Dalangtan Playa (Qaidam Basin, NW China): Its microbial life and physicochemical characteristics and their astrobiological implications

Huang, T., Wang, R. C., Xiao, L., Wang, H. M., Martínez, J. M., Escudero, C., Amils, R., Cheng, Z. Y., Xu, Y. 2018. Dalangtan Playa (Qaidam Basin, NW China): Its microbial life and physicochemical characteristics and their astrobiological implications. Plos One 13, 8, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200949

Dalangtan Playa is the second largest salt playa in the Qaidam Basin, north-western China. The hyper saline deposition, extremely arid climate and high UV radiation make Dalangtan a Mars analogue both for geomorphology and life preservation. To better understand microbial life at Dalangtan, both culture-dependent and culture-independent methods were examined and simultaneously, environment conditions and the evaporitic mineral assemblages were investigated. Ten and thirteen subsurface samples were collected along a 595-cm deep profile (P1) and a 685-cm deep profile (P2) respectively, and seven samples were gathered from surface sediments. These samples are composed of salt minerals, minor silicate mineral fragments and clays. The total bacterial cell numbers are (1.54 +/- 0.49) x10(5) g(-1) for P1 and (3.22 +/- 0.95) x10(5) g(-1) for P2 as indicated by the CAtalyzed Reporter Deposition-Fluorescent in situ Hybridization (CARD-FISH). 76.6% and 75.7% of the bacteria belong to Firmicutes phylum respectively from P1 and P2. In total, 47 bacteria and 6 fungi were isolated from 22 subsurface samples. In contrast, only 3 bacteria and 1 fungus were isolated from 3 surface samples. The isolated bacteria show high homology (>= 97%) with members of the Firmicutes phylum (47 strains, 8 genera) and the Actinobacteria phylum (3 strains, 2 genera), which agrees with the result of CARD-FISH. Isolated fungi showed >= 98% ITS1 homology with members of the phylum Ascomycota. Moisture content and TOC values may control the sediments colonization. Given the deliquescence of salts, evaporites may provide refuge for microbial life, which merits further investigation. Halotolerant and spore-forming microorganisms are the dominant microbial groups capable of surviving under extreme conditions. Our results offer brand-new information on microbial biomass in Dalangtan Playa and shed light on understanding the potential microbial life in the dried playa or paleolakes on Mars.

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