5 March 2015

New Nature paper provides insight to microbial life in permafrost

More than 20% of Earth’s terrestrial surface is underlain by permafrost

with vast stores of carbon that, if thawed, may represent a large future transfer of C from the biosphere to the atmosphere

This involves a set of microbial responses, but little is known about microbial activity in intact, let alone thawing, permafrost. The fate of permafrost C depends on climatic, hydrologic, and microbial responses to thaw at decadal scales. A multi-institutional team applied a combination of molecular “omics” approaches to determine the phylogenetic composition of the microbial community, including several draft genomes of novel species, their functional potential and activity in soils representing different states of thaw: intact permafrost, seasonally thawed active layer, and collapsed thermokarst bog. The multi-omics strategy revealed a surprising good correlation of process rates to omics data for dominant processes, such as methanogenesis in the bog, as well as novel survival strategies for potentially active microbes in permafrost. The team included scientists from several DOE labs and user facilities, including LBNL, ORNL, JGI, and PNNL. The funding was also across programs at BER, including CESD, Berkeley Lab LDRD and BSSD for funding of the sequencing at JGI. The lead author, Professor Janet Jansson, is leading microbial community research at PNNL and is the laboratory’s sector manager for BSSD and associated to Center for Permafrost (CENPERM).

J Hultman J, MP Waldrop, R Mackelprang, MM David, J McFarland, S Blazewicz, J Harden, MR Turetsky, AD McGuire, MB Shah, NC VerBerkmoes, L Lee, K Mavrommatis, and JK Jansson. 2015. “Multi-Omics of Permafrost, Active Layer, and Thermokarst Bog Soil Microbiomes.” Nature (on line March 4, 2015).