New Paper: Microbial Diversity of Impact-Generated Habitats

Congratulations to former PhD student and post-doc Alexandra Pontefract on the publication of a new paper entitled “Microbial Diversity of Impact-Generated Habitats” in the journal Astrobiology. The paper is available here and the abstract is below:

Impact-generated lithologies have recently been identified as viable and important microbial habitats, especially within cold and arid regions such as the polar deserts on Earth. These unique habitats provide protection from environmental stressors, such as freeze-thaw events, desiccation, and UV radiation, and act to trap aerially deposited detritus within the fissures and pore spaces, providing necessary nutrients for endoliths. This study provides the first culture-independent analysis of the microbial community structure within impact-generated lithologies in a Mars analog environment, involving the analysis of 44,534 16S rRNA sequences from an assemblage of 21 rock samples that comprises three shock metamorphism categories. We find that species diversity increases (H = 2.4–4.6) with exposure to higher shock pressures, which leads to the development of three distinct populations. In each population, Actinobacteria were the most abundant (41%, 65%, and 59%), and the dominant phototrophic taxa came from the Chloroflexi. Calculated porosity (a function of shock metamorphism) for these samples correlates (R2 = 0.62) with inverse Simpson indices, accounting for overlap in populations in the higher shock levels. The results of our study show that microbial diversity is tied to the amount of porosity in the target substrate (as a function of shock metamorphism), resulting in the formation of distinct microbial populations.

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