Microbial Life in Permafrost
Permafrost is a hostile environment that harbors a diverse and active microbial community. Next generation sequencing studies have demonstrated a wide diversity of microorganisms present in Arctic, Antarctic and high altitude permafrost soils. In situ activity of these microorganisms has been demonstrated through multiple lines of evidence. Radiolabeled studies and stable isotope probing have established that active respiration and DNA replication occur in permafrost soils under frozen conditions. Furthermore, microorganisms capable of subzero growth have been isolated from permafrost samples. These isolates have adapted to the permafrost environment through a multitude of molecular changes, such as increased expression of cold shock and metabolite transport proteins, reduced fatty acid saturation in the membrane, and presence of temperature specific isozymes. Recent studies have focused on permafrost thaw due to anthropogenic climate change. The subsequent thaw of frozen organic carbon stores in permafrost is thought to increase microbial activity and emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. As the permafrost thaws, the microbial community changes in terms of diversity and functional potential in response to warmer temperatures, and increased carbon and water availability.
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