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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Metagenome-assembled genome distribution and key functionality highlight importance of aerobic metabolism in Svalbard permafrost


Permafrost underlies a large portion of the land in the Northern Hemisphere. It is proposed to be an extreme habitat and home for cold-adaptive microbial communities. Upon thaw permafrost is predicted to exacerbate increasing global temperature trend, where awakening microbes decompose millennia old carbon stocks. Yet our knowledge on composition, functional potential and variance of permafrost microbiome remains limited. In this study, we conducted a deep comparative metagenomic analysis through a 2 m permafrost core from Svalbard, Norway to determine key permafrost microbiome in this climate sensitive island ecosystem. To do so, we developed comparative metagenomics methods on metagenomic-assembled genomes (MAG). We found that community composition in Svalbard soil horizons shifted markedly with depth: the dominant phylum switched from Acidobacteria and Proteobacteria in top soils (active layer) to Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Chloroflexi and Proteobacteria in permafrost layers. Key metabolic potential propagated through permafrost depths revealed aerobic respiration and soil organic matter decomposition as key metabolic traits. We also found that Svalbard MAGs were enriched in genes involved in regulation of ammonium, sulfur and phosphate. Here, we provide a new perspective on how permafrost microbiome is shaped to acquire resources in competitive and limited resource conditions of deep Svalbard soils.

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