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Strange DNA found in the desert offers lessons in the hunt for Mars life

By Joel Achenbach

21 Feb 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the driest places on the planet and it looks a lot like Mars. The Post looks at how researchers are using the terrain to see if life existed on the Red Planet.

The Atacama Desert in Chile is just about the driest place on Earth. In spots, it looks a lot like Mars. But it's not lifeless, even in the hyper-arid regions. Using state-of-the-art equipment to probe the desert rocks, researchers found bits of DNA from an intriguing mix of microbes.

Strikingly, 9 percent of the genetic fragments belong to organisms unknown to science, making them part of the "dark microbiome," according to a report published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

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