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2005 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  JUL 2004 – JUN 2005

Lava Tube Microbiology

Project Summary

The extreme nature of the surface environments on Mars appear to exclude extant biological habitation.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The extreme nature of the surface environments on Mars appear to exclude extant biological habitation. However, the recent discovery of a subsurface biosphere on Earth has focused attention on the possibility that life on Mars may have retreated to subsurface “oases” when surface conditions became unfavorable. Major projects, some involving UHNAI team members, are examining the deep-subsurface environment (into and below the crust), however there are alternative, cheaper and equally relevant, subsurface habitats deserving of attention. Lava tubes form during differential cooling of flow during volcanic activity. Clear photographic evidence exists of lava tubes on Mars, e.g. on Ceraunius Tholus. Analogues are common on earth and in particular in Hawaii, where over 20 lava tubes exist. Six of the eight longest tubes in the world are found on the Big Island. An initial sampling trip to Hawaii targeted Kaumana Cave near Hilo. A transect was taken following a light intensity gradient and additional samples collected at visually geologically diverse sites up to 1km into the cave interior. DNA extraction and PCR amplification using conserved bacterial specific primers has been carried out and initial sequence data will be available shortly, providing an overview of the dominant microbial community members. More specific investigations will follow, including the molecular detection of light harvesting enzymes (chlorophyll, bacteriochlorophyll, proteorhodopsin) to determine how substrate (light) availability impacts on microbial diversity. This information will be important in our understanding of the community independence of surface energy sources. We have identified and contacted potential collaborators with access to lava tubes on the mainland USA and aim to work with them to determine the correlations of community composition with respect to light, organic substrate and water availability in geographically disparate lava tube ecosystems.

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    Mark Brown Mark Brown
    Project Investigator
    Brian Glazer

    Ketil Sorensen

    Objective 5.1
    Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms

    Objective 5.2
    Co-evolution of microbial communities

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth