Biogeochemical Characteristics of Earth’s Volcanic Permafrost: An Analog of Extraterrestrial Environments – Astrobiology (2022)

Vishnivetskaya, T. A., Mironov, V. A., Abramov, A. A., Shcherbakova, V. A., & Rivkina, E. M.

Abstract

This article describes a study of frozen volcanic deposits collected from volcanoes Tolbachik and Bezymianny on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, and Deception Island volcano, Antarctica. In addition, we studied suprasnow ash layers deposited after the 2007 eruptions of volcanoes Shiveluch and Bezymianny on Kamchatka. The main objectives were to characterize the presence and survivability of thermophilic microorganisms in perennially frozen volcanic deposits. As opposed to permafrost from the polar regions, viable thermophiles were detected in volcanic permafrost by cultivation, microscopy, and sequencing. In the permafrost of Tolbachik volcano, we observed methane formation by both psychrophilic and thermophilic methanogenic archaea, while at 37°C, methane production was noticeably lower. Thermophilic bacteria isolated from volcanic permafrost from the Deception Island were 99.93% related to Geobacillus stearothermophilus. Our data showed biological sulfur reduction to sulfide at 85°C and even at 130°C, where hyperthermophilic archaea of the genus Thermoproteus were registered. Sequences of hyperthermophilic bacteria of the genus Caldicellulosiruptor were discovered in clone libraries from fresh volcanic ash deposited on snow. Microorganisms found in volcanic terrestrial permafrost may serve as a model for the alien inhabitants of Mars, a cryogenic planet with numerous volcanoes. Thermophiles and hyperthermophiles and their metabolic processes represent a guideline for the future exploration missions on Mars.

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Citation

Vishnivetskaya, T. A., Mironov, V. A., Abramov, A. A., Shcherbakova, V. A., & Rivkina, E. M. (2022). Biogeochemical Characteristics of Earth’s Volcanic Permafrost: An Analog of Extraterrestrial Environments. Astrobiology. doi:10.1089/ast.2021.0137