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Astrobiology. 2014 Jun;14(6):522-33. doi: 10.1089/ast.2013.1100.

Impact-generated endolithic habitat within crystalline rocks of the Haughton impact structure, Devon Island, Canada.

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1 Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration/Department of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario , London, Canada .


The colonization of rocks by endolithic communities is an advantageous trait, especially in environments such as hot or cold deserts, where large temperature ranges, low water availability, and high-intensity ultraviolet radiation pose a significant challenge to survival and growth. On Mars, similar conditions (albeit more extreme) prevail. In these environments, meteorite impact structures could provide refuge for endolithic organisms. Though initially detrimental to biology, an impact event into a rocky body can favorably change the availability and habitability of a substrate for endolithic organisms, which are then able to (re)colonize microfractures and pore spaces created during the impact. Here, we show how shocked gneisses from the Haughton impact structure, Devon Island, Canada, offer significant refuge for endolithic communities. A total of 28 gneiss samples representing a range of shock states were analyzed, collected from in situ, stable field locations. For each sample, the top centimeter of rock was examined with confocal scanning laser microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and bright-field microscopy to investigate the relationship of biomass with shock level, which was found to correlate generally with increased shock state and particularly with increased porosity. We found that gneisses, which experienced pressures between 35 and 60 GPa, provide the most ideal habitat for endolithic organisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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