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Liquid Water Restricts Habitability in Extreme Deserts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Charles S. Cockell
  • Sarah Brown
  • Hanna Landenmark
  • Toby Samuels
  • Rebecca Siddall
  • Jennifer Wadsworth

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-318
Number of pages10
JournalAstrobiology
Volume17
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017

Abstract

Liquid water is a requirement for biochemistry, yet under some circumstances it is deleterious to life. Here, we show that liquid water reduces the upper temperature survival limit for two extremophilic photosynthetic microorganisms (Gloeocapsa and Chroococcidiopsis spp.) by greater than 40 degrees C under hydrated conditions compared to desiccated conditions. Under hydrated conditions, thermal stress causes protein inactivation as shown by the fluorescein diacetate assay. The presence of water was also found to enhance the deleterious effects of freeze-thaw in Chroococcidiopsis sp. In the presence of water, short-wavelength UV radiation more effectively kills Gloeocapsa sp. colonies, which we hypothesize is caused by factors including the greater penetration of UV radiation into hydrated colonies compared to desiccated colonies. The data predict that deserts where maximum thermal stress or irradiation occurs in conjunction with the presence of liquid water may be less habitable to some organisms than more extreme arid deserts where organisms can dehydrate prior to being exposed to these extremes, thus minimizing thermal and radiation damage. Life in extreme deserts is poised between the deleterious effects of the presence and the lack of liquid water.

    Research areas

  • Deserts, Extremophiles, Stress, High temperatures, UV radiation, Desiccation, LOW-EARTH-ORBIT, HEAT-SHOCK, ULTRAVIOLET-RADIATION, ESTERASE-ACTIVITY, CYANOBACTERIA, DESICCATION, ACCLIMATION, TEMPERATURE, ANTARCTICA, MEMBRANES

ID: 38942932