Discovering La Puna and its astrobiological interest

2020-02-18

Image: Ojos de Campo, Salar de Antofalla, in Argentina's Puna. ©Daniel Carrizo

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A scientific team from the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA) has traveled to La Puna to study some of its extreme environments from an astrobiological point of view. The campaign has been carried out in collaboration with researchers from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina (CONICET).

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In the central area of the Andes mountain range we find an altiplanic region known as La Puna and covering territories of northern Argentina, western Bolivia, northern Chile and central and southern Peru. In the Argentine area we find different extreme environments, such as the 'Salar de Antofalla', a large 'salt desert' of more than 150 km in length that is practically uninhabited; or the 'Volcán Galán', the largest volcanic caldera in the world (its mouth measures 45 km from north to south and 24 from east to west) and whose walls reach 5 km of altitude. 

A few weeks ago, a scientific team, consisting of researcher from the Centro de Astrobiología Daniel Carrizo and several researchers from CONICET's Microbiological Research Laboratory of Lagunas Andinas (LIMLA), moved to these extreme environments with the aim of studying them from an astrobiological point of view. 

"The sampled places are located between 3,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level, therefore, in addition to having a great exposure to ultra violet radiation, are characterized by being hypersaline, high in toxic elements (such as arsenic), large variations in temperature and low oxygen pressure," explains Carrizo.

Once in the laboratory, the team of the CAB, led by Carrizo and of which the researchers Olga Prieto-Ballesteros, Laura Sánchez-García and Victoria Muñoz-Iglesias, are part, will make a characterization both biogeochemistry and mineralogical; while the Argentine group, led by María Eugenia Farías, will be responsible for the metagenomic analysis of the communities of microorganisms. The first results are expected to be obtained in approximately 6 months. 

"Until now this area had only been researched from a microbiological point of view," says Daniel Carrizo, who recalls that in 2009 microbialites (microbial structures associated with mineral precipitation) that had not been reported found earlier in such environments. "For this reason, Puna arouses great interest for astrobiology, for serving as an example to understand the origin of life and the terrestrial analog of ancient Mars," he concludes.



 

Fuente: UCC-CAB

Fecha: 2020-02-18

 

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