Microbial Response to Increased Temperatures Within a Lava-Induced Hydrothermal System in Iceland: An Analogue for the Habitability of Volcanic Terrains on Mars

Solange Duhamel, Christopher Ward Hamilton, Snæbjörn Pálsson, Snædís Huld Björnsdóttir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Fossil hydrothermal systems on Mars are important exploration targets because they may have once been habitable and could still preserve evidence of microbial life. We investigated microbial communities within an active lava-induced hydrothermal system associated with the 2014-2015 eruption of Holuhraun in Iceland as a Mars analogue. In 2016, the microbial composition in the lava-heated water differed substantially from that of the glacial river and spring water sources that fed into the system. Several taxonomic and metabolic groups were confined to the water emerging from the lava and some showed the highest sequence similarities to subsurface ecosystems, including to the predicted thermophilic and deeply branching Candidatus Acetothermum autotrophicum. Measurements show that the communities were affected by temperature and other environmental factors. In particular, comparing glacial river water incubated in situ (5.7°C, control) with glacial water incubated within a lava-heated stream (17.5°C, warm) showed that microbial abundance, richness, and diversity increased in the warm treatment compared with the control, with the predicted major metabolism shifting from lithotrophy toward organotrophy and possibly phototrophy. In addition, thermophilic bacteria isolated from the lava-heated water and a nearby acidic hydrothermal system included the known endospore-formers Geobacillus stearothermophilus and Paenibacillus cisolokensis as well as a potentially novel taxon within the order Hyphomicrobiales. Similar lava-water interactions on Mars could therefore have generated habitable environments for microbial communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1176-1198
Number of pages23
JournalAstrobiology
Volume22
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

Keywords

  • Hydrothermal
  • Iceland
  • Lava-water
  • Mars
  • Microbial community
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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