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Bacterial communities in Fe/Mn films, sulphate crusts, and aluminium glazes from Swedish Lapland: implications for astrobiology on Mars

  • Cassandra L. Marnocha (a1) and John C. Dixon (a1) (a2)

Abstract

Rock coatings have been observed on Mars by Mars Pathfinder, Viking and the Mars Exploration Rovers. Although rock varnish has been studied for its potential as a biosignature, other types of rock coating have been largely ignored. In Kärkevagge, Swedish Lapland, sulphate crusts, aluminium glazes and Fe/Mn films occur with mineralogies mimicking those observed on the surface of Mars. Molecular analysis and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) were used to investigate the bacterial communities associated with these rock coatings. Molecular techniques revealed differences in community structure and metabolisms associated with the production of secondary minerals between the three coating types. SEM analysis showed evidence of encrustation in mineral coatings in the Fe/Mn films and aluminium glazes, and evidence of abundant microbial communities in all three coating types. These observations provide evidence for bacterial participation in the genesis of rock coatings. For astrobiology on Mars, rock coatings are an attractive biosignature target scientifically and logistically: they are surface environments easily accessible by rovers, endoliths are afforded protection from surface conditions, and evidence of life could potentially be preserved through biomineralization and lithification. This study describes the bacterial communities from rock coatings compatible with martian mineralogy, explores the potential for biologically facilitated rock-coating formation, and supports rock coatings as targets of astrobiological interest on Mars.

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