Micro organism fly into the Atacama Desert each afternoon on the wind

Some microbes handle to reside within the inhospitable Atacama desert


Each afternoon, microorganisms fly into the Atacama Desert on grains of mud carried by the wind. The wind-driven mud may very well be how microbes first colonised the desert.

If there are microbes alive on Mars, they may very well be carried across the planet by the common world-spanning mud storms, similar to the Atacama microbes, says Armando Azua-Bustos of the Centre of Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain.

The Atacama Desert in South America is among the driest locations on Earth, with soils so dry they resemble these on Mars. Regardless of the acute situations, some microorganisms survive even within the very driest areas.


“We all the time questioned how these species acquired there within the first place,” says Azua-Bustos. He and his colleagues suspected the microbes have been carried on mud particles by afternoon winds that blow in from the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The whole lot is mud within the wind

To search out out, they set out Petri dishes stuffed with vitamins in lengthy strains stretching from the coast to the desert inside. Any microbes flying in would land in them and develop. The workforce additionally set out empty dishes for gathering DNA from microbes that didn’t develop.

“I didn’t anticipate a lot,” says Azua-Bustos. However they discovered 28 species of microorganism rising on the plates, and extracted DNA from a number of extra.

The microbes got here from close to the coast. Azua-Bustos says such microbes could have been the primary to colonise the Atacama. He highlights Oceanobacillus oncorhynchi, which lives in tidal swimming pools. As a result of the swimming pools dry out within the warmth of the day, it could survive being dried out for hours – giving it an opportunity of surviving the Atacama.

Mars is susceptible to mud storms, so if there’s any microbial life there it may very well be dispersed on the mud grains, Azua-Bustos says. Even when there isn’t a life there now, there could have been when the planet was youthful and wetter.

If life might be transported round Mars, any contamination from our area probes might unfold quickly. “If we do carry contaminants to Mars, they may simply be dispersed by the Martian wind, as we have now seen within the Atacama,” says Azua-Bustos.

Nevertheless, it isn’t clear if the mud transport into the Atacama will proceed. In the previous couple of years the desert has had unprecedented rainstorms, which can be because of local weather change. “We don’t know the impact of those rains on this transport course of and the continual move of life throughout the Atacama,” says Azua-Bustos.

Journal reference: Scientific Stories, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-47394-z

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