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Astrobiology. 2003 Winter;3(4):709-17.

Spore UV and acceleration resistance of endolithic Bacillus pumilus and Bacillus subtilis isolates obtained from Sonoran desert basalt: implications for lithopanspermia.

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Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.


Bacterial spores have been used as model systems for studying the theory of interplanetary transport of life by natural processes such as asteroidal or cometary impacts (i.e., lithopanspermia). Because current spallation theory predicts that near-surface rocks are ideal candidates for planetary ejection and surface basalts are widely distributed throughout the rocky planets, we isolated spore-forming bacteria from the interior of near-subsurface basalt rocks collected in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, Arizona. Spores were found to inhabit basalt at very low concentrations (</=28 colony-forming units/g) in these samples. Six isolates identified as being most closely related to Bacillus pumilus and one Bacillus subtilis isolate were recovered from near-subsurface basalt samples. Populations of purified spores prepared from the isolated strains were subjected to 254-nm UV and ballistics tests in order to assess their resistance to UV radiation and to extreme acceleration shock, two proposed lethal factors for spores during interplanetary transfer. Specific natural isolates of B. pumilus were found to be substantially more resistant to UV and extreme acceleration than were reference laboratory strains of B. subtilis, the benchmark organism, suggesting that spores of environmental B. pumilus isolates may be more likely to survive the rigors of interplanetary transfer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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