Armando Azua

Armando Azua
Centro de Astrobiología CSIC · Planetology and Habitability

PhD

About

57
Publications
20,271
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841
Citations
Introduction
I am an environmental microbiologist, interested in extreme environments. My actual research is focused in understanding the adaptations of microbial life to extremely low water availability, using the Atacama Desert as a model. I have already described and investigated several species found in different sites I have discovered in the Atacama, and interested in the biotechnological applications that can be derived from microorganisms and plants of the Atacama Desert. I am also starting a number of initiatives in space research.
Additional affiliations
March 2017 - present
Centro de Astrobiología
Position
  • Researcher
September 2015 - present
Senate of Chile
Position
  • Consultant
September 2013 - July 2014
AngelicvM Global
Position
  • Head of Department

Publications

Publications (57)
Article
Nearly half a century ago, two papers postulated the likelihood of lunar lava tube caves using mathematical models. Today, armed with an array of orbiting and fly-by satellites and survey instrumentation, we have now acquired cave data across our solar system—including the identification of potential cave entrances on the Moon, Mars, and at least n...
Article
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The Atacama Desert is by far the driest and oldest desert on Earth, showing a unique combination of environmental extremes (extreme dryness, the highest UV radiation levels on Earth, and highly saline and oxidizing soils), explaining why the Atacama has been largely investigated as a Mars analog model for almost 20 years. Based on the source and th...
Article
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The taxonomy of coccoid cyanobacteria, such as Chroococcidiopsis, Pleurocapsa, Chroococcus, Gloeothece, Gloeocapsa, Gloeocapsopsis, and the related recent genera Sinocapsa and Aliterella, can easily be intermixed when solely compared on a morphological basis. There is still little support on the taxonomic position of some of the addressed genera, a...
Article
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The modern Martian surface is unlikely to be habitable due to its extreme aridity among other environmental factors. This is the reason why the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert has been studied as an analog for the habitability of Mars for more than 50 years. Here we report a layer enriched in smectites located just 30 cm below the surface of t...
Article
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Lichenized fungi usually develop complex, stratified morphologies through an intricately balanced living together with their algal partners, but several species are known to form only more or less loose associations with algae. These borderline lichens are still little explored although they could inform us about early stages of lichen evolution. W...
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We present the hypothesis that microorganisms can change the freezing/melting curve of cold salty solutions by protein expression, as it is known that proteins can affect the liquid-to-ice transition, an ability that could be of ecological advantage for organisms on Earth and on Mars. We tested our hypothesis by identifying a suitable candidate, th...
Article
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It is now routinely possible to sequence and recover microbial genomes from environmental samples. To the degree it is feasible to assign transcriptional and translational functions to these genomes, it should be possible, in principle, to largely understand the complete molecular inputs and outputs of a microbial community. However, gene-based too...
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
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The polymorphic black yeast Hortaea werneckii (Capnodiales, Ascomycota) is extremely halotolerant (growth from 0 to 30% [w/v] NaCl) and has been extensively studied as a model for halotolerance in Eukaryotes for over two decades. Its most frequent sources are hypersaline environments and adjacent sea-water habitats in temperate, subtropical and tro...
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Here we inspect whether microbial life may disperse using dust transported by wind in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a well-known Mars analog model. By setting a simple experiment across the hyperarid core of the Atacama we found that a number of viable bacteria and fungi are in fact able to traverse the driest and most UV irradiated desert...
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A correction to this article has been published and is linked from the HTML and PDF versions of this paper. The error has not been fixed in the paper.
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A good knowledge of the environmental conditions of deserts on Earth is relevant for climate studies. The Atacama Desert is of particular interest as it is considered to be the driest region on Earth. We have performed simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model over the Atacama Desert for two week‐long periods in the austral...
Article
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Future efforts towards Mars exploration should include a discussion about the effects that the strict application of Planetary Protection policies is having on the astrobiological exploration of Mars, which is resulting in a continued delay in the search for Martian life. As proactive steps in the path forward, here we propose advances in three are...
Article
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The hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert, the driest and oldest desert on Earth, has experienced a number of highly unusual rain events over the past three years, resulting in the formation of previously unrecorded hypersaline lagoons, which have lasted several months. We have systematically analyzed the evolution of the lagoons to provide quantita...
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Gloeocapsopsis sp. strain AAB1 is an extremely desiccation-tolerant cyanobacterium isolated from translucent quartz stones from the Atacama Desert (Chile). Here, we report its draft genome sequence, which consists of 137 contigs with an ∼5.4-Mb genome size. The annotation revealed 5,641 coding DNA sequences, 38 tRNA genes, and 5 rRNA genes.
Article
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Halophilic fungal strains isolated from historical wooden staircase in a salt mine in Austria, and from wall biofilm and soil of a cave in the Coastal Range of the hyperarid Atacama Desert in Chile were characterised and described newly as Aspergillus salisburgensis and Aspergillus atacamensis. Morphological characters including solitary phialides...
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The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest and oldest desert on Earth, also considered one of the best Mars analog models. Here, several heterotrophic microbial communities have been discovered in its driest regions, with the ones present in the soil subsurface being one of the most interesting due to its existence in a habitat with almost no water...
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1.1. What is astrobiology? Astrobiology is the science that seeks to understand the story of life in our universe. Astrobiology includes investigation of the conditions that are necessary for life to emerge and flourish, the origin of life, the ways that life has evolved and adapted to the wide range of environmental conditions here on Earth, the s...
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The Atacama Desert is the driest and oldest desert on Earth. Eleven years ago, the Yungay region was established as the driest site of this hyperarid desert, and also close to the dry limit for life on Earth. Since then, much has been published about the extraordinary characteristics of this site and its pertinence as a Mars analog model. However,...
Article
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The Atacama Desert in Chile is well known for being the driest and oldest desert on Earth. For these same reasons, it is also considered a good analog model of the planet Mars. Only a few decades ago, it was thought that this was a sterile place, but in the past years fascinating adaptations have been reported in the members of the three domains of...
Article
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The comprehensive study of microorganisms that evolved in the Atacama Desert, the driest and oldest on earth, may help to understand the key role of water for life. In this context, we previously characterized the microenvironment that allows colonization of the underside of quartzes in the Coastal Range of this desert by hypolithic microorganisms...
Article
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Finding life in the Universe entirely different to the one evolved on Earth is probable. This is a significant constraint for life-detecting instruments that were sent and may be sent elsewhere in the solar system, as how could we detect life as ‘we don't know it’? How could we detect something when we have no prior knowledge of its composition or...
Data
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Caves offer a stable and protected environment from harsh and changing outside prevailing conditions. Hence, they represent an interesting habitat for studying life in extreme environments. Here, we report the presence of a member of the ancient eukaryote red algae Cyanidium group in a coastal cave of the hyperarid Atacama Desert. This microorganis...
Article
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We have recently discovered a variety of unrelated phototrophic microorganisms (two microalgae and one cyanobacteria) in specialized terrestrial habitats at The Coastal Range of the Atacama Desert. Interestingly, morphological and molecular evidence suggest that these three species are all recent colonists that came from aquatic habitats. The first...
Article
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Astrobiology is a relatively recent scientific field that seeks to understand the origin and dynamics of life in the Universe. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain life in the cosmic context throughout human history, but only now, technology has allowed many of them to be tested. Laboratory experiments have been able to show how chemica...
Article
Full-text available
Astrobiology is a relatively recent scientific field that seeks to understand the origin and dynamics of life in the Universe. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain life in the cosmic context throughout human history, but only now, technology has allowed many of them to be tested. Laboratory experiments have been able to show how chemica...
Article
Full-text available
The Atacama Desert, located in northern Chile, is the driest and oldest desert on Earth. Research aimed at the understanding of this unique habitat and its diverse microbial ecosystems begun only a few decades ago, mainly driven by NASA's astrobiology program. A milestone in these efforts was a paper published in 2003, when the Atacama was shown to...
Article
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The results obtained in these experiments have revealed a remarkable resistance of extremophilic bacteria and archaea against different radiation sources (VUV, solar wind simulants, X rays) whenever protected by microsized carbonaceus grains. Altogether, the collected data suggest the interesting possibility of the existence of microbial life beyon...
Article
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Martian surface microbial inhabitants would be challenged by a constant and unimpeded flux of UV radiation, and the study of analog model terrestrial environments may be of help to understand how such life forms could survive under this stressful condition. One of these environments is the Atacama Desert (Chile), a well-known Mars analog due to its...
Article
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The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth, with an arid core highly adverse to the development of hypolithic cyanobacteria. Previous work has shown that when rain levels fall below ~1 mm per year, colonization of suitable quartz stones falls to virtually zero. Here, we report that along the coast in these arid regions, complex associa...
Article
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Homochirality, i.e., the exclusive use of L-amino acids and D-sugar in biological material, induces circular polarisation in the diffuse reflectance spectra of biotic material. Polarimetry may therefore become an interesting remote sensing technique in the future search for extraterrestrial life. We have explored this technique and performed a labo...
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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 environm...
Chapter
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Caves represent an interesting habitat for searching life in extreme environments, since they offer a stable protected environment from harsh and changing outside prevailing conditions. Here we report that in a coastal cave of the hyperarid Atacama Desert, a member of the ancient eukaryote red algae Cyanidium group was found forming a seemingly mon...
Article
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All life detection techniques are based on "life as we know it". How could we detect life "as we don't know it"? Here I describe a method based on fractal analysis that can infer that a potential candidate is a lifeform.
Article
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On Mars, caves have been recently confirmed. They are important in the search for life since they offer protection from harsh outside conditions. Here we report our latest findings in two Atacama Desert caves that could be considered analog models for martian caves.
Article
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Irradiations of two bacterial species were performed using a white beam of synchrotron X-rays in an attempt to simulate the effects of energetic astrophysical events on these microorganisms. A fraction of cells could survive such events.
Article
Full-text available
Caves offer a stable and protected environment from harsh and changing outside prevailing conditions. Hence, they represent an interesting habitat for studying life in extreme environments. Here, we report the presence of a member of the ancient eukaryote red algae Cyanidium group in a coastal cave of the hyperarid Atacama Desert. This microorganis...
Article
Full-text available
Caves offer a stable and protected environment from harsh and changing outside prevailing conditions. Hence, they represent an interesting habitat for studying life in extreme environments. Here, we report the presence of a member of the ancient eukaryote red algae Cyanidium group in a coastal cave of the hyperarid Atacama Desert. This microorganis...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Introduction Caves support some of the most fragile ecosystems on Earth (Elliott, 2000; Wynne and Pleytez, 2005; Wynne et al., 2007). Because many troglomorphic (i.e., obligate cave-dwelling) organisms are endemic to a single cave or region (Reddell, 1994; Culver et al., 2000; Christman et al., 2005), and are generally characterized by low populati...
Article
Full-text available
Mars constitutes one of the most interesting settings for astrobiological studies, not only due to its proximity to Earth, but also because it is conceivable that life may have originated in this seemingly barren planet. Mars has captured man's imagination since the time of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who in 1877 published a detailed map that became a s...

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Projects (5)
Project
"The status of planetary cave exploration varies across the Solar System. Even though Earth represents the most advanced stage of development, many questions remain unanswered about terrestrial caves and how they might serve as planetary analogs. Beyond Earth, planetary caves exploration is most advanced for the Moon and Mars, given that confirmed and candidate cave entrances are now well known and several missions and mission concepts to examine those entrances have been proposed. A cave exploration roadmap for the next decade could be divided into three phases: identification, characterization, and exploration . Developing capabilities is a crosscutting theme that applies to all phases and includes the continued development of models and technology, as well as continued validation of both cave science and exploration technologies." Goals: 1- Determine where caves occur in the Solar System 2- Define origin & evolution of planetary caves as a geological system 3- Characterize processes & evolution of cave climates & their habitability potential 4- Examine if planetary caves hosted/still host life 5- Prepare for human exploration