Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), the intracellular polymers produced by various microorganisms as carbon and energy storage, are of great technological potential as biodegradable versions of common plastics. PHA-producing microbes are therefore in great demand and a plethora of different environments, especially extreme habitats, have been probed for the presence of PHA-accumulators. However, the polar region has been neglected in this regard, probably due to the low accessibility of the sampling material and unusual cultivation regime. Here, we present the results of a screening procedure involving 200 bacterial strains isolated from 25 habitats of both polar regions. Agar-based tests, microscopy, and genetic methods were conducted to elucidate the biodiversity and potential of polar-region PHA-accumulators. Microscopic observation of Nile Red stained cells proved to be the most reliable screening method as it allowed to confirm the characteristic bright orange glow of the Nile Red-PHA complex as well as the typical morphology of the PHA inclusions. Psychrophilic PHA-producers belonged mostly to the Comamonadaceae family (Betaproteobacteria) although actinobacterial PHA synthesizers of the families, Microbacteriaceae and Micrococcaceae also featured prominently. Glacial and postglacial habitats as well as developed polar region soils, were evaluated as promising for PHA-producer bioprospection. This study highlights the importance of psychrophiles as biodiverse and potent polyhydroxyalkanoate sources for scientific and application-aimed research.
Keywords: Comamonadaceae; Nile Red; feast/famine regime; glacier; psychrophiles.