The Dallol geothermal area (14°14′21″N; 40°17′55″E) in Ethiopia is hell on Earth. The boiling water of the hot spring is three times saltier than the ocean, contaminated with heavy metals, and has a pH of zero. It’s ten times more acidic than battery acid.
And yet, something lives here according to a new study in Scientific Reports.
Curious about the limits of life on Earth, a team of researchers put some salt-encrusted rocks around the hot springs through a filter and tried to extract some DNA. They got a hit - the DNA was very similar to a group of organisms called Nanohaloarchaea, some of which live in high salt environments.
What did these mysterious Nanohaloarchaea look like? The team put their samples under some very powerful microscopes to find out.
Now that we know that they’re here, I can’t wait for someone to figure out exactly how these ultra-small microorganisms survive, and what they mean for the ecology and geochemical cycling of these hot springs.
The authors suggest this has implications for finding life on Mars. It doesn’t seem so far-fetched.