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Astrobiology. 2009 Jun;9(5):467-82. doi: 10.1089/ast.2008.0282.

Microscopic identification of prokaryotes in modern and ancient halite, Saline Valley and Death Valley, California.

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  • 1Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York, USA. bschube@hawaii.edu

Abstract

Primary fluid inclusions in halite crystallized in Saline Valley, California, in 1980, 2004-2005, and 2007, contain rod- and coccoid-shaped microparticles the same size and morphology as archaea and bacteria living in modern brines. Primary fluid inclusions from a well-dated (0-100,000 years), 90 m long salt core from Badwater Basin, Death Valley, California, also contain microparticles, here interpreted as halophilic and halotolerant prokaryotes. Prokaryotes are distinguished from crystals on the basis of morphology, optical properties (birefringence), and uniformity of size. Electron micrographs of microparticles from filtered modern brine (Saline Valley), dissolved modern halite crystals (Saline Valley), and dissolved ancient halite crystals (Death Valley) support in situ microscopic observations that prokaryotes are present in fluid inclusions in ancient halite. In the Death Valley salt core, prokaryotes in fluid inclusions occur almost exclusively in halite precipitated in perennial saline lakes 10,000 to 35,000 years ago. This suggests that trapping and preservation of prokaryotes in fluid inclusions is influenced by the surface environment in which the halite originally precipitated. In all cases, prokaryotes in fluid inclusions in halite from the Death Valley salt core are miniaturized (<1 microm diameter cocci, <2.5 microm long, very rare rod shapes), which supports interpretations that the prokaryotes are indigenous to the halite and starvation survival may be the normal response of some prokaryotes to entrapment in fluid inclusions for millennia. These results reinforce the view that fluid inclusions in halite and possibly other evaporites are important repositories of microbial life and should be carefully examined in the search for ancient microorganisms on Earth, Mars, and elsewhere in the Solar System.

PMID:
19566426
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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