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Astrobiology. 2003 Summer;3(2):331-41.

Supercooled water brines within permafrost-an unknown ecological niche for microorganisms: a model for astrobiology.

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


This study describes brine lenses (cryopegs) found in Siberian permafrost derived from ancient marine sediment layers of the Arctic Ocean. The cryopegs were formed and isolated from sediment ~100,000-120,000 years ago. They remain liquid at the in situ temperature of -10 degrees C as a result of their high salt content (170-300 g/L). [(14)C] Glucose is taken up by the cryopeg biomass at -15 degrees C, indicating microbial metabolism at low temperatures in this habitat. Furthermore, aerobic, anaerobic heterotrophs, sulfate reducers, acetogens, and methanogens were detected by most probable number analysis. Two psychrophilic microbes were isolated from the cryopegs, a Clostridium and a Psychrobacter. The closest relatives of each were previously isolated from Antarctica. The cryopeg econiche might serve as a model for extraterrestrial life, and hence is of particular interest to astrobiology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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