The Atacama Desert, which can be found in Chile, is well-known as one of the driest places on Earth. However, there are certain microorganisms that can survive by extracting water from colonized rocks.
As per recent reports, a new study funded by the US Army sought to learn more about the mechanisms employed by cyanobacteria, one of the oldest groups of photosynthetic microbes, which can be found in some of the harshest environments in the world.
Some of the new information uncovered by the researchers is quite impressive as it can explain how life can be present in harsh environments. It also paves the way for future research that could allow people who live in remote areas to gather water from minerals.
New research explored the resistance of microorganisms to harsh environments
The interest of the Army in the capacity of microorganisms to survive in extreme environments is not surprising. Information obtains from such studies can be quite useful for military applications in the long run as new opportunities can be identified.
Chroococcidiospsis was the main focus of the team, as the bacteria can be encountered in several of the deserts which are spread across the world and in gypsum. The microorganisms thrive underneath a thin layer of rock, which shields them against the severe conditions found in the desert, including high heat, powerful winds, and concentrated solar radiation.
One of the surprising discoveries is related to the fact that the microorganisms can alter the nature of the colonized rock. The process by which they extract water will trigger a transformation from gypsum to anhydrite, with the latter being a dehydrated mineral.
The phenomenon was confirmed with the help of tests, as organisms were cultivated on a number of rock samples, and the researchers observed how water was consumed from the rocks during stressful conditions. Several applications are already being theorized as the mechanisms may be used for biomanufacturing and other biotechnology processes.