EGU Twitter Journal Club: Article 2

6 Jul

Time for the second edition of the EGU’s Twitter Journal Club, our interactive online discussion about a timely scientific article. Full details can be found here

This time, our article focuses on one of the most extreme environments on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and the method by which rock-dwelling microorganisms obtain their water. The Twitter discussion will take place on Thursday 12 July at 17:00 CEST (hashtag #egutjc2). Please email the EGU’s Science Communications Fellow Edvard Glücksman with further questions. Happy reading!

The Atacama Desert is one of Earth’s driest environments. (credit: Wikimedia)

Novel water source for endolithic life in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert
Biogeosciences, 9, 2275-2286, 2012

Abstract. The hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert, Chile, is possibly the driest and most life-limited place on Earth, yet endolithic microorganisms thrive inside halite pinnacles that are part of ancient salt flats. The existence of this microbial community in an environment that excludes any other life forms suggests biological adaptation to high salinity and desiccation stress, and indicates an alternative source of water for life other than rainfall, fog or dew. Here, we show that halite endoliths obtain liquid water through spontaneous capillary condensation at relative humidity (RH) much lower than the deliquescence RH of NaCl. We describe how this condensation could occur inside nano-pores smaller than 100 nm, in a newly characterized halite phase that is intimately associated with the endolithic aggregates. This nano-porous phase helps retain liquid water for long periods of time by preventing its evaporation even in conditions of utmost dryness. Our results explain how life has colonized and adapted to one of the most extreme environments on our planet, expanding the water activity envelope for life on Earth, and broadening the spectrum of possible habitats for life beyond our planet.

Questions to think about:
1. How would you summarise this article in a tweet?

2. The Atacama Desert is one of the driest environments on the planet. Can you think of others, and do you know of similar studies done there?

3. What is the link between the research presented here and our quest to find extraterrestrial life?

4. How could the methods presented here be improved in follow-up studies?

5. Do you see industrial applications for these findings?

Related media coverage
National Geographic Magazine
Sydney Morning Herald

The European Geosciences Union, through publishing house Copernicus Publications, publishes 14 peer-reviewed Open Access journalsBiogeosciences (BG, IF 3.587)  is an international scientific journal dedicated to the publication and discussion of research articles, short communications and review papers on all aspects of the interactions between the biological, chemical and physical processes in terrestrial or extraterrestrial life with the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere. The objective of the journal is to cut across the boundaries of established sciences and achieve an interdisciplinary view of these interactions.

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