U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Permafrost Metaomics and Climate Change
Published: May 04, 2016
Posted: July 29, 2016

A review of various molecular omics studies on permafrost microbial ecology under a changing climate.

The Science
Permanently frozen soil, or permafrost, covers a large portion of Earth’s terrestrial surface, and, as permafrost thaws, previously protected organic matter becomes available for microbial degradation. Microbes that decompose soil carbon produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, contributing substantially to climate change. A recent review summarizes the current information from various molecular omics studies on permafrost microbial ecology and explores the relevance of these insights to current understanding of the dynamics of permafrost loss due to climate change.

The Impact
Application of high-throughput sequencing and other omics technologies is enabling the study of permafrost microbial communities and providing high-resolution information about community composition and function in a variety of permafrost locations.

Permafrost is highly heterogeneous, and the impacts of thaw differ dramatically depending on geography, biochemistry, and microbial residents. A recent review summarizes the current state of knowledge about microbial ecology both within permafrost and in the soil layers activated as permafrost thaws, with an emphasis on the use of modern, high-throughput sequencing technologies to understand permafrost-associated microbial communities and their response to climate change. Understanding of the microbial mechanisms controlling greenhouse gas emissions is in its infancy. Metagenomics must be coupled with enhanced measurements of geochemistry and microbial processes to develop a comprehensive understanding of microbial function and activity in permafrost. Predictive understanding will require information generated by both laboratory-based experiments and long-term in situ studies. In the near future, it is imperative for knowledge generated by metagenomics and other omics approaches to be incorporated into climate models to fully integrate microbiology, geochemistry, geophysics, and hydrology for a better representation of Arctic ecosystems.

Contacts (BER PM)
Dan Stover (BER)
daniel.stover@science.doe.gov; 301-903-0289

(PI Contact)
Neslihan Tas
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
ntas@lbl.gov; 510-517-4035

This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) program, under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231. The authors acknowledge additional financial support from the Microbiomes in Transition (MinT) Initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, under contract number DE-AC05-76LO1803; DOE Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiment-Arctic (NGEE-Arctic) project; Danish Center for Permafrost (CENPERM); California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) New Investigator Grant program; National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exobiology Program (award number NNX15AM12G), DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research (award number DE-SC0004632); and University of Arizona Technology and Research Initiative Fund, through the Water, Environmental and Energy Solutions Initiative.

Mackelprang, R., S. R. Saleska, C. S. Jacobsen, J. K. Jansson, and N. Tas. 2016. “Permafrost Meta-Omics and Climate Change,” Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 44, 439-62. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-earth-060614-105126. (Reference link)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling
  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)