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Genes (Basel). 2019 Nov 7;10(11). pii: E902. doi: 10.3390/genes10110902.

Entirely Off-Grid and Solar-Powered DNA Sequencing of Microbial Communities during an Ice Cap Traverse Expedition.

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Vatnajökull Expedition Team, UK.
Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology (IC-CSynB), Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.
Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.
Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7DQ, UK.
Faculty of Natural Resource Science, University of Akureyri, 600 Akureyri, Iceland.
Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Iceland, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3DD, UK.
Interdisciplinary Centre for Environmental Microbiology, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3DD, UK.


Microbial communities in remote locations remain under-studied. This is particularly true on glaciers and icecaps, which cover approximately 11% of the Earth's surface. The principal reason for this is the inaccessibility of most of these areas due to their extreme isolation and challenging environmental conditions. While remote research stations have significantly lowered the barrier to studying the microbial communities on icecaps, their use has led to a bias for data collection in the near vicinity of these institutions. Here, miniaturisation of a DNA sequencing lab suitable for off-grid metagenomic studies is demonstrated. Using human power alone, this lab was transported across Europe's largest ice cap (Vatnajökull, Iceland) by ski and sledge. After 11 days of unsupported polar-style travel, a metagenomic study of a geothermal hot spring gorge was conducted on the remote northern edge of the ice cap. This tent-based metagenomic study resulted in over 24 h of Nanopore sequencing, powered by solar power alone. This study demonstrates the ability to conduct DNA sequencing in remote locations, far from civilised resources (mechanised transport, external power supply, internet connection, etc.), whilst greatly reducing the time from sample collection to data acquisition.


expedition; metagenomics; microbial sequencing; nanopore; polar

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