Mars-Like Soils in the Atacama Desert, Chile, and the Dry Limit of Microbial Life

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Science  07 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5647, pp. 1018-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.1089143

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The Viking missions showed the martian soil to be lifeless and depleted in organic material and indicated the presence of one or more reactive oxidants. Here we report the presence of Mars-like soils in the extreme arid region of the Atacama Desert. Samples from this region had organic species only at trace levels and extremely low levels of culturable bacteria. Two samples from the extreme arid region were tested for DNA and none was recovered. Incubation experiments, patterned after the Viking labeled-release experiment but with separate biological and nonbiological isomers, show active decomposition of organic species in these soils by nonbiological processes.

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