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Advances in Space Research
Vol. 33, No: 8, 2004, Pages: 1215 - 21

Microbial life in permafrost

Rivkina E, Laurinavichius K, McGrath J, Tiedje J, Shcherbakova V, Gilichinsky D

Institute for Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushchino, Moscow Region, Russia.


Hydrogenotrophic and acetoclastic methanogenesis was measured at temperatures between 5 and -16.5 degrees C with H14CO3- and 14CH3CO2- as substrates in Siberian permafrost soils. The rate of methane formation was reduced approximately 2-fold over the temperature range from 5 to -1.8 degrees C. For the most active sample "a" temperature dependence of CH4, production at negative temperatures was approximately a 100-fold reduction for a range of -1.8 to -16.5 degrees C for both substrates. According to the Arrhenius equation, the activation energy of methane generation from bicarbonate and acetate for the temperature interval -5 to -16.5 degrees C was reduced by a factor of 3 and 1.5, respectively, in comparison with the temperatures above zero. In the experiments we tested the geological time series, showing the ability of microorganisms to carry out redox reactions after thousands to millions years of existence in permafrost. From the Climate Change point of view, it is important that the recovered organisms are quickly involved anew in present-day ecological processes after instances of permafrost thawing, and may be vital in nutrient recycling and in the production and consumption of greenhouse gases over a large portion of the Earth's surface. From an exobiological point of view, the terrestrial permafrost, inhabited by cold adapted microbes and protecting the cells against unfavorable conditions, can be considered as an extraterrestrial model. The methanogenic bacteria and their metabolic end-products found in the Earth's permafrost provide a range of analogues that could be used in the search for possible ecosystems and potential inhabitants on extraterrestrial cryogenic bodies free of oxygen.

Keywords:Hydrogenotrophic and acetoclastic methanogenesis,Siberian permafrost soils,cryogenic bodies free of oxygen.


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