Studying the 'playas' of the Atacama Desert

Figure: Image of the northernmost 'playa' site 3 days after the rain in 2015 in Atacama. © David Wettergreen.

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An international scientific team, led by the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA) and with the participation of NASA and the SETI Institute, has studied the consequences of the abundant rains that were recorded in the Atacama Desert zone in 2015. If they ever existed, the last active microorganisms of Early Mars may have developed similarly to those of Atacama: reactivating after an infrequent and especially copious rainfall event.

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The Atacama Desert (Chile), the oldest and driest on Earth, records significant rainfall (more than 2mm) barely once every ten years. This fact, together with the thermal fluctuations that occur between daytime and nighttime temperatures, the intense ultraviolet radiation that reaches its surface and the presence in soils of inorganic compounds, such as perchlorates, make this desert one of the analogues Mars land most relevant.

However, it is possible that sporadic phenomena of rain occur, such as the one that occurred in March 2015, when data were recorded between 40 and 90mm of accumulated rainfall. Then, the scientists collected numerous samples that are still being analyzed today and from which numerous and interesting conclusions are being drawn. Thus, a new study, led by researchers from the Centro de Astrobiología and published in Frontiers in Microbiology, shows that after this episode of heavy rains, there were microorganisms that survived the increase in humidity conditions, but there were also some that "not only resisted these new conditions created, but took advantage of the increase in humidity to activate their cellular metabolism and, therefore, its development", says Miguel Ángel Fernández-Martínez, researcher at the CAB and lead author of the study.

Specifically, the scientific team collected the samples analyzed only 3 days after the episode and has studied their effect on the communities of soil microorganisms and the subsoil of areas of beaches and alluvial fans.

One of the techniques used to analyze the samples has been carried out by the LDChip (Life Detector), an antibody-based immunosensor coupled to the SOLID instrument (Signs Of Life Detector), both developed at the Centro de Astrobiología.


 

Fuente: UCC-CAB

 

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