Skip to main content Accessibility help

Molecular characterization of ancient algal mats from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

  • Doug E. Antibus (a1) (a2), Laura G. Leff (a1), Brenda L. Hall (a3), Jenny L. Baeseman (a4) and Christopher B. Blackwood (a1)...


The McMurdo Dry Valleys possess a cold and dry climate which favours biomolecular preservation, and present the possibility for preservation of biological materials over long timescales. We examined patterns of bacterial DNA abundance and diversity in algal mats from 8–26 539 years of age. Bacterial DNA abundance was inferred from extractable DNA quantity and quantitative polymerase chain reaction targeting the bacterial 16S rRNA gene. Because damage to bacterial DNA could limit its availability for polymerase chain reaction, the efficacy of DNA repair by a commercially available kit was also examined. Polymerase chain reaction amplicons of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene were obtained from seven of eight samples. Bulk DNA abundance and bacterial 16S rRNA gene copy number of template DNA declined with increasing sample age consistent with expectations of accumulation of DNA damage in ancient materials. Clone libraries revealed age related patterns of abundance for some bacterial phylogenetic groups. For example, Firmicutes and several other lineages were abundant in ancient samples, but Cyanobacteria were absent. This points to a biased persistence of bacterial lineages that change over time since photosynthesis was active.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Aislabie, J.M., Jordan, S.Barker, G.M. 2008. Relation between soil classification and bacterial diversity in soils of the Ross Sea region, Antarctica. Geoderma, 144, 920.
Aislabie, J.M., Chhour, K., Saul, D.J., Miyauchi, S., Ayton, J., Paetzold, R.F.Balks, M.R. 2006. Dominant bacteria in soils of Marble Point and Wright Valley, Victoria Land, Antarctica. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 38, 30413056.
Barns, S.M., Fundyga, R.E., Jeffries, M.W.Pace, N.R. 1994. Remarkable archaeal diversity detected in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 91, 16091613.
Billi, D.Potts, M. 2002. Life and death of dried prokaryotes. Research in Microbiology, 153, 712.
Blackwood, C.B., Oaks, A.Buyer, J.S. 2005. Phylum- and class-specific PCR primers for general microbial community analysis. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71, 61936198.
Bowman, J.P., Rea, S.M., McCammon, S.A.McMeekin, T.A. 2000. Diversity and community structure within anoxic sediment from marine salinity meromictic lakes and a coastal meromictic marine basin, Vestfold Hills, Eastern Antarctica. Environmental Microbiology, 2, 227237.
Brambilla, E., Hippe, H., Hagelstein, A., Tindall, B.J.Stackebrandt, E. 2001. 16S rDNA diversity of cultured and uncultured prokaryotes of a mat sample from Lake Fryxell, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Extremophiles, 5, 2333.
Christner, B.C., Mosley-Thompson, E., Thompson, L.G.Reeve, J.N. 2003. Bacterial recovery from ancient glacial ice. Environmental Microbiology, 5, 433436.
Davey, M.C. 1989. The effects of freezing and desiccation on photosynthesis and survival of terrestrial Antarctic algae and cyanobacteria. Polar Biology, 10, 2936.
Doran, P.T., McKay, C.P., Clow, G.D., Dana, G.L., Fountain, A.G., Nylen, T.Lyons, W.B. 2002. Valley floor climate observations from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, 1986–2000. Journal of Geophysical Research, 107, 112.
Ellis-Evans, J.C. 1996. Microbial diversity and function in Antarctic freshwater ecosystems. Biodiversity and Conservation, 11, 13951431.
Feinstein, L.M., Sul, W.J.Blackwood, C.B. 2009. Assessment of bias associated with incomplete extraction of microbial DNA from soil. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 75, 54285433.
Fierer, N., Jackson, J.A., Vilgalys, R.Jackson, R.B. 2005. Assessment of soil microbial community structure by use of taxon-specific quantitative PCR assays. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 71, 41174120.
Friedmann, E.I., Kappen, L., Meyer, M.A.Nienow, J.A. 1993. Long-term productivity in the cryptoendolithic microbial community of the Ross Desert, Antarctica. Microbial Ecology, 25, 5169.
Gilichinsky, D.A., Wilson, G.S., Friedmann, al. 2007. Microbial populations in Antarctic permafrost: biodiversity, state, age, and implication for astrobiology. Astrobiology, 7, 275311.
Hall, B.L.Denton, G.H. 2000. Radiocarbon chronology of Ross Sea drift, eastern Taylor Valley, Antarctica: evidence for a grounded ice sheet in the Ross Sea at the Last Glacial Maximum. Geografiska Annaler, 82A, 305336.
Hall, B.L., Denton, G.H.Overturf, B. 2001. Glacial Lake Wright, a high-level Antarctic lake during the LGM and early Holocene. Antarctic Science, 13, 5360.
Hall, B.L., Denton, G.H., Overturf, B.Hendy, C.H. 2002. Glacial Lake Victoria, a high-level Antarctic lake inferred from lacustrine deposits in Victoria Valley. Journal of Quaternary Science, 17, 697706.
Hawes, I., Howard-Williams, C.Vincent, W.F. 1992. Dessication and recovery of Antarctic cyanobacterial mats. Polar Biology, 12, 587594.
Johnson, S.S., Hebsgaard, M.B., Christensen, T.R., Mastepanov, M., Nielsen, R., Munch, K., Brand, T., Gilbert, M.T.P., Zuber, M.T., Bunce, M., Rønn, R., Gilichinsky, D., Froese, D.Willerslev, E. 2007. Ancient bacteria show evidence of DNA repair. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104, 14 40114 405.
Kennedy, M.J., Reader, S.L.Swierczynski, L.M. 1994. Preservation records of micro-organisms: evidence of the tenacity of life. Microbiology Reading English, 140, 25132529.
Legendre, P.Anderson, M.J. 1999. Distance-based redundancy analysis: testing multispecies responses in multifactorial ecological experiments. Ecological Monographs, 69, 124.
Lozupone, C., Hamady, M.Knight, R. 2006. UniFrac - an online tool for comparing microbial community diversity in a phylogenetic context. BMC Bioinformatics, 7, 371.
McKnight, D., Tate, C., Andrews, E., Niyogi, D., Cozzetto, K., Welch, K., Lyons, W.Capone, D. 2007. Reactivation of a cryptobiotic stream ecosystem in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica: a long-term geomorphological experiment. Geomorphology, 89, 186204.
Moodley, K. 2004. Microbial diversity of Antarctic dry valley mineral soil. MSc thesis, University of the Western Cape, 103 pp. [Unpublished.]
Moorhead, D.L., Doran, P.T., Fountain, A.G., Lyons, W.B., McKnight, D.M., Priscu, J.C., Virginia, R.A.Wall, D.H. 1999. Ecological legacies: impacts on ecosystems of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. BioScience, 49, 10091019.
Paerl, H.W., Pinckney, J.L.Steppe, T.F. 2000. Cyanobacteria and bacterial mat consortia: examining the functional unit of microbial survival and growth in extreme environments. Environmental Microbiology, 2, 1126.
Ritchie, P.A., Millar, C.D., Gibb, G.C., Baroni, C.Lambert, D.M. 2004. Ancient DNA enables timing of the Pleistocene origin and Holocene expansion of two Adélie penguin lineages in Antarctica. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 21, 240248.
Rivkina, E.M., Friedmann, E.I., McKay, C.P.Gilichinsky, D.A. 2000. Metabolic activity of permafrost bacteria below the freezing Point. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 66, 32303233.
Rollo, F., Luciani, S., Marota, I., Olivieri, C.Ermini, L. 2007. Persistence and decay of the intestinal microbiota's DNA in glacier mummies from the Alps. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34, 12941305.
Šabacká, M.Elster, J. 2006. Response of cyanobacteria and algae from Antarctic wetland habitats to freezing and desiccation stress. Polar Biology, 30, 3137.
Schloss, P.D.Handelsman, J. 2005. Introducing DOTUR, a computer program for defining operational taxonomic units and estimating species-richness. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71, 15011506.
Shirkey, B., McMaster, N.J., Smith, S.C., Wright, D.J., Rodriguez, H., Jaruga, P., Birincioglu, M., Helm, R.F.Potts, M. 2003. Genomic DNA of Nostoc commune (Cyanobacteria) becomes covalently modified during long-term (decades) desiccation but is protected from oxidative damage and degradation. Nucleic Acids Research, 31, 29953005.
Smith, J.J., Tow, L.A., Stafford, W., Cary, C.Cowan, D.A. 2006. Bacterial diversity in three different Antarctic cold desert mineral soils. Microbial Ecology, 51, 413421.
Stackebrandt, E.Goebel, B.M. 1994. Taxonomic note: a place for DNA-DNA reassociation and 16S rRNA sequence analysis in the present species definition in bacteriology. International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology, 44, 846849.
Suzina, N.E., Mulyukin, A.L., Kozlova, A.N., Shorokhova, A.P., Dmitriev, V.V., Barinova, E.S., Mokhova, O.N., El’-Registan, G.I.Duda, V.I. 2004. Ultrastructure of resting cells of some non-spore-forming bacteria. Microbiology, 73, 435447.
Van Trappen, S., Mergaert, J., van Eygen, S., Dawyndt, P., Cnockaert, M.C.Swings, J. 2002. Diversity of 746 heterotrophic bacteria isolated from microbial mats from ten Antarctic lakes. Systematic and Applied Microbiology, 25, 603610.
Vincent, W.F. 2000. Evolutionary origins of Antarctic microbiota: invasion, selection and endemism. Antarctic Science, 12, 374385.
Wang, Q., Garrity, G.M., Tiedje, J.M.Cole, J.R. 2007. Naive Bayesian classifier for rapid assignment of rRNA sequences into the new bacterial taxonomy. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 73, 52615267.
Willerslev, E.Cooper, A. 2005. Ancient DNA. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B272, 316.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed