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Published Online: 1 August 2018

Characterization of Microbial Communities Hosted in Quartzofeldspathic and Serpentinite Lithologies in Jeffrey Mine, Canada

Publication: Astrobiology
Volume 18, Issue Number 8


The microbial ecology and activity of serpentine deposits and associated hydrated minerals are largely unknown. Previous research has largely focused on microbial communities in active serpentinizing systems, whereas relatively little research has demonstrated the ability of serpentine deposits to host microbial communities after the cessation of serpentinization. Given the potential role of serpentinization reactions fueling primitive microbial metabolisms on early Earth and the identification of serpentine deposits on Mars, knowledge of these geobiological relationships and potential for serpentine to host extant microbial communities and preserve biosignatures is increasingly important for planetary exploration seeking signs of life. The selection of habitable sites most likely to yield putative biosignatures is crucial to mission success. In this study, we aimed to characterize, on the basis of both metabolic activity and taxonomic composition, the microbial communities hosted in two naturally co-occurring and mineralogically distinct substrates within the serpentine-rich Jeffrey Mine pit–igneous quartzofeldspathic intrusives and serpentinite. Detection of heterotrophic activity in both lithologies at 24°C, and in serpentinite at −5°C, demonstrated that each substrate had the ability to host a viable microbial community, at Mars-relevant temperatures. Targeted amplicon sequencing subsequently showed the presence of bacterial, fungal, and photosynthetic microbial communities in both substrates. Here, we have demonstrated the presence of a viable lithic microbial community within two rock types in the Jeffrey Mine and provided evidence that lithologies associated with serpentine deposits and proximal hydrated minerals have the ability to support diverse prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbial colonization.

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Associate Editor: Norm Sleep

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Published In

cover image Astrobiology
Volume 18Issue Number 8August 2018
Pages: 1008 - 1022
PubMed: 29989429


Published in print: August 2018
Published online: 1 August 2018
Published ahead of print: 10 July 2018
Accepted: 18 January 2018
Received: 21 April 2017


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Jennifer Ronholm [email protected]
Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada.
Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada.
Jacqueline Goordial
Department of Natural Resource Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada.
Present address: Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, 60 Bigelow Drive, East Boothbay, ME 04544.
Haley M. Sapers
Department of Natural Resource Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada.
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.
Present address: Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91125.
Present address: Astrobiology and Planetary Chemistry Group, Science Division, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91101.
Present address: Department of Earth Sciences, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, University of Southern California, University Park Campus, Los Angeles, CA 900007.
Matthew R.M. Izawa
Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada.
Present address: Institute for Planetary Materials, Okayama University–Misasa, 827 Yamada, Misasa, Tottori 682-0193, Japan.
Daniel M. Applin
Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada.
Alexandra Pontefract
Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Christopher R. Omelon
Department of Geology, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.
Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon
Department of Natural Resource Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada.
Present address: School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1SS, United Kingdom.
Edward A. Cloutis
Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada.
Lyle G. Whyte
Department of Natural Resource Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada.


Address correspondence to:Jennifer RonholmDepartment of Food Science and Agricultural ChemistryFaculty of Agricultural and Environmental SciencesMacdonald CampusMcGill University21,111 LakeshoreSte Anne de Bellevue, QC H9X 3V9Canada
[email protected]

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