Currently, the surface of Mars cannot sustain liquid water, but there is evidence suggesting that water was present in the Noachian. Although water might exist in the subsurface of Mars, it could not sustain in the present day unless it was highly saline. Thus, saline springs in polar desert environments are analogues with which to investigate martian conditions. An example of this is Axel Heiberg Island, located in a region of continuous permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic, which hosts sulfidic and highly saline springs. In this study, cultivation-dependant and independent techniques were used to investigate the microbial diversity of a sediment sample collected from a saline cold (3–8 °C) pool at Colour Peak Springs on Axel Heiberg. Both DNA and RNA were extracted from the samples, and the microbial community was characterised using the 16S rRNA gene from the extracted nucleic acids. The metabolic profile was characterised by screening DNA and cDNA for functional genes relating to the cycling of carbon (coxL, xoxF, cbbL), nitrogen (nifH, nosZ, nod) and sulfur (dsrB, soxB). The community profiles were used to inform enrichment strategies, allowing for the isolation and characterisation of several halophilic isolates including strains of Marinobacter, Halomonas, Halanaerobium and Loktanella. Through this work we have been able to develop an in-depth characterisation of the metabolic and phylogenetic diversity that is present and viable within this analogue site. This allows us to start building an understanding of the underlying mechanisms and strategies that enable organisms to persist in these environments.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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