Various effects of microgravity on prokaryotes have been recognized in recent years, with the focus on studies of pathogenic bacteria. No archaea have been investigated yet with respect to their responses to microgravity. For exposure experiments on spacecrafts or on the International Space Station, halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) are usually embedded in halite, where they accumulate in fluid inclusions. In a liquid environment, these cells will experience microgravity in space, which might influence their viability and survival. Two haloarchaeal strains, Haloferax mediterranei and Halococcus dombrowskii, were grown in simulated microgravity (SMG) with the rotary cell culture system (RCCS, Synthecon). Initially, salt precipitation and detachment of the porous aeration membranes in the RCCS were observed, but they were avoided in the remainder of the experiment by using disposable instead of reusable vessels. Several effects were detected, which were ascribed to growth in SMG: Hfx. mediterranei's resistance to the antibiotics bacitracin, erythromycin, and rifampicin increased markedly; differences in pigmentation and whole cell protein composition (proteome) of both strains were noted; cell aggregation of Hcc. dombrowskii was notably reduced. The results suggest profound effects of SMG on haloarchaeal physiology and cellular processes, some of which were easily observable and measurable. This is the first report of archaeal responses to SMG. The molecular mechanisms of the effects induced by SMG on prokaryotes are largely unknown; haloarchaea could be used as nonpathogenic model systems for their elucidation and in addition could provide information about survival during lithopanspermia (interplanetary transport of microbes inside meteorites). Key Words: Haloferax mediterranei—Halococcus dombrowskii—Simulated microgravity—Rotary cell culture system—Antibiotic resistance—Lithopanspermia. Astrobiology 11, 199–205.
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are accumulated in many prokaryotes. Several members of the Halobacteriaceae produce poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), but it is not known if this is a general property of the family. We evaluated identification methods for PHAs with 20 haloarchaeal species, three of them isolates from Permian salt. Staining with Sudan Black B, Nile Blue A, or Nile Red was applied to screen for the presence of PHAs. Transmission electron microscopy and 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used for visualization of PHB granules and chemical confirmation of PHAs in cell extracts, respectively. We report for the first time the production of PHAs by Halococcus sp. (Halococcus morrhuae DSM 1307T, Halococcus saccharolyticus DSM 5350T, Halococcus salifodinae DSM 8989T, Halococcus dombrowskii DSM 14522T, Halococcus hamelinensis JCM 12892T, Halococcus qingdaonensis JCM 13587T), Halorubrum sp. (Hrr. coriense DSM 10284T, Halorubrum chaoviator DSM 19316T, Hrr. chaoviator strains NaxosII and AUS-1), haloalkaliphiles (Natronobacterium gregoryi NCMB 2189T, Natronococcus occultus DSM 3396T) and Halobacterium noricense DSM 9758T. No PHB was detected in Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 ATCC 700922, Hbt. salinarum R1 and Haloferax volcanii DSM 3757T. Most species synthesized PHAs when growing in synthetic as well as in complex medium. The polyesters were generally composed of PHB and poly-ß-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate (PHBV). Available genomic data suggest the absence of PHA synthesis in some haloarchaea and in all other Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota. Homologies between haloarchaeal and bacterial PHA synthesizing enzymes had indicated to some authors probable horizontal gene transfer, which, considering the data obtained in this study, may have occurred already before Permian times.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00253-010-2611-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Polyhydroxybutyrate; Haloarchaea; Halococcus; Halobacterium; Haloalkaliphile
Evidence for the widespread occurrence of extraterrestrial halite, particularly on Mars, has led to speculations on the possibility of halophilic microbial forms of life; these ideas have been strengthened by reports of viable haloarchaea from sediments of geological age (millions of years). Raman spectroscopy, being a sensitive detection method for future astrobiological investigations onsite, has been used in the current study for the detection of nine different extremely halophilic archaeal strains which had been embedded in laboratory-made halite crystals in order to simulate evaporitic conditions. The cells accumulated preferentially in tiny fluid inclusions, in simulation of the precipitation of salt in natural brines. FT-Raman spectroscopy using laser excitation at 1064 nm and dispersive micro Raman spectroscopy at 514.5 nm were applied. The spectra showed prominent peaks at 1507, 1152 and 1002 cm−1 which are attributed to haloarchaeal C50 carotenoid compounds (mainly bacterioruberins). Their intensity varied from strain to strain at 1064-nm laser excitation. Other distinguishable features were peaks due to peptide bonds (amide I, amide III) and to nucleic acids. No evidence for fatty acids was detected, consistent with their general absence in all archaea.
These results contribute to a growing database on Raman spectra of terrestrial microorganisms from hypersaline environments and highlight the influence of the different macromolecular composition of diverse strains on these spectra.
Raman spectroscopy; extremely halophilic archaea; halite; astrobiology; fluid inclusions; carotenoids; bacterioruberins; Martian subsurface
Recent spacecraft and lander missions to Mars have reinforced previous interpretations that Mars was a wet and warm planet in the geological past. The role of liquid water in shaping many of the surface features on Mars has long been recognized. Since the presence of liquid water is essential for survival of life, conditions on early Mars might have been more favourable for the emergence and evolution of life. Until a sample return mission to Mars, one of the ways of studying the past environmental conditions on Mars is through chemical and isotopic studies of Martian meteorites. Over 35 individual meteorite samples, believed to have originated on Mars, are now available for lab-based studies. Fe is a key element that is present in both primary and secondary minerals in the Martian meteorites. Fe-isotope ratios can be fractionated by low-temperature processes which includes biological activity. Experimental investigations of Fe reduction and oxidation by bacteria have produced large fractionation in Fe-isotope ratios. Hence, it is considered likely that if there is/were any form of life present on Mars then it might be possible to detect its signature by Fe-isotope studies of Martian meteorites. In the present study, we have analysed a number of Martian meteorites for their bulk-Fe-isotope composition. In addition, a set of terrestrial analogue material has also been analysed to compare the results and draw inferences. So far, our studies have not found any measurable Fe-isotopic fractionation in bulk Martian meteorites that can be ascribed to any low-temperature process operative on Mars.
Mars; Martian meteorites; SNC; terrestrial analogues; iron isotopes; life
Most planetary protection research has concentrated on characterizing viable bioloads on spacecraft surfaces, developing techniques for bioload reduction prior to launch, and studying the effects of simulated martian environments on microbial survival. Little research has examined the persistence of biogenic signature molecules on spacecraft materials under simulated martian surface conditions. This study examined how endogenous adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) would persist on aluminum coupons under simulated martian conditions of 7.1 mbar, full-spectrum simulated martian radiation calibrated to 4 W m−2 of UV-C (200 to 280 nm), −10°C, and a Mars gas mix of CO2 (95.54%), N2 (2.7%), Ar (1.6%), O2 (0.13%), and H2O (0.03%). Cell or spore viabilities of Acinetobacter radioresistens, Bacillus pumilus, and B. subtilis were measured in minutes to hours, while high levels of endogenous ATP were recovered after exposures of up to 21 days. The dominant factor responsible for temporal reductions in viability and loss of ATP was the simulated Mars surface radiation; low pressure, low temperature, and the Mars gas composition exhibited only slight effects. The normal burst of endogenous ATP detected during spore germination in B. pumilus and B. subtilis was reduced by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude following, respectively, 8- or 30-min exposures to simulated martian conditions. The results support the conclusion that endogenous ATP will persist for time periods that are likely to extend beyond the nominal lengths of most surface missions on Mars, and planetary protection protocols prior to launch may require additional rigor to further reduce the presence and abundance of biosignature molecules on spacecraft surfaces.
The martian surface environment exhibits extremes of salinity, temperature, desiccation, and radiation that would make it difficult for terrestrial microbes to survive. Recent evidence suggests that martian soils contain high concentrations of MgSO4 minerals. Through warming of the soils, meltwater derived from subterranean ice-rich regolith may exist for an extended period of time and thus allow the propagation of terrestrial microbes and create significant bioburden at the near surface of Mars. The current report demonstrates that halotolerant bacteria from the Great Salt Plains (GSP) of Oklahoma are capable of growing at high concentrations of MgSO4 in the form of 2 M solutions of epsomite. The epsotolerance of isolates in the GSP bacterial collection was determined, with 35% growing at 2 M MgSO4. There was a complex physiological response to mixtures of MgSO4 and NaCl coupled with other environmental stressors. Growth also was measured at 1 M concentrations of other magnesium and sulfate salts. The complex responses may be partially explained by the pattern of chaotropicity observed for high-salt solutions as measured by agar gelation temperature. Select isolates could grow at the high salt concentrations and low temperatures found on Mars. Survival during repetitive freeze-thaw or drying-rewetting cycles was used as other measures of potential success on the martian surface. Our results indicate that terrestrial microbes might survive under the high-salt, low-temperature, anaerobic conditions on Mars and present significant potential for forward contamination. Stringent planetary protection requirements are needed for future life-detection missions to Mars. Key Words: Analogue—Mars—Planetary protection—Salts—Life in extreme environments. Astrobiology 12, 98–106.
Viable extremely halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) have been isolated from million-year-old salt deposits around the world; however, an explanation of their supposed longevity remains a fundamental challenge. Recently small roundish particles in fluid inclusions of 22 000- to 34 000-year-old halite were identified as haloarchaea capable of proliferation (Schubert BA, Lowenstein TK, Timofeeff MN, Parker MA, 2010, Environmental Microbiology, 12, 440–454). Searching for a method to produce such particles in the laboratory, we exposed rod-shaped cells of Halobacterium species to reduced external water activity (aw). Gradual formation of spheres of about 0.4 μm diameter occurred in 4 m NaCl buffer of aw ≤ 0.75, but exposure to buffered 4 m LiCl (aw ≤ 0.73) split cells into spheres within seconds, with concomitant release of several proteins. From one rod, three or four spheres emerged, which re-grew to normal rods in nutrient media. Biochemical properties of rods and spheres were similar, except for a markedly reduced ATP content (about 50-fold) and an increased lag phase of spheres, as is known from dormant bacteria. The presence of viable particles of similar sizes in ancient fluid inclusions suggested that spheres might represent dormant states of haloarchaea. The easy production of spheres by lowering aw should facilitate their investigation and could help to understand the mechanisms for microbial survival over geological times.
Survival of Bacillus subtilis var. globigii in a simulated Martian environment was demonstrated. Previous contact with the simulated Martian soil or atmosphere reduced germination or outgrowth of unheated spores, or both. Inoculation into simulated Martian soil and then flushing with a simulated Martian atmosphere were lethal to both vegetative cells and spores. After one diurnal temperature cycle (26 to -60 C), the majority of of cells present were spores. No further effect of the diurnal cycle on survival was noted in any of the experimental samples.
Eighteen strains of extremely halophilic bacteria and three strains of moderately halophilic bacteria were isolated from four different solar salt environments. Growth tests on carbohydrates, low-molecular-weight carboxylic acids, and complex medium demonstrated that the moderate halophiles and strains of the extreme halophiles Haloarcula and Halococcus grew on most of the substrates tested. Among the Halobacterium isolates were several metabolic groups: strains that grew on a broad range of substrates and strains that were essentially confined to either amino acid (peptone) or carbohydrate oxidation. One strain (WS-4) only grew well on pyruvate and acetate. Most strains of extreme halophiles grew by anaerobic fermentation and possibly by nitrate reduction. Tests of growth potential in natural saltern brines demonstrated that none of the halobacteria grew well in brines which harbor the densest populations of these bacteria in solar salterns. All grew best in brines which were unsaturated with NaCl. The high concentrations of Na+ and Mg2+ found in saltern crystallizer brines limited bacterial growth, but the concentrations of K+ found in these brines had little effect. MgSO4 was relatively more inhibitory to the extreme halophiles than was MgCl2, but the reverse was true for the moderate halophiles.
Extremophilic archaea were stained with the LIVE/DEAD BacLight kit under conditions of high ionic strength and over a pH range of 2.0 to 9.3. The reliability of the kit was tested with haloarchaea following permeabilization of the cells. Microorganisms in hypersaline environmental samples were detectable with the kit, which suggests its potential application to future extraterrestrial halites.
A Gram-negative, extremely halophilic, coccoid archaeal strain, CM5T, was isolated from a crude sea-salt sample collected near Qingdao, China. The organism grew optimally at 35–40 °C and pH 6.0 in the presence of 20 % (w/v) NaCl. Its colonies were red in colour and it could use glucose as a sole carbon source for growth. The 16S rRNA gene sequence of CM5T was most closely related to those of Halococcus species. Its pattern of antibiotic susceptibility was similar to those of other described Halococcus species. Biochemical tests revealed no sign of H2S production or gelatin liquefaction. The main polar lipids of strain CM5T were phosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylglycerol methylphosphate and sulfated diglycosyl diether. No phosphatidylglycerol sulfate was present. The DNA G+C content of strain CM5T was 61.2 mol% and it gave DNA–DNA reassociation values of 33.7, 57.1 and 29.6 %, respectively, with Halococcus salifodinae DSM 8989T, Halococcus dombrowskii DSM 14522T and Halococcus morrhuae ATCC 17082T. Based on its morphological and chemotaxonomic properties and phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequence data, we propose that CM5T should be classified within a novel species, Halococcus qingdaonensis sp. nov., with strain CM5T (=CGMCC 1.4243T=JCM 13587T) as the type strain.
Since the first genome of a halophilic archaeon was sequenced in 2000, biologists have been advancing the understanding of genomic characteristics that allow for survival in the harsh natural environments of these organisms. An increase in protein acidity and GC-bias in the genome have been implicated as factors in tolerance to extreme salinity, desiccation, and high solar radiation. However, few previous attempts have been made to identify novel genes that would permit survival in such extreme conditions.
With the recent release of several new complete haloarchaeal genome sequences, we have conducted a comprehensive comparative genomic analysis focusing on the identification of unique haloarchaeal conserved proteins that likely play key roles in environmental adaptation. Using bioinformatic methods, we have clustered 31,312 predicted proteins from nine haloarchaeal genomes into 4,455 haloarchaeal orthologous groups (HOGs). We assigned likely functions by association with established COG and KOG databases in NCBI. After identifying homologs in four additional haloarchaeal genomes, we determined that there were 784 core haloarchaeal protein clusters (cHOGs), of which 83 clusters were found primarily in haloarchaea. Further analysis found that 55 clusters were truly unique (tucHOGs) to haloarchaea and qualify as signature proteins while 28 were nearly unique (nucHOGs), the vast majority of which were coded for on the haloarchaeal chromosomes. Of the signature proteins, only one example with any predicted function, Ral, involved in desiccation/radiation tolerance in Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, was identified. Among the core clusters, 33% was predicted to function in metabolism, 25% in information transfer and storage, 10% in cell processes and signaling, and 22% belong to poorly characterized or general function groups.
Our studies have established conserved groups of nearly 800 protein clusters present in all haloarchaea, with a subset of 55 which are predicted to be accessory proteins that may be critical or essential for success in an extreme environment. These studies support core and signature genes and proteins as valuable concepts for understanding phylogenetic and phenotypic characteristics of coherent groups of organisms.
Martian soil is thought to be enriched with strong oxidants such as peroxides and/or iron in high oxidation states that might destroy biological materials. There is also a high flux of ultraviolet radiation at the surface of Mars. Thus, Mars may be inhospitable to life as we know it on Earth. We examined the hypothesis that if the soil of Mars contains ferrates [Fe(VI)], the strongest of the proposed oxidizing species, and also is exposed to high fluxes of UV radiation, it will be self-sterilizing.
Under ambient conditions (25°C, oxygen and water present) K2FeO4 mixed into sand mineralized some reactive organic molecules to CO2, while less reactive compounds were not degraded. Dried endospores of Bacillus subtilis incubated in a Mars surrogate soil comprised of dry silica sand containing 20% by weight K2FeO4 and under conditions similar to those now on Mars (extreme desiccation, cold, and a CO2-dominated atmosphere) were resistant to killing by the ferrate-enriched sand. Similar results were observed with permanganate. Spores in oxidant-enriched sand exposed to high fluxes of UV light were protected from the sporocidal activity of the radiation below about 5 mm depths.
Based on our data and previously published descriptions of ancient but dormant life forms on Earth, we suggest that if entities resembling bacterial endospores were produced at some point by life forms on Mars, they might still be present and viable, given appropriate germination conditions. Endospores delivered to Mars on spacecraft would possibly survive and potentially compromise life detection experiments.
In a study of a lake having a higher concentration of salts than the Dead Sea, all of the heterotrophic bacteria isolated were aerobes; no strictly anaerobic strains were found. Ninety percent of the strains were euryhalines and ten percent were strict halophiles. The extreme halophiles belonged to the species Halobacterium trapanicum and Halococcus morrhuae.
Spacecraft-associated spores and four non-spore-forming bacterial isolates were prepared in Atacama Desert soil suspensions and tested both in solution and in a desiccated state to elucidate the shadowing effect of soil particulates on bacterial survival under simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. All non-spore-forming cells that were prepared in nutrient-depleted, 0.2-μm-filtered desert soil (DSE) microcosms and desiccated for 75 days on aluminum died, whereas cells prepared similarly in 60-μm-filtered desert soil (DS) microcosms survived such conditions. Among the bacterial cells tested, Microbacterium schleiferi and Arthrobacter sp. exhibited elevated resistance to 254-nm UV irradiation (low-pressure Hg lamp), and their survival indices were comparable to those of DS- and DSE-associated Bacillus pumilus spores. Desiccated DSE-associated spores survived exposure to full Martian UV irradiation (200 to 400 nm) for 5 min and were only slightly affected by Martian atmospheric conditions in the absence of UV irradiation. Although prolonged UV irradiation (5 min to 12 h) killed substantial portions of the spores in DSE microcosms (∼5- to 6-log reduction with Martian UV irradiation), dramatic survival of spores was apparent in DS-spore microcosms. The survival of soil-associated wild-type spores under Martian conditions could have repercussions for forward contamination of extraterrestrial environments, especially Mars.
Halophilic archaebacteria (haloarchaea) thrive in environments with salt concentrations approaching saturation, such as natural brines, the Dead Sea, alkaline salt lakes and marine solar salterns; they have also been isolated from rock salt of great geological age (195–250 million years). An overview of their taxonomy, including novel isolates from rock salt, is presented here; in addition, some of their unique characteristics and physiological adaptations to environments of low water activity are reviewed. The issue of extreme long-term microbial survival is considered and its implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. The development of detection methods for subterranean haloarchaea, which might also be applicable to samples from future missions to space, is presented.
Extreme halophiles; Haloarchaea; Life detection; Microbial longevity; Salt mines; Salt sediments; Space missions; Subterranean; Taxonomy of halobacteriaceae
Spore-forming bacteria are of particular concern in the context of planetary protection because their tough endospores may withstand certain sterilization procedures as well as the harsh environments of outer space or planetary surfaces. To test their hardiness on a hypothetical mission to Mars, spores of Bacillus subtilis 168 and Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 were exposed for 1.5 years to selected parameters of space in the experiment PROTECT during the EXPOSE-E mission on board the International Space Station. Mounted as dry layers on spacecraft-qualified aluminum coupons, the “trip to Mars” spores experienced space vacuum, cosmic and extraterrestrial solar radiation, and temperature fluctuations, whereas the “stay on Mars” spores were subjected to a simulated martian environment that included atmospheric pressure and composition, and UV and cosmic radiation. The survival of spores from both assays was determined after retrieval. It was clearly shown that solar extraterrestrial UV radiation (λ≥110 nm) as well as the martian UV spectrum (λ≥200 nm) was the most deleterious factor applied; in some samples only a few survivors were recovered from spores exposed in monolayers. Spores in multilayers survived better by several orders of magnitude. All other environmental parameters encountered by the “trip to Mars” or “stay on Mars” spores did little harm to the spores, which showed about 50% survival or more. The data demonstrate the high chance of survival of spores on a Mars mission, if protected against solar irradiation. These results will have implications for planetary protection considerations. Key Words: Planetary protection—Bacterial spores—Space experiment—Simulated Mars mission. Astrobiology 12, 445–456.
Dried colonies of the Antarctic rock-inhabiting meristematic fungi
Cryomyces antarcticus CCFEE 515, CCFEE 534 and C. minteri
CCFEE 5187, as well as fragments of rocks colonized by the Antarctic
cryptoendolithic community, were exposed to a set of ground-based experiment
verification tests (EVTs) at the German Aerospace Center (DLR, Köln,
Germany). These were carried out to test the tolerance of these organisms in
view of their possible exposure to space conditions outside of the
International Space Station (ISS). Tests included single or combined simulated
space and Martian conditions. Responses were analysed both by cultural and
microscopic methods. Thereby, colony formation capacities were measured and
the cellular viability was assessed using live/dead dyes FUN 1 and SYTOX
Green. The results clearly suggest a general good resistance of all the
samples investigated. C. minteri CCFEE 5187, C. antarcticus
CCFEE 515 and colonized rocks were selected as suitable candidates to
withstand space flight and long-term permanence in space on the ISS in the
framework of the LIchens and Fungi Experiments (LIFE programme, European Space
Astrobiology; cryptoendolithic community; fungi; ground-based experiments; lithopanspermia; panspermia; space conditions; stress resistance; viability
All tested strains of halophilic archaebacteria of the genera Halobacterium, Haloarcula, Haloferax, and Natronobacterium lysed in 1% Bacto-Peptone (Difco) containing 25% NaCl, whereas no lysis was observed with other strains belonging to archaebacteria of the genera Halococcus, Natronococcus, and Sulfolobus, methanogenic bacteria, and moderately halophilic eubacteria. Substances in Bacto-Peptone which caused lysis of halobacteria were purified and identified as taurocholic acid and glycocholic acid. High-performance liquid chromatography analyses of peptones revealed that Bacto-Peptone contained nine different bile acids, with a total content of 9.53 mg/g, whereas much lower amounts were found in Peptone Bacteriological Technical (Difco) and Oxoid Peptone. Different kinds of peptones can be used to distinguish halophilic eubacteria and archaebacteria in mixed cultures from hypersaline environments.
Spore-forming microbes recovered from spacecraft surfaces and assembly facilities were exposed to simulated Martian UV irradiation. The effects of UVA (315 to 400 nm), UVA+B (280 to 400 nm), and the full UV spectrum (200 to 400 nm) on the survival of microorganisms were studied at UV intensities expected to strike the surfaces of Mars. Microbial species isolated from the surfaces of several spacecraft, including Mars Odyssey, X-2000 (avionics), and the International Space Station, and their assembly facilities were identified using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Forty-three Bacillus spore lines were screened, and 19 isolates showed resistance to UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) after exposure to 1,000 J m−2 of UVC irradiation at 254 nm using a low-pressure mercury lamp. Spores of Bacillus species isolated from spacecraft-associated surfaces were more resistant than a standard dosimetric strain, Bacillus subtilis 168. In addition, the exposure time required for UVA+B irradiation to reduce the viable spore numbers by 90% was 35-fold longer than the exposure time required for the full UV spectrum to do this, confirming that UVC is the primary biocidal bandwidth. Among the Bacillus species tested, spores of a Bacillus pumilus strain showed the greatest resistance to all three UV bandwidths, as well as the total spectrum. The resistance to simulated Mars UV irradiation was strain specific; B. pumilus SAFR-032 exhibited greater resistance than all other strains tested. The isolation of organisms like B. pumilus SAFR-032 and the greater survival of this organism (sixfold) than of the standard dosimetric strains should be considered when the sanitation capabilities of UV irradiation are determined.
The extremely halophilic archaea are present worldwide in saline environments and have important biotechnological applications. Ten complete genomes of haloarchaea are now available, providing an opportunity for comparative analysis.
We report here the comparative analysis of five newly sequenced haloarchaeal genomes with five previously published ones. Whole genome trees based on protein sequences provide strong support for deep relationships between the ten organisms. Using a soft clustering approach, we identified 887 protein clusters present in all halophiles. Of these core clusters, 112 are not found in any other archaea and therefore constitute the haloarchaeal signature. Four of the halophiles were isolated from water, and four were isolated from soil or sediment. Although there are few habitat-specific clusters, the soil/sediment halophiles tend to have greater capacity for polysaccharide degradation, siderophore synthesis, and cell wall modification. Halorhabdus utahensis and Haloterrigena turkmenica encode over forty glycosyl hydrolases each, and may be capable of breaking down naturally occurring complex carbohydrates. H. utahensis is specialized for growth on carbohydrates and has few amino acid degradation pathways. It uses the non-oxidative pentose phosphate pathway instead of the oxidative pathway, giving it more flexibility in the metabolism of pentoses.
These new genomes expand our understanding of haloarchaeal catabolic pathways, providing a basis for further experimental analysis, especially with regard to carbohydrate metabolism. Halophilic glycosyl hydrolases for use in biofuel production are more likely to be found in halophiles isolated from soil or sediment.
We describe the parameters that drive the design and modeling of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) Ground Temperature Sensor (GTS), an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, and report preliminary test results. REMS GTS is a lightweight, low-power, and low cost pyrometer for measuring the Martian surface kinematic temperature. The sensor’s main feature is its innovative design, based on a simple mechanical structure with no moving parts. It includes an in-flight calibration system that permits sensor recalibration when sensor sensitivity has been degraded by deposition of dust over the optics. This paper provides the first results of a GTS engineering model working in a Martian-like, extreme environment.
IR ground temperature sensor; sensor thermal model; spacecraft instrumentation; in-flight calibration
Soil samples from Cape Canaveral were subjected to a simulated Martian environment and assayed periodically over 45 days to determine the effect of various environmental parameters on bacterial populations. The simulated environment was based on the most recent available data, prior to the Viking spacecraft, describing Martian conditions and consisted of a pressure of 7 millibars, an atmosphere of 99.9% CO2 and 0.1% O2, a freeze-thaw cycle of -65 degrees C for 16 h and 24 degrees C for 8 h, and variable moisture and nutrients. Reduced pressure had a significant effect, reducing growth under these conditions. Slight variations in gaseous composition of the simulated atmosphere had negligible effect on growth. The freeze-thaw cycle did not inhibit growth but did result in a slower rate of decline after growth had occurred. Dry samples exhibited no change during the 45-day experiment, indicating that the simulated Martian environment was not toxic to bacterial populations. Psychotrophic organisms responded more favorably to this environment than mesophiles, although both types exhibited increases of approximately 3 logs in 7 to 14 days when moisture and nutrients were available.
The Atacama Desert has long been considered a good Mars analogue for testing instrumentation for planetary exploration, but very few data (if any) have been reported about the geomicrobiology of its salt-rich subsurface. We performed a Mars analogue drilling campaign next to the Salar Grande (Atacama, Chile) in July 2009, and several cores and powder samples from up to 5 m deep were analyzed in situ with LDChip300 (a Life Detector Chip containing 300 antibodies). Here, we show the discovery of a hypersaline subsurface microbial habitat associated with halite-, nitrate-, and perchlorate-containing salts at 2 m deep. LDChip300 detected bacteria, archaea, and other biological material (DNA, exopolysaccharides, some peptides) from the analysis of less than 0.5 g of ground core sample. The results were supported by oligonucleotide microarray hybridization in the field and finally confirmed by molecular phylogenetic analysis and direct visualization of microbial cells bound to halite crystals in the laboratory. Geochemical analyses revealed a habitat with abundant hygroscopic salts like halite (up to 260 g kg−1) and perchlorate (41.13 μg g−1 maximum), which allow deliquescence events at low relative humidity. Thin liquid water films would permit microbes to proliferate by using detected organic acids like acetate (19.14 μg g−1) or formate (76.06 μg g−1) as electron donors, and sulfate (15875 μg g−1), nitrate (13490 μg g−1), or perchlorate as acceptors. Our results correlate with the discovery of similar hygroscopic salts and possible deliquescence processes on Mars, and open new search strategies for subsurface martian biota. The performance demonstrated by our LDChip300 validates this technology for planetary exploration, particularly for the search for life on Mars. Key Words: Atacama Desert—Life detection—Biosensor—Biopolymers—In situ measurement. Astrobiology 11, 969–996.
Most of the haloarchaeal strains have been isolated from hypersaline environments such as solar evaporation ponds, salt lakes, or salt deposits, and they, with some exceptions, lyse or lose viability in very low-salt concentrations. There are no salty environments suitable for the growth of haloarchaea in Japan. Although Natrialba asiatica and Haloarcula japonica were isolated many years ago, the question, "Are haloarchaea really thriving in natural environments of Japan?" has remained unanswered.
Ten strains were isolated from a traditional Japanese-style salt field at Nie, Noto Peninsula, Japan by plating out the soil samples directly on agar plates containing 30% (w/v) salts and 0.5% yeast extract. They were most closely related to strains of three genera, Haladaptatus, Halococcus, and Halogeometricum. Survival rates in 3% and 0.5% SW (Salt Water, solutions containing salts in approximately the same proportions as found in seawater) solutions at 37°C differed considerably depending on the strains. Two strains belonging to Halogeometricum as well as the type strain Hgm. borinquense died and lysed immediately after suspension. Five strains that belonged to Halococcus and a strain that may be a member of Halogeometricum survived for 1–2 days in 0.5% SW solution. Two strains most closely related to Haladaptatus possessed extraordinary strong tolerance to low salt conditions. About 20 to 34% of the cells remained viable in 0.5% SW after 9 days incubation.
In this study we have demonstrated that haloarchaea are really thriving in the soil of Japanese-style salt field. The haloarchaeal cells, particularly the fragile strains are suggested to survive in the micropores of smaller size silt fraction, one of the components of soil. The inside of the silt particles is filled with concentrated salt solution and kept intact even upon suspension in rainwater. Possible origins of the haloarchaea isolated in this study are discussed.