Life at the wedge: the activity and diversity of Arctic ice wedge microbial communities

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Journal titleAstrobiology
Pages347360; # of pages: 14
AbstractThe discovery of polygonal terrain on Mars underlain by ice heightens interest in the possibility that this water-bearing habitat may be, or may have been, a suitable habitat for extant life. The possibility is supported by the recurring detection of terrestrial microorganisms in subsurface ice environments, such as ice wedges found beneath tundra polygon features. A characterization of the microbial community of ice wedges from the high Arctic was performed to determine whether this ice environment can sustain actively respiring microorganisms and to assess the ecology of this extreme niche. We found that ice wedge samples contained a relatively abundant number of culturable cells compared to other ice habitats (?10 5 CFU•mL -1). Respiration assays in which radio-labeled acetate and in situ measurement of CO 2 flux were used suggested low levels of microbial activity, though more sensitive techniques are required to confirm these findings. Based on 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing, bacterial and archaeal ice wedge communities appeared to reflect surrounding soil communities. Two Pseudomonas sp. were the most abundant taxa in the ice wedge bacterial library (?50%), while taxa related to ammonia-oxidizing Thaumarchaeota occupied 90% of the archaeal library. The tolerance of a variety of isolates to salinity and temperature revealed characteristics of a psychrotolerant, halotolerant community. Our findings support the hypothesis that ice wedges are capable of sustaining a diverse, plausibly active microbial community. As such, ice wedges, compared to other forms of less habitable ground ice, could serve as a reservoir for life on permanently cold, water-scarce, ice-rich extraterrestrial bodies and are therefore of interest to astrobiologists and ecologists alike. © Copyright 2012, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Publication date
AffiliationNRC Biotechnology Research Institute; National Research Council Canada
Peer reviewedYes
NRC number53411
NPARC number19904084
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Record identifier19d88fd6-4112-4682-ac63-f544114929d4
Record created2012-05-18
Record modified2016-05-09
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