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Microb Ecol
Vol: 47, No: 4,2004, Pages: 329-340


Culturable bacteria in subglacial sediments and ice from two Southern Hemisphere glaciers

Foght J, Aislabie J, Turner S, Brown CE, Ryburn J, Saul DJ, Lawson W

Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, T6G 2E9 Canada.

Abstract

Viable prokaryotes have been detected in basal sediments beneath the few Northern Hemisphere glaciers that have been sampled for microbial communities. However, parallel studies have not previously been conducted in the Southern Hemisphere, and subglacial environments in general are a new and underexplored niche for microbes. Unfrozen subglacial sediments and overlying glacier ice samples collected aseptically from the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier in the Southern Alps of New Zealand now have been shown to harbor viable microbial populations. Total direct counts of 2-7 x 10(6) cells g(-1) dry weight sediment were observed, whereas culturable aerobic heterotrophs ranged from 6-9 x 10(5) colony-forming units g(-1) dry weight. Viable counts in the glacier ice typically were 3-4 orders of magnitude smaller than in sediment. Nitrate-reducing and ferric iron-reducing bacteria were detected in sediment samples from both glaciers, but were few or below detection limits in the ice samples. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria were detected only in the Fox Glacier sediment. Restriction fragment analysis of 16S rDNA amplified from 37 pure cultures of aerobic heterotrophs capable of growth at 4 degrees C yielded 23 distinct groups, of which 11 were identified as beta-Proteobacteria. 16S rDNA sequences from representatives of these 11 groups were analyzed phylogenetically and shown to cluster with bacteria such as Polaromonas vacuolata and Rhodoferax antarcticus, or with clones obtained from permanently cold environments. Chemical analysis of sediment and ice samples revealed a dilute environment for microbial life. Nevertheless, both the sediment samples and one ice sample demonstrated substantial aerobic mineralization of 14C-acetate at 8 degrees C, indicating that sufficient nutrients and viable psychrotolerant microbes were present to support metabolism. Unfrozen subglacial sediments may represent a significant global reservoir of biological activity with the potential to influence glacier meltwater chemistry.

Keywords: Psychrophiles, glacier microbes, 16S rDNA amplification, beta-Proteobacteria, Polaromonas vacuolata and Rhodoferax antarcticus


Corresponding author: Tel: xxxxxxxxxxx, Fax: xxxxxxxxxx.

E-mail:julia.foght@ualberta.ca

 

 
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