The evolutionary history and geographical isolation of the Antarctic continent have produced a unique environment rich in endemic organisms. In many regions of Antarctica, cyanobacteria are the dominant phototrophs in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. We have used microscopic and molecular approaches to examine the cyanobacterial diversity of biotopes at two inland continental Antarctic sites (80-82°S). These are among the most southerly locations where freshwater-related ecosystems are present. The results showed a low cyanobacterial diversity, with only 3-7 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) per sample obtained by a combination of strain isolations, clone libraries and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis based on 16S rRNA genes. One OTU was potentially endemic to Antarctica and is present in several regions of the continent. Four OTUs were shared by the samples from Forlidas Pond and the surrounding terrestrial mats. Only one OTU, but no internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences, was common to Forlidas Pond and Lundström Lake. The ITS sequences were shown to further discriminate different genotypes within the OTUs. ITS sequences from Antarctic locations appear to be more closely related to each other than to non-Antarctic sequences. Future research in inland continental Antarctica will shed more light on the geographical distribution and evolutionary isolation of cyanobacteria in these extreme habitats.
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