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Type: Journal article
Title: Atmospheric trace gases support primary production in Antarctic desert surface soil
Author: Ji, M.
Greening, C.
Vanwonterghem, I.
Carere, C.R.
Bay, S.K.
Steen, J.A.
Montgomery, K.
Lines, T.
Beardall, J.
van Dorst, J.
Snape, I.
Stott, M.B.
Hugenholtz, P.
Ferrari, B.C.
Citation: Nature, 2017; 552(7685):400-403
Publisher: Nature Research
Issue Date: 2017
ISSN: 0028-0836
Statement of
Mukan Ji, Chris Greening, Inka Vanwonterghem, Carlo R. Carere, Sean K. Bay, Jason A. Steen, Kate Montgomery, Thomas Lines, John Beardall, Josie van Dorst, Ian Snape, Matthew B. Stott, Philip Hugenholtz & Belinda C. Ferrari
Abstract: Cultivation-independent surveys have shown that the desert soils of Antarctica harbour surprisingly rich microbial communities¹⁻³. Given that phototroph abundance varies across these Antarctic soils²·⁴, an enduring question is what supports life in those communities with low photosynthetic capacity³·⁵. Here we provide evidence that atmospheric trace gases are the primary energy sources of two Antarctic surface soil communities. We reconstructed 23 draft genomes from metagenomic reads, including genomes from the candidate bacterial phyla WPS-2 and AD3. The dominant community members encoded and expressed high-affinity hydrogenases, carbon monoxide dehydrogenases, and a RuBisCO lineage known to support chemosynthetic carbon fixation⁶·⁷. Soil microcosms aerobically scavenged atmospheric H₂ and CO at rates sufficient to sustain their theoretical maintenance energy and mediated substantial levels of chemosynthetic but not photosynthetic CO₂ fixation. We propose that atmospheric H₂, CO₂ and CO provide dependable sources of energy and carbon to support these communities, which suggests that atmospheric energy sources can provide an alternative basis for ecosystem function to solar or geological energy sources⁸·⁹. Although more extensive sampling is required to verify whether this process is widespread in terrestrial Antarctica and other oligotrophic habitats, our results provide new understanding of the minimal nutritional requirements for life and open the possibility that atmospheric gases support life on other planets.
Keywords: Carbon Dioxide
Carbon Monoxide
Soil Microbiology
Desert Climate
Antarctic Regions
Carbon Cycle
Description: Letter
Rights: © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons licence, users will need to obtain permission from the licence holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this licence, visit
DOI: 10.1038/nature25014
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