Microbes are thriving in surface glaciers, especially in pockets with liquid water. The extremes in physical conditions on surface glacier create a unique and constant evolutionary pressure for microbes to evolve their metabolic capabilities in order to secure carbon and energy supply. Phototrophy and methanotrophy are two commonly found lifestyles in glacial bacteria that we focus on to investigate the means by which glacial microbes do metabolic innovation.
The question we ask is whether phototrophy and methanotrophy can co-occur in a single glacial bacterium through genome evolution. We hypothesize that phototrophic methanotrophs have evolved in the high Arctic glaciers as an adaptation to scarce organic matter but ample supplies of summer sunlight and methane from thawing permafrost. We are using a high-throughput cultivation approach coupled with the latest detection technology for photosynthetic pigments to isolate these capable microbes and further unravel their genomic and metabolic secrets.