Measures of metabolic activity in the subsoil of Río Tinto

09-07-13

From the astrobiological point of view, the geomicrobiology of the terrestrial subsoil allows us to study the life existing in these conditions as a very interesting model for early life on Earth and that, it could even occur in other planetary bodies, such as Mars.

Rio Tinto is an unusual and extreme habitat for life due to its constant acid pH, high concentration of heavy metals and high level of microbial diversity, mainly eukaryotic. It is located in the heart of the Iberian Pyrite Belt, one of the largest deposits of sulfur mineral in the world.

The IPBSL project ( Iberian Pyrite Belt Subsurface Life , Underground Life in the Iberian Pyrite Belt), led by the Center for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA), aims to characterize in depth the ecosystems detected in the Rio Tinto area that are responsible for the characteristic sulfuric acid and ferric ion that give it its unique color. At the end of 2011, drilling began in the subsoil of Río Tinto in search of that type of microbial life. Two drilling was carried out in different locations in the area of ​​Peña del Hierro, on the grounds of the Riotinto Foundation, very close to the source of the river, reaching depths of 339 and 612 m.

Once the first drilling phase and taking samples for geological and microbiological studies, now begins the second phase with the distribution of probes in the wells that will allow to measure, in real time, the metabolic activity and the geomicrobiological parameters (acidity, reducing potential , conductivity and concentration of gases and ions). This study is also an instrumental challenge in designing the detectors capable of withstanding Rio Tinto conditions and providing this information autonomously.

Río Tinto is considered one of the best terrestrial geochemical analogues of Mars , hence his great astrobiological interest. The knowledge provided by IPBSL will serve to evaluate more accurately the possibility that life has been or is developing on the red planet. This same type of life could develop in the subsurface of Mars and be responsible for some of the characteristics detected in this planet, such as the presence of sulfates (jarosite) and iron oxides (hematite), or the generation of methane recently detected in its atmosphere.

Call for a press conference

Next Thursday, July 11, at 12: 00h, in the auditorium from the Riotinto Mining Museum "Ernest Lluch", there will be a press conference to explain this new phase of the project that begins now. In the press conference, José María Mantecón, director of the Mining Museum, José Antonio Rodríguez Manfredi, head of the Instrumentation Department of the CAB, and Felipe Gómez Gómez, CAB researcher in the Department of Planetology and Habitability will speak.

About IPBSL

The IPBSL project ( Iberian Pyritic Belt Subsurface Life Detection , detection of life in the subsoil of the Iberian Pyrite Belt) aims to explore the deep subsoil (200-1,000 m) of Río Tinto to detect microbial life and estimate its diversity at the drilling site and monitor, in real time, the physical-chemical parameters and the biological activity inside the wells and thus to understand how life adapts to the extreme conditions of acidity prevailing in this Martian analogue. The project is funded by the "Ideas" program of the European Foundation for Science ( European Science Foundation ) for five years.

 

Fuente: UCC-CAB

 

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