Taxonomic and functional analyses of intact microbial communities thriving in extreme, astrobiology-relevant, anoxic sites

Alexandra Kristin Bashir, Lisa Wink, Stefanie Duller, Petra Schwendner, Charles Cockell, Petra Rettberg, Alexander Mahnert, Kristina Beblo-Vranesevic, Maria Bohmeier, Elke Rabbow, Frederic Gaboyer, Frances Westall, Nicolas Walter, Patricia Cabezas, Laura Garcia-Descalzo, Felipe Gomez, Mustapha Malki, Ricardo Amils, Pascale Ehrenfreund, Euan MonaghanPauline Vannier, Viggo Marteinsson, Armin Erlacher, George Tanski, Jens Strauss, Mina Bashir, Andreas Riedo, Christine Moissl-Eichinger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Extreme terrestrial, analogue environments are widely used models to study the limits of life and to infer habitability of extraterrestrial settings. In contrast to Earth’s ecosystems, potential extraterrestrial biotopes are usually characterized by a lack of oxygen. Methods: In the MASE project (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration), we selected representative anoxic analogue environments (permafrost, salt-mine, acidic lake and river, sulfur springs) for the comprehensive analysis of their microbial communities. We assessed the microbiome profile of intact cells by propidium monoazide-based amplicon and shotgun metagenome sequencing, supplemented with an extensive cultivation effort. Results: The information retrieved from microbiome analyses on the intact microbial community thriving in the MASE sites, together with the isolation of 31 model microorganisms and successful binning of 15 high-quality genomes allowed us to observe principle pathways, which pinpoint specific microbial functions in the MASE sites compared to moderate environments. The microorganisms were characterized by an impressive machinery to withstand physical and chemical pressures. All levels of our analyses revealed the strong and omnipresent dependency of the microbial communities on complex organic matter. Moreover, we identified an extremotolerant cosmopolitan group of 34 poly-extremophiles thriving in all sites. Conclusions: Our results reveal the presence of a core microbiome and microbial taxonomic similarities between saline and acidic anoxic environments. Our work further emphasizes the importance of the environmental, terrestrial parameters for the functionality of a microbial community, but also reveals a high proportion of living microorganisms in extreme environments with a high adaptation potential within habitability borders. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Archaea
  • Astrobiology
  • Bacteria
  • Extraterrestrial life
  • Extreme environments
  • Extremophiles
  • Metagenomics
  • Microbiomes
  • Propidium monoazide
  • Space-analogue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


  • BioTechMed-Graz


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