IPY: Collaborative Research: A Metagenomic Investigation of Adaptation to Prolonged Cold and Dark Conditions of the Lake Vostok Microbial Community
This project brings together researchers with expertise in molecular microbial ecology, Antarctic and deep sea environments, and metagenomics to address the overarching question: how do ecosystems dominated by microorganisms adapt to conditions of continuous cold and dark over evolutionarily and geologically relevant time scales? Lake Vostok, buried for at least 15 million years beneath approximately 4 km of ice that has prevented any communication with the external environment for as much as 1.5 million years, is an ideal system to study this question. Water from the lake that has frozen on to the bottom of the ice sheet (accretion ice) is available for study. Several studies have indicated the presence of low abundance, but detectable microbial communities in the accretion ice. Our central hypothesis maintains that Lake Vostok microbes are specifically adapted to life in conditions of extreme cold, dark, and oligotrophy and that signatures of those adaptations can be observed in their genome sequences at the gene, organism, and community levels. To address this hypothesis, we propose to characterize the metagenome (i.e. the genomes of all members of the community) of the accretion ice. using whole genome amplification (WGA), which can provide micrograms of unbiased metagenomic DNA from only a few cells. The results of this project have relevance to evolutionary biology and ecology, subglacial Antarctic lake exploration, biotechnology, and astrobiology. The project directly addresses priorities and themes in the International Polar Year at the national and international levels. A legacy of DNA sequence data and the metagenomic library will be created and maintained. Press releases and a publicly available web page will facilitate communication with the public. K-12 outreach will be the focus of a new, two-tiered program targeting the 7th grade classroom and on site visits to the Joint Genome Institute Production Sequencing Facility by high school juniors and seniors and community college level students. Minority undergraduate researchers will be recruited for research on this project, and support and training are provided to two graduate students, a postdoctoral scholar, and a technician.
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