Hydrothermal gypsum deposits in the Haughton impact structure, Devon Island, Canada, contain microbial communities in an endolithic habitat within individual gypsum crystals. Cyanobacterial colonies occur as masses along cleavage planes, up to 5 cm from crystal margins. The crystals are transparent, so allow transmission of light for photosynthesis, while affording protection from dehydration and wind. The colonies appear to have modified their mineral host to provide additional space as they expanded. The colonies are black due to UV-screening pigments. The relative ease with which microbial colonization may be detected and identified in impact-generated sulphate deposits at Haughton suggests that analogous settings on other planets might merit future searches for biosignatures. The proven occurrence of sulphates on the Martian surface suggests that sulphate minerals should be a priority target in the search for life on Mars.
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