Antarctic Science

Biological Sciences

Viable microbes in ice: application of molecular assays to McMurdo Dry Valley lake ice communities

Markus Diesera1a2, Andreas Nockera1a3, John C. Priscua2 and Christine M. Foremana1a2 c1

a1 Montana State University, Center for Biofilm Engineering, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA

a2 Montana State University, Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA

a3 Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), 3704 HE Zeist, The Netherlands


The permanent ice covers of the McMurdo Dry Valley lakes, Antarctica, are colonized by a diverse microbial assemblage. We collected ice cores from Lakes Fryxell, Hoare and Bonney. Propidium monoazide (PMA) was used in combination with quantitative PCR (qPCR) and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) to examine membrane integrity of prokaryotes in these extreme environments. PMA selectively penetrates cells with compromised membranes and modifies their DNA resulting in the suppression of PCR amplification. Our results based on analysis of 16S rRNA genes demonstrate that despite the hostile conditions of the Dry Valleys, the permanent ice covers of the lakes support a ‘potentially viable’ microbial community. The level of membrane integrity, as well as diversity, was higher in samples where sediment was entrapped in the ice cover. Pronounced differences in the fraction of cells with intact and compromised cell membranes were found for Lake Fryxell and east lobe of Lake Bonney, both expressed in differences in DGGE banding patterns and qPCR signal reductions. Limitations in the ability to distinguish between intact or compromised cells occurred in samples from Lake Hoare and west lobe of Lake Bonney due to low DNA template concentrations recovered from the samples.

(Received January 07 2010)

(Accepted April 26 2010)

(Online publication June 23 2010)