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Keywords:

  • Permafrost;
  • Arctic;
  • Antarctica;
  • Sediment;
  • Microorganism

Abstract

Deep subterranean layers may be regarded as the most stable environment for microorganisms where possible fluctuations should be explained by geological events only. The analysis of the total amount of microorganisms has revealed that in sedimentary deposits their number is only one order of magnitude lower than the same parameter in soil. Taking into account the depth of sediments the microbial biomass in subterranean rocks has to be considerably larger than that in soils. Permafrost is the most constant and stable environment among deep habitats. Microbial communities survive in permafrost for at least some millions of years. The diversity of organisms and of microbial activities after permafrost thawing displays distinct differences to those in soils. The abundance of the bacterial biomass assumed is comparable in frozen and unfrozen sediments. Therefore, the permanently low temperature in permafrost is a stabilizing factor that sustains life in deep cold biotopes. Studies of microbial communities in permafrost sediments of different lithology and age suggest that the level of subzero temperature and the duration of its influence define the ratio between the hypometabolic cells, readily reversible to proliferation, and the so-called viable but non-culturable cells (deep resting cells). To a certain extent, cell aggregates in the extracellular matrix may be regarded as an additional survival mechanism supporting the hypometabolic state of cells. There is indirect evidence for adaptive physiological and biochemical processes in microorganisms during the long-term impact of cold.