Polar Biology

, Volume 34, Issue 12, pp 1819–1830 | Cite as

Abundant dissolved genetic material in Arctic sea ice Part I: Extracellular DNA

  • R. Eric CollinsEmail author
  • Jody W. Deming
Original Paper


The porous medium of sea ice, a surface-rich environment characterized by low temperature and high salinity, has been proposed as a favorable site for horizontal gene transfer, but few measurements are available to assess the possibility of this mode of evolution in ice. Here, we report the first measurements of dissolved DNA in sea ice, measured by fluorescent dye staining of centrifugal-filter-concentrated samples of melted ice. Newly formed landfast and pack ice on the Canadian Arctic Shelf (ca. 71°N, 125°W) contained higher concentrations (scaled to volume of brine) of the major components of dissolved DNA—extracellular DNA and viruses—than the underlying seawater. Dissolved DNA was dominated by extracellular DNA in surface seawater (up to 95%), with viruses making up relatively larger fractions at depths below 100 m (up to 27%) and in thick sea ice (66–78 cm; up to 100%). Extracellular DNA was heterogeneously distributed, with concentrations up to 135 μg DNA L−1 brine detected in landfast sea ice, higher than previously reported from any marine environment. Additionally, extracellular DNA was significantly highly enriched at the base of ice of medium thickness (33–37 cm), suggestive of in situ production. Relative to underlying seawater, higher concentrations of extracellular DNA, viruses, and bacteria, and the availability of numerous surfaces for attachment within the ice matrix suggest that sea ice may be a hotspot for HGT in the marine environment.


Arctic Sea ice Extracellular DNA Bacteria Viruses Horizontal gene transfer 



We thank the captain, crew, and scientific party of the CCGS Amundsen for a successful cruise. We gratefully acknowledge M. Pucko, W. Walkusz, P. Galand, B. Else, N. Sutherland, and M. Gupta for field assistance, C. Marrasé for assistance with chlorophyll a measurements, J. Islefson, D. Barber and CFL Team 2 for ice microstructure data and the use of ice-coring equipment, and S. Carpenter for help with laboratory analyses. We thank the three referees, whose contributions improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Oceanography and Astrobiology ProgramUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Origins InstituteMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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