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Astrobiology. 2006 Jun;6(3):400-14.

Bacterial community in ancient Siberian permafrost as characterized by culture and culture-independent methods.

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Center for Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.


The microbial composition of ancient permafrost sediments from the Kolyma lowland of Northeast Eurasia was examined through culture and culture-independent approaches. These sediments have been continuously frozen for 5,000 to 2-3 million years. A total of 265 Bacteria 16S rRNA gene sequences were amplified from the permafrost total-community genomic DNA and screened by amplified ribosomal 16S rRNA restriction analysis. Members of three major lineages were found: gamma-Proteobacteria (mostly Xanthomonadaceae), Actinobacteria, and Firmicutes. We also determined partial 16S rRNA gene sequences of 49 isolates from a collection of 462 aerobes isolated from these sediments. The bacteria included Actinomycetales (Arthrobacter and Microbacteriaceae); followed by the Firmicutes (Exiguobacterium and Planomicrobium); the Bacteroidetes (Flavobacterium); the gamma-Proteobacteria (Psychrobacter); and the alpha-Proteobacteria (Sphingomonas). Both culture and culture-independent approaches showed the presence of high and low G+C Gram-positive bacteria and gamma-Proteobacteria. Some of the 16S rRNA gene sequences of environmental clones matched those of Arthrobacter isolates. Two-thirds of the isolates grew at -2.5 degrees C, indicating that they are psychroactive, and all are closely related to phylogenetic groups with strains from other cold environments, mostly commonly from Antarctica. The culturable and non-culturable microorganisms found in the terrestrial permafrost provide a prototype for possible life on the cryogenic planets of the Solar System.

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