Antarctica – what it takes to get down and back out of the rabbit hole

Three Antarctic expeditions spanning 10 years, sampling through winter for a total of 18 months, and 3 dedicated years of bioinformatics analysis – we’ve finally learned the well kept secrets of Antarctica’s, Ace Lake microbes.

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The paper in Microbiome is here: Influence of the polar light cycle on seasonal dynamics of an Antarctic lake microbial community

To start with, this is what we do and why: 

Rick Cavicchioli’s group studies Antarctic microorganisms, discovering which types live in and around Antarctica, learning how they evolve and grow in the cold, and assessing how they are likely to respond to ecosystem changes, including climate change. 

The research is important because environmental microbes enable all other life forms on Earth to exist, and the vast majority of life on the planet grows at low temperatures. 

And where exactly do we do the work? Ace Lake, Vestfold Hills, East Antarctica – take a look:

Our first expedition to Ace Lake was the summer of 2006 – note Antarctica is in the southern hemisphere so December – February is summer.

The third expedition was the big one: 2013 – 2015.
2013 – 2015: Alyce Hancock and Sarah Payne spent 18 months taking samples in Antarctica.
Summer to summer sampling.
A complete seasonal cycle of samples.

Then, after several years for DNA extractions by Tim Williams and sequencing by JGI, Pratibha Panwar performed three solid years of analysis as the core of her PhD studies.

Pratibha hard at work.

Pratibha analysed 120 metagenomes → 20 Gbp of data → 25 million assembled contigs → 40 million protein-coding genes.

Years of Research Associate hours were also poured into the project by Michelle Allen and Tim Williams. Co-assemblies, rhodopsins, food webs.
All underpinned by dedicated efforts of JGI scientists who have collaborated for over 20 years.

And the outcome.

You may like to start with the publicity video, which is also available on Vimeo.

Then the article.

And check out the movie in supplementary information and look for this….!?

Ricardo Cavicchioli

Professor, UNSW Sydney