Sulfur Cycling as a Viable Metabolism under Simulated Noachian/Hesperian Chemistries

Oliver, James A.W.; Kelbrick, Matthew; Ramkissoon, Nisha K.; Dugdale, Amy; Stephens, Ben; Kucukkilic-Stephens, Ezgi; Fox-Powell, Mark G.; Schwenzer, Susanne P.; Antunes, André and Macey, Michael C. (2022). Sulfur Cycling as a Viable Metabolism under Simulated Noachian/Hesperian Chemistries. Life, 12(4), article no. 523.



Water present on the surface of early Mars (>3.0 Ga) may have been habitable. Characterising analogue environments and investigating the aspects of their microbiome best suited for growth under simulated martian chemical conditions is key to understanding potential habitability. Experiments were conducted to investigate the viability of microbes from a Mars analogue environment, Colour Peak Springs (Axel Heiberg Island, Canadian High Arctic), under simulated martian chemistries. The fluid was designed to emulate waters thought to be typical of the late Noachian, in combination with regolith simulant material based on two distinct martian geologies. These experiments were performed with a microbial community from Colour Peak Springs sediment. The impact on the microbes was assessed by cell counting and 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Changes in fluid chemistries were tested using ICP-OES. Both chemistries were shown to be habitable, with growth in both chemistries. Microbial communities exhibited distinct growth dynamics and taxonomic composition, comprised of sulfur-cycling bacteria, represented by either sulfate-reducing or sulfur-oxidising bacteria, and additional heterotrophic halophiles. Our data support the identification of Colour Peak Springs as an analogue for former martian environments, with a specific subsection of the biota able to survive under more accurate proxies for martian chemistries.

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