Analog Studies

Adaptations Of Endolithic Communities To Abrupt Environmental Changes In A Hyper-arid Desert

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 31, 2022
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Adaptations Of Endolithic Communities To Abrupt Environmental Changes In A Hyper-arid Desert
Taxonomic and functional characterization of MAGs across sites. (A) Taxonomic annotation and relative abundance of MAGs across sites; labeled are the most abundant site-specific MAGs. (B) Presence and absence of genes involved in compatible solute production, transport, and utilization in the site-specific MAGs.

The adaptation mechanisms of microbial communities to natural perturbations remain relatively unexplored, particularly in extreme environments. The extremophilic communities of halite (NaCl) nodules from the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert are self-sustained and represent a unique opportunity to study functional adaptations and community dynamics with changing environmental conditions.

We transplanted halite nodules to different sites in the desert and investigated how their taxonomic, cellular, and biochemical changes correlated with water availability, using environmental data modeling and metagenomic analyses. Salt-in strategists, mainly represented by haloarchaea, significantly increased in relative abundance at sites characterized by extreme dryness, multiple wet/dry cycles, and colder conditions.

The functional analysis of metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) revealed site-specific enrichments in archaeal MAGs encoding for the uptake of various compatible solutes and for glycerol utilization. These findings suggest that opportunistic salt-in strategists took over the halite communities at the driest sites. They most likely benefited from metabolites newly released in the environment by the death of microorganisms least adapted to the new conditions.

The observed changes were consistent with the need to maximize cellular bioenergetics when confronted with lower water availability and higher salinity, providing valuable information on microbial community adaptations and resilience to climate change.

Cesar A. Perez-Fernandez, Paul Wilburn, Alfonso Davila, Jocelyne DiRuggiero

Full paper, bioRxiv


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