Ecology of Subglacial Lake Vostok (Antarctica), Based on metagenomic/metatranscriptomic Analyses of Accretion Ice

Biology (Basel). 2013 Mar 28;2(2):629-50. doi: 10.3390/biology2020629.


Lake Vostok is the largest of the nearly 400 subglacial Antarctic lakes and has been continuously buried by glacial ice for 15 million years. Extreme cold, heat (from possible hydrothermal activity), pressure (from the overriding glacier) and dissolved oxygen (delivered by melting meteoric ice), in addition to limited nutrients and complete darkness, combine to produce one of the most extreme environments on Earth. Metagenomic/metatranscriptomic analyses of ice that accreted over a shallow embayment and over the southern main lake basin indicate the presence of thousands of species of organisms (94% Bacteria, 6% Eukarya, and two Archaea). The predominant bacterial sequences were closest to those from species of Firmicutes, Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria, while the predominant eukaryotic sequences were most similar to those from species of ascomycetous and basidiomycetous Fungi. Based on the sequence data, the lake appears to contain a mixture of autotrophs and heterotrophs capable of performing nitrogen fixation, nitrogen cycling, carbon fixation and nutrient recycling. Sequences closest to those of psychrophiles and thermophiles indicate a cold lake with possible hydrothermal activity. Sequences most similar to those from marine and aquatic species suggest the presence of marine and freshwater regions.