The desert, which spans parts of Chile and Peru, is the driest non-polar desert on Earth and may contain the environment most like that of the Red Planet, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lead researcher Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor and planetary scientist at the Technical University of Berlin, and colleagues took a trip to the desert in 2015 to learn more about what kind of life might exist there.
Then, unexpectedly, it rained.
Scientists detected an explosion of biological activity in the soil, and quickly began using sterile spoons to scoop up samples.
Genomic analyses helped identify the several apparently indigenous species of microbial life -- mostly bacteria -- that had somehow adapted to live in the harsh environment by lying dormant for years, then re-animating and reproducing once it rained.