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Salt deliquescence drives photosynthesis in the hyperarid Atacama Desert

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For correspondence. E-mail adavila@seti.org; Tel: 408 215 8777; Fax (+1) 650 604 6779.

Summary

Endolithic cyanobacteria are found in halite nodules in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert. Using Pulse Amplitude Modulated Fluorometry, we show here that photosynthetic systems of these cyanobacteria become active when the relative humidity rises above 70% and the salt becomes wet by way of deliquescence. This is the first evidence of active metabolism in the hyperarid core of the Atacama, and supports the view of a microbial community sustained by deliquescence. Our results expand the water activity envelope of life on Earth.

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