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Extremophiles

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 443–452 | Cite as

A novel subaerial Dunaliella species growing on cave spiderwebs in the Atacama Desert

  • A. Azúa-BustosEmail author
  • C. González-Silva
  • L. Salas
  • R. E. Palma
  • R. Vicuña
Original Paper

Abstract

Strategies for life adaptation to extreme environments often lead to novel solutions. As an example of this assertion, here we describe the first species of the well-known genus of green unicellular alga Dunaliella able to thrive in a subaerial habitat. All previously reported members of this microalga are found in extremely saline aquatic environments. Strikingly, the new species was found on the walls of a cave located in the Atacama Desert (Chile). Moreover, on further inspection we noticed that it grows upon spiderwebs attached to the walls of the entrance-twilight transition zone of the cave. This peculiar growth habitat suggests that this Dunaliella species uses air moisture condensing on the spiderweb silk threads as a source of water for doing photosynthesis in the driest desert of the world. This process of adaptation recapitulates the transition that allowed land colonization by primitive plants and shows an unexpected way of expansion of the life habitability range by a microbial species.

Keywords

Dunaliella Atacama Desert Evolution Cave Adaptations Water 

Abbreviations

TEM

Transmission electron microscopy

SEM

Scanning electron microscopy

CLSM

Confocal laser scanning microscopy

a.s.l.

Above sea level

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Millennium Institute of Fundamental and Applied Biology (Chile). We also thank Alejandro Munizaga and Ximena Verges for technical support with microscopy and members of Rafael Vicuña’s Lab for critical comments and insights which helped to improve this manuscript.

Supplementary material

792_2010_322_MOESM1_ESM.tif (152 kb)
Figure S1.- Relative humidity (RH) profile inside the cave. A two week period is shown. The values were recorded every 10 minutes by an automatic RH microsensor placed between a spiderweb and the cave wall. (TIFF 151 kb)
792_2010_322_MOESM2_ESM.tif (865 kb)
Figure S2.- Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (CLSM) micrographs of the cave inhabiting subaerial Dunaliella. A) CLSM micrograph of aqueous suspension of Dunaliella atacamensis cells extracted from the spiderwebs, showing the pyrenoid (p). B) CLSM differential interference contrast (DIC) image merged with the red autofluorescence emitted by the chlorophyll of the cell chloroplast (c). (TIFF 865 kb)
792_2010_322_MOESM3_ESM.tif (154 kb)
Figure S3.- Absorption spectra of photosynthesis related pigments of the cave inhabiting Dunaliella. The inset shows a picture of chlorophyll a (left) and carotenoid (right) extraction. (TIFF 154 kb)

Supplemental Movie S1 of Dunaliella atacamensis colinized spiderwebs in situ. (AVI 4.61 MB)

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Copyright information

© Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Azúa-Bustos
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • C. González-Silva
    • 2
  • L. Salas
    • 1
  • R. E. Palma
    • 4
  • R. Vicuña
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Departamento de Genética Molecular y Microbiología, Facultad de Ciencias BiológicasPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Centro de investigación del Medio Ambiente (CENIMA)Universidad Arturo PratIquiqueChile
  3. 3.Millennium Institute of Fundamental and Applied Biology (MIFAB)SantiagoChile
  4. 4.Departamento de Ecología y Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ecología y Biodiversidad, CASEB, Facultad de Ciencias BiológicasPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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