A team of researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder has found a type of organism that can survive the most inhospitable conditions on Earth.
“We haven’t formally identified or characterized the species. But these are very different than anything else that has been cultured. Genetically, they’re at least 5 percent different than anything else in the DNA database of 2.5 million sequences,” said Ryan Lynch.
Researchers studied the rocky soil samples from the volcanoes in the Atacama region in South American that have conditions similar to Mars. The team discovered bacteria, fungi, and a different type of organism known as archaea, which have different methods of converting energy than ordinary microbes.
Scientists do not know how the newly-found organisms survive in such conditions.
Researchers examined the microbes for any evidence regarding the genes to be involved in photosynthesis, but they could not find any.
However, scientists believe the microbes might survive by generating energy through chemical reactions that extract energy and carbon from the gases carbon monoxide and dimethylsulfide which exist in the volcanic area.
“Overall, there was a good bit lower diversity in the Atacama samples than you would find in most soils, including other mountainous mineral soils,” said lead author Steve Schmidt.
He added that, “There are a lot of areas in the world that haven’t been studied from a microbial perspective, and this is one of the main ones. We’re interested in discovering new forms of life, and describing what those organisms are doing, how they make a living.”
Scientists believe understanding how any organism can live in such a hostile environment can help us set boundaries for life on Earth.
The findings of the new study will be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences.
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