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DSSS: The vanishing North. How will climate change influence on the microbial genetic resources in Arctic?


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Lise Øvreås is a professor in Geomicrobiology at Department of Biology and Center for Geobiology, University of Bergen. She is Dean of research at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at University of Bergen. Lise Øvreås has been in the vanguard of developing and applying molecular methods to explore the microbial ecology of natural ecosystems. She is one of the few microbial ecologists who have been able to transcend the discipline boundary to macro ecology and influence national and international research agendas. Thus, initially by explaining the methodological trials and tribulations of microbial ecology to the mainstream in high profile journals, and subsequently through her prominent role on the prestigious US NCEAS working group, she has been instrumental in attracting a new group of prominent ecologists to the excitement of the largely unexplored microbial world. Øvreås was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Arctic Chair for 2012/2013.


Microorganisms have existed on this planet for more than 3.6 billion years and represent the major drivers for the global biogeochemical cycles. There are about 1030 bacteria in the world, but just 1021 stars in the universe. It is clear that the microbial diversity of the world is a scientific frontier that is not only unexplored, but also of far greater than astronomical dimensions. The microbial ecology of The Arctic is intrinsically fascinating: the low temperatures, extreme seasonality are striking and yet this is a biologically active environment in which nutrients are turned over and pollutants are degraded. The study of the Arctic has gained new urgency as the most rapidly warming region on the planet. The microbial world will mediate much of the anticipated change. There is a ticking “bomb” buried in the Arctic tundra. Enormous quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gasses are trapped in ice-like structures (clathrates) in the tundra and at the bottom of the seas. The microbial community is central to one of the most disturbing aspects of this warming: the fate of the 400 gigatons of methane locked in the frozen arctic tundra. The microbial community constitutes a lock, currently in a closed position, on these reserves of carbon and the fate of this reservoir. It is correspondingly desirable to understand the nature of this lock, which in turn implies a predictive understanding of the microbial ecology of Arctic soils in our present environment and in a putative and uncertain warmer future.