Prokaryotic Community Structure and Metabolisms in Shallow Subsurface of Atacama Desert Playas and Alluvial Fans After Heavy Rains: Repairing and Preparing for Next Dry Period

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fernández Martínez, M. A., Severino, R. D., Moreno Paz, M., Gallardo Carreño, I., Blanco, Y., Warren Rhodes, K., García Villadangos, M., Ruiz Bermejo, M., Barberan, A., Wettergreen, D., Cabrol, N., Parro, V. 2019. Prokaryotic Community Structure and Metabolisms in Shallow Subsurface of Atacama Desert Playas and Alluvial Fans After Heavy Rains: Repairing and Preparing for Next Dry Period. Frotniers in Microbiology 10, DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01641

The Atacama Desert, the oldest and driest desert on Earth, displays significant rains only once per decade. To investigate how microbial communities take advantage of these sporadic wet events, we carried out a geomicrobiological study a few days after a heavy rain event in 2015. Different physicochemical and microbial community analyses were conducted on samples collected from playas and an alluvial fan from surface, 10, 20, 50, and 80 cm depth. Gravimetric moisture content peaks were measured in 10 and 20 cm depth samples (from 1.65 to 4.1% w/w maximum values) while, in general, main anions such as chloride, nitrate, and sulfate concentrations increased with depth, with maximum values of 13-1,125; 168-10,109; and 9,904-30,952 ppm, respectively. Small organic anions such as formate and acetate had maximum concentrations from 2.61 to 3.44 ppm and 6.73 to 28.75 ppm, respectively. Microbial diversity inferred from DNA analysis showed Actinobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria as the most abundant and widespread bacterial taxa among the samples, followed by Chloroflexi and Firmicutes at specific sites. Archaea were mainly dominated by Nitrososphaerales, Methanobacteria, with the detection of other groups such as Halobacteria. Metaproteomics showed a high and even distribution of proteins involved in primary metabolic processes such as energy production and biosynthetic pathways, and a limited but remarkable presence of proteins related to resistance to environmental stressors such as radiation, oxidation, or desiccation. The results indicated that extra humidity in the system allows the microbial community to repair, and prepare for the upcoming hyperarid period. Additionally, it supplies biomarkers to the medium whose preservation potential could be high under strong desiccation conditions and relevant for planetary exploration.

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