Biomarkers of the Deep (news in English)
24-07-2014 THE CAB IN THE MEDIA (ASTROBiology Magazine)

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Spain is a unique geological site that has fascinated astrobiologists for decades. The Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB) in Spain's Río Tinto area is the largest known deposit of sulfide on Earth, and it has been a field-site for scientists studying chemolithotrophic microbes.

Many of these unique organisms are thought to survive independently of the Sun and instead gather the energy they need to live from the chemical imbalance of minerals. Organisms with this ability could stand the best chance of surviving in other worlds, like the deep subsurface of Mars.

"The Rio Tinto mineralogy is dominated by iron and sulfur minerals such as hematite and jarosite, both already discovered on Mars, "said Victor Parro Garcia, head of the Molecular Evolution Department at the Center for Astrobiology (CAB) (INTA-CSIC) in Spain. "These minerals are the consequence of the pyrite (FeS2) oxidation, a process highly accelerated by iron oxidizing microbes to obtain energy for their metabolisms."

In the Rio Tinto, these microorganisms do not need the Sun to survive. To grow, they need iron, carbon and nitrogen CO2 and N2 in the atmosphere, and some salts from the water for growth.

"They have very simple nutrient requirements," said Parro Garcia, co -author on the recent study. "In summary, the Iberian Pyrite Belt subsurface is an excellent analogue for a potential Martian subsurface habitat because of its mineralogy and the variety of anaerobic metabolisms that can occur there."

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Fuente: ASTROBiology Magazine

 

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