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Preparing for a thaw: How Arctic microbes respond to a warming world
Date:11/6/2011

WALNUT CREEK/BERKELEY, Calif.From the North Pole to the Arctic Ocean, the frozen soils within this region keep an estimated 1,672 billion metric tons of carbon out of the Earth's atmosphere. This sequestered carbon is more than 250 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the United States in the year 2009. As global temperatures slowly rise, however, so too do concerns regarding the potential impacts upon the carbon cycle when the permafrost thaws and releases the carbon that has been trapped for eons. Like so many of the planet's critical environmental processes, the smallest playersmicrobeshave the most significant influence over the eventual outcome.

To answer this question, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI), the Earth Sciences Division (ESD) within Berkeley Lab, and the U.S. Geological Survey collaborated to understand how the microbes found in permafrost respond to their warming environment. Among the findings, published online November 6 in the journal Nature, is the draft genome of a novel microbe that produces methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This microbe, not yet named, lives in the permafrost, and was assembled out of the collection of genomesthe metagenomeisolated from the frigid soil. The assembly challenge is similar to building one complete jigsaw puzzle from a large collection of pieces from many different puzzles.

"The permafrost is poised to become a major source of greenhouse gases as the temperature in the Arctic is expected to increase dramatically compared to the expected temperature increase in many other regions of the world," said ESD's Janet Jansson, corresponding author and initiator of the study (first supported by a grant to her from DOE Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds). "By applying metagenomics to study microbial community composition and function, we can help to answer questions about how t
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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