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Microbes Capable of Surviving Harsh, Mars-Like Conditions Discovered

Soil samples obtained from South American volcanoes have revealed a smattering of different microbe types that have somehow managed to survive in extreme conditions, the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU-Boulder) announced in a June 8 press release.

According to the university, the scientists behind the research discovered bacteria, fungi, and a different type of simple organism known as archaea living in conditions similar to Mars — a landscape which they dub “some of the most inhospitable soils” on the planet.

Ryan Lynch, a doctoral student at the school who was involved in the study, said that none of the species had not yet been indentified or characterized. However, he noted that the organisms, which apparently have different methods of converting energy than ordinary microbes, were “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.”

Lynch was part of a team led by Steve Schmidt, a professor in the CU-Boulder ecology and evolutionary biology department, which collected soil samples from some of the tallest volcanoes in the Atacama region of South America. In this area, the soil is “so depleted of nutrients that nitrogen levels in the scientists’ samples were below detection limits,” and ultraviolet radiation reaches levels up to “twice as intense as in a low-elevation desert.”

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