Globally emitted contaminants accumulate in the Arctic and are stored in the frozen environments of the cryosphere such as glaciers and ice sheets. Climate change influences the release of these contaminants through elevated melt rates, resulting in increased contamination locally. However, our understanding of how biological processes interact with contamination in the Arctic is limited.
A new study published in Environmental Research Letters, led by Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann from the University of Greenland and co-authored by Marek, shows through shotgun metagenomic data and binned genomes from metagenomes that microbial communities, sampled from multiple surface ice locations on the Greenland ice sheet, have the potential for resistance to and degradation of contaminants. The microbial potential to degrade anthropogenic contaminants, such as toxic and persistent polychlorinated biphenyls, was found to be spatially variable and not limited to regions close to human activities. Binned genomes showed close resemblance to microorganisms isolated from contaminated habitats. These results indicate that, from a microbiological perspective, the Greenland ice sheet cannot be seen as a pristine environment.
(For another text on how ‘pristine’ is the Arctic region, see Ruth Mottram’s great blog here.)
Hauptmann AL, Sicheritz-Pontén T, Cameron KA, Bælum J, Plichta D, Dalgaard M, Stibal M (2017) Contamination of the Arctic reflected in microbial metagenomes from the Greenland ice sheet. Environmental Research Letters 12: 074019 doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa7445