Atacama's microorganisms are transported to his hyperarid heart thanks to the wind


Image of the hyperarid heart of the Atacama Desert. ©Armando Azúa/EFE

A recent study led by the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA) and published in Scientific Reports notes that microorganisms in the Atacama Desert (Chile) are transported through dust particles that are swept away by the wind. Scientists believe that on Mars, if there was microbial life, it could have spread across the planet similar to that studied in Atacama.


The Atacama Desert is the driest and oldest desert on Earth. One of the most arid areas is its central core, characterized by low rainfall, extreme ultraviolet radiation and relative humidity that normally rubs 0% in the central hours of the day, making it a truly hostile environment for Life. These extreme conditions make Atacama a perfect analogue of Mars.

Now, a study led by researchers at the Centro de Astrobiología notes that a viable number of bacteria and fungi are able to pass through the hyperarid nucleus of Atacama thanks to the dust particles carried by the wind.

To study whether the microbial life found in this area had been transported from or near other desert locations, the researchers divided the study area into two sections and in turn each in three sample sites, where they placed a series of  petri dishes (some with different culture dwelling media and others empty) to see if the microorganisms were deposited there. 

The study reflects the finding of species from different groups. On the one hand, the researchers identified Oceanobacillus oncorhynchi, an oceanic microorganism, so it probably reached this area of the desert from the Pacific Ocean. On the other, the scientific team found species such as Bacillus simplex, a species found so far in plants.

Implications for the study of Mars

Mars is constantly affected by winds and dust storms that in many cases even cover the planet completely. The results of this study suggest that a microbial potential could have spread on the Red Planet similar to that studied in the Atacama Desert: through dust particles. 


Fuente: UCC-CAB

Fecha: 2019-08-23


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