First nano-sized organisms found in the hottest region on Earth

A) General view of the sampling site, (B) the small chimneys (temperature of water 90°C. (C) D9 sample from a small chimney in (A). 

An international scientific team led by the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA) has discovered for the first time the presence of nano-sized microorganisms in the multi-extreme conditions of the Dallol volcano, the hottest region on Earth, located in the Afar region, in Ethiopia. These microorganisms, which can survive and potentially live in one of the most extreme environments known, can be key to understand the limits of habitability on both Earth and even on early Mars.
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The Dallol geothermal area in the northern part of the Danakil Depression (up to 124-155 meters below sea level) is deemed one of the most extreme environments on Earth. In fact, it is the hottest place on Earth. A new study, led by Felipe Gómez, researcher at the Centro de Astrobiología, and published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, presents the first evidence of life found in this area. “Here, we describe for the first time morphological and molecular evidence of thermohaloacidophilic (loving high tempeature, high salt content and very low pH) nanomicroorganisms existing in this novel multi-extreme environment”, points out Gómez.
Ultra-small structures are shown (which seems at the first look to be mineral precipitates) to be entombed within mineral deposits. In Gómez words, “Small (nano-sized) bacteria has been identified entombed in the salt layers deposited over the small chimneys in Dallol”. These organisms have been identified initially as members of the Order Nanohaloarchaea, although it could also be new microorganisms not described so far.

The results from this study have deep implications for understanding the environmental limits of life and provides useful information for assessing the limits of habitability both on Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System, even on early Mars. Understanding, and defining these limits, using extreme terrestrial environments and Earth analogues sites is therefore a crucial step in selecting sites for future life detection missions.


Fuente: UCC-CAB


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