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Front Microbiol. 2018 Jul 18;9:1605. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.01605. eCollection 2018.

Low Energy Subsurface Environments as Extraterrestrial Analogs.

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Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME, United States.


Earth's subsurface is often isolated from phototrophic energy sources and characterized by chemotrophic modes of life. These environments are often oligotrophic and limited in electron donors or electron acceptors, and include continental crust, subseafloor oceanic crust, and marine sediment as well as subglacial lakes and the subsurface of polar desert soils. These low energy subsurface environments are therefore uniquely positioned for examining minimum energetic requirements and adaptations for chemotrophic life. Current targets for astrobiology investigations of extant life are planetary bodies with largely inhospitable surfaces, such as Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. Subsurface environments on Earth thus serve as analogs to explore possibilities of subsurface life on extraterrestrial bodies. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of subsurface environments as potential analogs, and the features of microbial communities existing in these low energy environments, with particular emphasis on how they inform the study of energetic limits required for life. The thermodynamic energetic calculations presented here suggest that free energy yields of reactions and energy density of some metabolic redox reactions on Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan could be comparable to analog environments in Earth's low energy subsurface habitats.


astrobiology; deep biosphere; energy limitation; low energy; subsurface

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