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Microbial oasis discovered beneath the Atacama Desert
Date:2/16/2012

lts can be observed in an image with shiny points that show the presence of certain compounds and microorganisms.

Using this technique, the researchers in collaboration with Catholic University of the North in Chile have confirmed the presence of underground archaea and bacteria in the desert. 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.

Lessons for Mars

"If there are similar microbes on Mars or remains in similar conditions to the ones we have found in Atacama, we could detect them with instruments like SOLID" Parro highlighted.

The researcher explained that saline deposits have been found on the red planet, therefore it is possible to think that there maybe hypersaline environments in its subsoil. "The high concentration of salt has a double effect: it absorbs water between the crystals and lowers the freezing point, so that they can have thin films of water (in brine) at temperatures several degrees below zero, up to minus 20 C."

The high salt level and lack of water help preserve biological molecules, so that it was possible to find biological products in materials of this type, even though there were no live microorganisms since millions of years ago.


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