Entirely Off-Grid and Solar-Powered DNA Sequencing of Microbial Communities during an Ice Cap Traverse Expedition

Genes (Basel). 2019 Nov 7;10(11):902. doi: 10.3390/genes10110902.


Microbial communities in remote locations remain under-studied. This is particularly true on glaciers and icecaps, which cover approximately 11% of the Earth's surface. The principal reason for this is the inaccessibility of most of these areas due to their extreme isolation and challenging environmental conditions. While remote research stations have significantly lowered the barrier to studying the microbial communities on icecaps, their use has led to a bias for data collection in the near vicinity of these institutions. Here, miniaturisation of a DNA sequencing lab suitable for off-grid metagenomic studies is demonstrated. Using human power alone, this lab was transported across Europe's largest ice cap (Vatnajökull, Iceland) by ski and sledge. After 11 days of unsupported polar-style travel, a metagenomic study of a geothermal hot spring gorge was conducted on the remote northern edge of the ice cap. This tent-based metagenomic study resulted in over 24 h of Nanopore sequencing, powered by solar power alone. This study demonstrates the ability to conduct DNA sequencing in remote locations, far from civilised resources (mechanised transport, external power supply, internet connection, etc.), whilst greatly reducing the time from sample collection to data acquisition.

Keywords: expedition; metagenomics; microbial sequencing; nanopore; polar.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electric Power Supplies
  • Expeditions*
  • Ice Cover / microbiology*
  • Iceland
  • Metagenome*
  • Metagenomics / instrumentation
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Microbiota*
  • Nanopore Sequencing / instrumentation
  • Nanopore Sequencing / methods*
  • Solar Energy*