Halophilic archaea on Earth and in space: Growth and survival under extreme conditions

Aharon Oren*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Salts are abundant on Mars, and any liquid water that is present or may have been present on the planet is expected to be hypersaline. Halophilic archaea (family Halobacteriaceae) are the microorganisms best adapted to life at extremes of salinity on Earth. This paper reviews the properties of the Halobacteriaceae that may make the group good candidates for life also on Mars. Many species resist high UV and gamma radiation levels; one species has survived exposure to vacuum and radiation during a space flight; and there is at least one psychrotolerant species. Halophilic archaea may survive for millions of years within brine inclusions in salt crystals. Many species have different modes of anaerobic metabolism, and some can use light as an energy source using the light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin. They are also highly tolerant to perchlorate, recently shown to be present in Martian soils, and some species can even use perchlorate as an electron acceptor to support anaerobic growth. The presence of characteristic carotenoid pigments (a-bacterioruberin and derivatives) makes the Halobacteriaceae easy to identify by Raman spectroscopy. Thus, if present on Mars, such organisms may be detected by Raman instrumentation planned to explore Mars during the upcoming ExoMars mission.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number0194
JournalPhilosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences
Issue number2030
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Anaerobic
  • Carotenoids
  • Halobacteriaceae
  • Mars
  • Perchlorate
  • Raman spectroscopy


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