Where life cannot exist on Earth

High salinity and toxic acids make the Dallol area of the Danakil Basin the most inhospitable place without any form of life.

Microbiologist Jodie Belilla of the University of Paris-Sud and colleagues used a variety of analytical methods to study a series of samples taken from four areas of the Dallol geothermal spring complex in the Danakil Basin during three expeditions. fieldwork from 2016 to 2018.

Where life cannot exist on Earth
Salt Lake in Dallol. (Photo: Science Alert).

Dallol’s surface is covered with a super salty crater lake with strong acids, forming a variety of vibrant colors such as green, yellow, orange and brown. From a distance, the scene is like another world, but in reality, hot pools of poisonous gas are heated by volcanoes hidden beneath the surface. With its extreme environment, Dallon has long been an attractive site for scientists.

According to the results of the study, published October 28 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, Belilla’s team believes that naturally occurring microbial life cannot be found in the lake system at Dallol. They identified two physico-chemical barriers that prevent life from growing here despite the presence of liquid water on the surface.

One barrier is the high-magnesium brine, which causes cells to break down through a process called chaotropicity. The other barrier is toxic levels of acidity, leading the molecule to not be able to adapt at the same time to very low pH and extremely high salt levels. Belilla and her colleagues concluded that, before finding convincing evidence, Dallon was the most difficult place to live and could not be rehabilitated.