Microbial life inhabiting hypersaline environments belong to a limited group of extremophile or extremotolerant taxa. Natural or artificial hypersaline environments are not limited to high concentrations of NaCl, and under such conditions, specific adaptation mechanisms are necessary to permit microbial survival and growth. Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile include three large salars (salt flats) which globally, represent the largest lithium reserves, and are commonly referred to as the Lithium Triangle Zone. To date, a large amount of information has been generated regarding chemical, geological, meteorological and economical perspectives of these salars. However, there is a remarkable lack of information regarding the biology of these unique environments. Here, we report the presence of two bacterial strains (isolates LIBR002 and LIBR003) from one of the most hypersaline lithium-dominated man-made environments (total salinity 556 g/L; 11.7 M LiCl) reported to date. Both isolates were classified to the Bacillus genera, but displayed differences in 16S rRNA gene and fatty acid profiles. Our results also revealed that the isolates are lithium-tolerant and that they are phylogenetically differentiated from those Bacillus associated with high NaCl concentration environments, and form a new clade from the Lithium Triangle Zone. To determine osmoadaptation strategies in these microorganisms, both isolates were characterized using morphological, metabolic and physiological attributes. We suggest that our characterization of bacterial isolates from a highly lithium-enriched environment has revealed that even at such extreme salinities with high concentrations of chaotropic solutes, scope for microbial life exists. These conditions have previously been considered to limit the development of life, and our work extends the window of life beyond high concentrations of MgCl2, as previously reported, to LiCl. Our results can be used to further the understanding of salt tolerance, most especially for LiCl-dominated brines, and likely have value as models for the understanding of putative extra-terrestrial (e.g., Martian) life.
- Lithium Triangle Zone