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Provision of water by halite deliquescence for Nostoc commune biofilms under Mars relevant surface conditions

  • Jochen Jänchen (a1), Nina Feyh (a2), Ulrich Szewzyk (a2) and Jean-Pierre P. de Vera (a3)

Motivated by findings of new mineral related water sources for organisms under extremely dry conditions on Earth we studied in an interdisciplinary approach the water sorption behaviour of halite, soil component and terrestrial Nostoc commune biofilm under Mars relevant environmental conditions. Physicochemical methods served for the determination of water sorption equilibrium data and survival of heterotrophic bacteria in biofilm samples with different water contents was assured by recultivation. Deliquescence of halite provides liquid water at temperatures <273 K and may serve as water source on Mars during the morning stabilized by the CO2 atmosphere for a few hours. The protecting biofilm of N. commune is rather hygroscopic and tends to store water at lower humidity values. Survival tests showed that a large proportion of the Alphaproteobacteria dominated microbiota associated to N. commune is very desiccation tolerant and water uptake from saturated NaCl solutions (either by direct uptake of brine or adsorption of humidity) did not enhance recultivability in long-time desiccated samples. Still, a minor part can grow under highly saline conditions. However, the salinity level, although unfavourable for the host organism, might be for parts of the heterotrophic microbiota no serious hindrance for growing in salty Mars-like environments.

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