Carbon-consuming life-forms in Antarctica

April 23, 2012
This image shows scientists loading research materials in Antarctica. Credit: The Journal of Visualized Experiments

Lake Bonney in Antarctica is perennially covered in ice. It is exposed to severe environmental stresses, including minimal nutrients, low temperatures, extreme shade, and, during the winter, 24-hour darkness. But, for the single-celled organisms that live there, the lake is home. To study them, Dr. Rachel Morgan-Kiss from the University of Miami, Ohio, and her team went to Antarctica to sample the ice-covered lake. The article describing her method will be published April 20, in the JoVE (the Journal of Visualized Experiments).

"Our laboratory has a focus on understanding adaptations in ," said Dr. Morgan-Kiss. "Ice-covered lakes are much simpler to study than typical because all of the organisms in the lake are microbial. They are at both the top and the bottom of the food chain."

Despite being microscopic, these organisms may play a big role in . Many of them have a mixotrophic metabolism, meaning that they survive either by fixing carbon, like plants, or by eating other protists (single-celled microbial eukaryotes). However, it's not known what causes these organisms to display one type of metabolism over another.

Moreover, it is not known how the this metabolic switch. If climate change causes more episodic (like storms), nutrients will be stirred up from the bottom of lakes and oceans. This could have a huge impact on protist metabolism and climate change overall.

To help answer this question, Dr. Morgan-Kiss and her team took samples from different parts of the lake— the top, middle, and bottom— where the nutrient to sunlight ratios in the lake vary. The top gets plenty of sunlight, but there are few nutrients; the middle of the lake has moderate amounts of both; and the bottom gets little sunlight but is nutrient-rich.

"This interesting video-article produced by the JoVE Video team helps show exactly how scientists navigate in this challenging environment" says Dr. Beth Hovey, JoVE Editorial Director. "Research in Antarctica can add a great deal of insight in the realm of climate change. By opening a window into how to conduct science in extreme environments, Dr. Morgan-Kiss and her colleagues are helping advance this field of study."

Explore further: Lake Vostok life to be studied

Related Stories

Lake Vostok life to be studied

January 15, 2007

U.S. researchers say they will analyze microorganisms from a vast Antarctic lake to determine how life adapts to extremely harsh environments.

Climate change threatens Lake Baikal's unique biota

May 1, 2009

Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest and most biologically diverse lake, faces the prospect of severe ecological disruption as a result of climate change, according to an analysis by a joint US-Russian team in the May ...

Lake Erie algae, ice, make a nice mix in winter

January 11, 2012

Clarkson University Biology Professor Michael R. Twiss has been working with colleagues and students from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Ontario, to study Lake Erie over the past five winters during mid-winter, a time ...

Recommended for you

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

Cell aging slowed by putting brakes on noisy transcription

July 30, 2015

Working with yeast and worms, researchers found that incorrect gene expression is a hallmark of aged cells and that reducing such "noise" extends lifespan in these organisms. The team published their findings this month in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.