Functional Metabolic Adaptations in Glacial Microbial Communities as an Analogue for Extraterrestrial Life

SCIENCE

Tyler Fox

Icy worlds have garnered particular interest because of their potential to support life. These worlds contain liquid water and essential elements needed for organic growth, leading to speculation as to their viability. Concurrently, although previously considered inhospitable, recent studies have identified diverse microbial communities living on the surface and beneath glaciers. Of particular interest are the microbial communities in subglacial systems, as they have been isolated from the atmosphere and sun for thousands of years and must rely on energy from the oxidation of inorganic substrates freed through rock comminution or biological detritus. The unique geology of glacial beds dictates the composition of the inorganic molecules, and to date, little research has been done on the impact that geology has on biogeochemical cycling within these subglacial communities. With a high density of accessible glaciers with varying geologic origins, Alaska provides a means to investigate these changes, simultaneously providing an analogue for other life on worlds. Technological developments allow for these gaps in knowledge to be addressed through techniques in metagenomics, chemical analysis, and highthroughput bioinformatics assays. The goal being to identify functional and energetic changes in subglacial microbial metabolism as it relates to differences in the surrounding geology.

Profile

Name: Tyler Fox, Graduate Student

Institution: University of Alaska Anchorage

Mentor: Brandon Briggs, bbriggs6@alaska.edu

Award: Research Grant

Funding Period: 2021 to 2022