Chile’s Atacama Desert is renowned for its Mars-like environment, so Spanish scientists used it to try to determine how microbial life might be transported across the Red Planet.
Armando Azua-Bustos, from Madrid’s Centro de Astrobiología, and colleagues analysed dust particles from three sampling sites and found that living cells can move across the driest desert on Earth.
This might mean, they suggest, that life also could move around and thrive in harsh Martian environments.
The team collected 23 bacterial and eight fungal species from two regions traversing the Atacama’s core, which in addition to its extreme aridity is known for having highly saline/oxidizing soils and extremely high UV radiation.
Only three of the species were shared among transects, suggesting that there are different airborne ecosystems in different parts of the desert.
The findings are reported in the journal Scientific Reports.