Exploring Viral Mediated Carbon Cycling in Thawing Permafrost Microbial Communities

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Gareth George Trubl, Natalie Solonenko, Mario Moreno, Matthew B Sullivan and Virginia Isabel Rich, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States
Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth and their impact on carbon cycling in permafrost habitats is poorly understood. Arctic C cycling is particularly important to interpret due to the rapid climate change occurring and the large amount of C stockpiled there (~1/3 of global soil C is stored in permafrost). Viruses of microbes (i.e. phages) play central roles in C cycling in the oceans, through cellular lysis (phage drive the largest ocean C flux about 150 Gt yr-1, dwarfing all others by >5-fold), production of associated DOC, as well as transport and expression during infection (1029 transduction events day-1). C cycling in thawing permafrost systems is critical in understanding the climate trajectory and phages may be as important for C cycling here as they are in the ocean. The thawed C may become a food source for microbes, producing CO2 and potentially CH4, both potent greenhouse gases. To address the potential role of phage in C cycling in these dynamic systems, we are examining phage from an arctic permafrost thaw gradient in northern Sweden. We have developed a protocol for successfully extracting phage from peat soils and are quantifying phage in 15 peat and 2 lake sediment cores, with the goal of sequencing viromes. Preliminary data suggest that phage are present at 109 g-1 across the permafrost thaw gradient (compared to the typical marine count ~105 ml-1), implying a potentially robust phage-host interaction web in these changing environments. We are examining phage from 11 depth intervals (covering the active and permafrost layer) in the cores to assess phage-host community dynamics. Phage morphology and abundance for each layer and environment are being determined using qTEM and EFM. Understanding the phage that infect bacteria and archaea in these rapidly changing habitats will provide insight into the controls on current and future CH4 and CO2 emissions in permafrost habitats.