Sonia Isaza @niaisaza
[above: A deep ocean worm, which lives on the edge of a hot “black smoker” vent on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean (Philippe Crassous/SPL)]
(BBC - Future) The last place on Earth… without life
In the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, it looks as if nothing could ever survive. It is one of the driest places in the world, and some sections of the Mars-like expanse can go 50 years without feeling a drop of rain. As poet Alonso de Ercilla put it in 1569: “Towards Atacama, near the deserted coast, you see a land without men, where there is not a bird, not a beast, nor a tree, nor any vegetation.”
Yet Atacama is not devoid of life. Microorganisms called endoliths have found a way to cling on, by hiding themselves inside the pores of rocks, where there’s just enough water to survive. “They support a whole community of organisms that eat the byproducts of their metabolism,” says Jocelyne DiRuggiero, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “And they’re all just sitting right there in the rocks – it’s quite fascinating.”
Life, it seems, has an incredible knack for finding ways to persist. Indeed, microorganisms have been around for nearly four billion years, giving them ample time to adapt to some of the most extreme conditions in the natural world. But are there places left on Earth so harsh that they are rendered sterile?