microbial life is the latest recognized and least explored resource in this inspiring biome.
Subsurface Microbial Habitats in an Extreme Desert Mars-Analog Environment
The study identifies linkage between biocomplexity, moisture and geochemistry in Mars-like sediments at the limit of habitability and demonstrates feasibility of the rover-mounted drill for future Mars sample recovery.
Inhabited subsurface wet smectites in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert as an analog for the search for life on Mars
The discovery of a diverse microbial community in smectite-rich subsurface layers in the hyperarid core of the Atacama, and the collection of biosignatures the authors have identified within the clays, suggest that similar shallow clay deposits on Mars may contain biosignature easily reachable by current rovers and landers.
Aeolian transport of viable microbial life across the Atacama Desert, Chile: Implications for Mars
A number of viable bacteria and fungi are in fact able to traverse the driest and most UV irradiated desert on Earth unscathed using wind-transported dust, particularly in the later afternoon hours, suggesting that microbial life on Mars, extant or past, may have similarly benefited from aeolian transport to move across the planet and find suitable habitats to thrive and evolve.


The Mars oxidant experiment (MOx) for Mars '96.
The MOx instrument was developed to characterize the reactive nature of the martian soil to develop technologies and approaches that can be part of future soil analysis instrumentation.
The missing organic molecules on Mars.
Experiments show that one of these, benzenehexacarboxylic acid (mellitic acid), is generated by oxidation of organic matter known to come to Mars, is rather stable to further oxidation, and would not have been easily detected by the Viking experiments.
The Viking Gas Exchange Experiment results from Chryse and Utopia surface samples
Immediate gas changes occurred when untreated Martian surface samples were humidified and/or wet by an aqueous nutrient medium in the Viking lander gas exchange experiment. The evolutions of N2, CO2,
Chemical model for Viking biology experiments: implications for the composition of the martian regolith
THE 1976 Mars Viking biology experiments were designed to detect life by observing the products of biochemical reactions. In the labelled-release (LR) experiments1–4, about 25 nmol of 14C-labelled
Recent results from the Viking Labeled Release experiment on Mars
The Labeled Release (LR) life detection experiment seeks detection of heterotrophic metabolism by monitoring radio-active gas evolution following the addition of a radioactive nutrient containing
Principles of pulse electron paramagnetic resonance
This book explains the foundations of pulse EPR, a field of spectroscopy which has now come of age and has found widespread application in investigations of structure, dynamics, and function of
References and Notes
our experimentation could eventually be used to discredit our findings, should they happen not to agree with the original observations. It seems important that all experiments in the rapidly
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The organic concentration we see, albeit at much higher temperature, is higher than the Viking pyr-GC- MS reported limit
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