Molecular Fossils from Microorganisms Preserved in Glacial Ice

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
P. Buford PriceKevin L. Vergin


The study of microbial evolution is hindered by the fact that microbial populations leave few fossils. We hypothesized that bacterial cells preserved in ancient ice could be used as a molecular fossil record if their DNA could be extracted and sequenced. Channels formed along triple junctions of ice crystals contain liquid “veins” in which microbial cells may be preserved intact. Since vertical motion through the ice matrix is impossible, microbes found in ice cores are representative of microbes present at the time the ice was formed. We detected chlorophyll fluorescence in intact ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctica. Flow cytometric analysis localized at least some of this fluorescence to particles < 1 μm in diameter. Metagenomic analysis of meltwater indeed revealed sequences similar to modern strains of the picocyanobacterial genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus , and some of these sequences were distinct from any sequences known from modern oceans or glacial environments. Our study is a first proof-of-concept of the use of ice cores as records of microbial evolution, and we suggest that future genetic studies with higher vertical resolution in the cores might shed light on the pace and character of evolution o...Continue Reading

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