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Bacterial growth tolerance to concentrations of chlorate and perchlorate salts relevant to Mars

  • Amer F. Al Soudi (a1), Omar Farhat (a1), Fei Chen (a2), Benton C. Clark (a3) and Mark A. Schneegurt (a1)...

The Phoenix lander at Mars polar cap found appreciable levels of (per)chlorate salts, a mixture of perchlorate and chlorate salts of Ca, Fe, Mg and Na at levels of ~0.6% in regolith. These salts are highly hygroscopic and can form saturated brines through deliquescence, likely producing aqueous solutions with very low freezing points on Mars. To support planetary protection efforts, we have measured bacterial growth tolerance to (per)chlorate salts. Existing bacterial isolates from the Great Salt Plains of Oklahoma (NaCl-rich) and Hot Lake in Washington (MgSO4-rich) were tested in high concentrations of Mg, K and Na salts of chlorate and perchlorate. Strong growth was observed with nearly all of these salinotolerant isolates at 1% (~0.1 M) (per)chlorate salts, similar to concentrations observed in bulk soils on Mars. Growth in perchlorate salts was observed at concentrations of at least 10% (~1.0 M). Greater tolerance was observed for chlorate salts, where growth was observed to 2.75 M (>25%). Tolerance to K salts was greatest, followed by Mg salts and then Na salts. Tolerances varied among isolates, even among those within the same phylogenetic clade. Tolerant bacteria included genera that also are found in spacecraft assembly facilities. Substantial microbial tolerance to (per)chlorate salts is a concern for planetary protection since tolerant microbes contaminating spacecraft would have a greater chance for survival and proliferation, despite the harsh chemical conditions found near the surface of Mars.

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