High Resolution Genomic and Proteomic Analyses of a Microbial Transport Mechanism from Antarctic Marine Waters to Permanent Snowpack
The relatively pristine Antarctic continent with its extensive maritime zone represents a unique location on the planet to investigate the long distance aerial transport and deposition of marine microorganisms. The vast extent of new sea ice that forms each winter around the continent results in large numbers of frost flowers, delicate ice-crystal structures of high salt content that form on the surface of the ice and are readily dispersed by wind. The proposed research builds on earlier work in the Arctic and tests the new hypothesis that wind-borne frost flowers provide an effective mechanism for the transport of marine bacteria over long distances, one that can be uniquely sourced and tracked by the frost flower salt signature in the Antarctic realm. A highly resolved genomic snapshot of the microbial community will be acquired at each stage in the transport path, which will track decreasing fractions of the marine microbial community as it freezes into sea ice, incorporates into frost flowers, converts to aerosols, and ultimately deposits within continental snowpack. En route from sea ice to snowpack, marine bacteria will be exposed to an array of environmental stresses, including high salinity, low temperatures, UV light and potential desiccation. A parallel proteomic analysis will enable an evaluation of the microbial response to these extreme conditions and potential survival mechanisms that allow persistence or eventual colonization of deposition sites across Antarctica.
Current understanding of microbes in the Antarctic atmosphere is based on a limited number of microscopic and culture-based assays and a single report of low-resolution 16S RNA gene sequence analysis. The research will broadly impact understanding of atmospheric microbiology, from source to deposition, and various issues of microbial survival, colonization, endemism, and diversity under extreme conditions. In addition to venues that reach the scientific community, the research team will develop a permanent multi-media and artifact-based exhibit on Antarctic Microbial Transport that will be showcased at Seattle's Pacific Science Center (PSC), which educates nearly a million visitors annually.
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