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Reconstruction of the functional ecosystem in the high light, low temperature Union Glacier Region, Antarctica

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 08:06 authored by Li, Y, Cha, Q-Q, Dang, Y-R, Chen, X-L, Wang, M, Andrew McMinnAndrew McMinn, Espina, G, Zhang, Y-Z, Blamey, JM, Qin, Q-L

Antarctica is covered by multiple larger glaciers with diverse extreme conditions. Microorganisms in Antarctic regions are primarily responsible for diverse biogeochemical processes. The identity and functionality of microorganisms from polar glaciers are defined. However, little is known about microbial communities from the high elevation glaciers. The Union Glacier, located in the inland of West Antarctica at 79°S, is a challenging environment for life to survive due to the high irradiance and low temperatures. Here, soil and rock samples were obtained from three high mountains (Rossman Cove, Charles Peak, and Elephant Head) adjacent to the Union Glacier. Using metagenomic analyses, the functional microbial ecosystem was analyzed through the reconstruction of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur metabolic pathways. A low biomass but diverse microbial community was found. Although archaea were detected, bacteria were dominant. Taxa responsible for carbon fixation were comprised of photoautotrophs (Cyanobacteria) and chemoautotrophs (mainly Alphaproteobacterial clades: Bradyrhizobium, Sphingopyxis, and Nitrobacter). The main nitrogen fixation taxa were Halothece (Cyanobacteria), Methyloversatilis, and Leptothrix (Betaproteobacteria). Diverse sulfide-oxidizing and sulfate-reducing bacteria, fermenters, denitrifying microbes, methanogens, and methane oxidizers were also found. Putative producers provide organic carbon and nitrogen for the growth of other heterotrophic microbes. In the biogeochemical pathways, assimilation and mineralization of organic compounds were the dominant processes. Besides, a range of metabolic pathways and genes related to high irradiance, low temperature and other stress adaptations were detected, which indicate that the microbial communities had adapted to and could survive in this harsh environment. These results provide a detailed perspective of the microbial functional ecology of the Union Glacier area and improve our understanding of linkages between microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling in high Antarctic ecosystems.


Publication title

Frontiers in Microbiology





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Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Frontiers Research Foundation

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Rights statement

Copyright 2019 Li, Cha, Dang, Chen, Wang, McMinn, Espina, Zhang, Blamey and Qin. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Biodiversity in Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments