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Laboratory Investigations on the Survival of Bacillus subtilis Spores in Deliquescent Salt Mars Analog Environments.

Astrobiology; 17(10): 997-1008, 2017 Oct.
Artigo em Inglês | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-29048223
Observed features such as recurring slope lineae suggest that liquid water may exist on the surface and near-subsurface of Mars today. The presence of this liquid water, likely in the form of a brine, has important implications for the present-day water cycle, habitability, and planetary protection policies. It is possible that this water is formed, at least partially, by deliquescence of salts, a process during which hygroscopic salts absorb water vapor from the atmosphere and form a saturated liquid brine. We performed laboratory experiments to examine the ability of Bacillus subtilis (B-168) spores, alone or mixed with calcium perchlorate salt (Ca(ClO)), to form liquid water via deliquescence under Mars-relevant conditions. Spore survival after exposure to these conditions was examined. An environmental chamber was used to expose the samples to temperature and relative humidity (RH) values similar to those found on Mars, and Raman microscopy was used to identify the phases of water and salt that were present and to confirm the presence of spores. We found that B-168 spores did not condense any detectable water vapor on their own during the diurnal cycle, even at 100% RH. However, when spores were mixed with perchlorate salt, the entire sample deliquesced at low RH values, immersing the spores in a brine solution during the majority of the simulated martian temperature and humidity cycle. After exposure to the simulated diurnal cycles and, in some cases, perchlorate brine, the impact of each environmental scenario on spore survival was estimated by standard plate assay. We found that, if there are deliquescent salts in contact with spores, there is a mechanism for the spores to acquire liquid water starting with only atmospheric water vapor as the HO source. Also, neither crystalline nor liquid Ca(ClO) is sporicidal despite the low water activity. Key Words: Raman microscopy-Mars-Planetary protection-Salts-Water activity. Astrobiology 17, 997-1008.