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Polar Microbiology: Life in a Deep Freeze

Editors: Robert V. Miller1, Lyle G. Whyte2
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Affiliations: 1: Department of Microbiology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma; 2: Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Content Type: Monograph
Format: Hardcover
Publication Year: 2012

Category: Environmental Microbiology

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Written by the world’s leading scientists in Arctic and Antarctic microbiology, Polar Microbiologysheds new light on the microbial ecology and physiology of the Earth’s polar regions and offers a survey of what is known and not known about the microbial inhabitants of polar environments.  

Polar Microbiology addresses the adaptations and physiology of cold-adapted microorganisms, explores the ecological role that polar microbial communities play in biogeochemical cycling, and examines the challenges that polar and subpolar microorganisms encounter.

The study of polar microbiology offers insights into the fundamentals of life on earth as well as critical environmental issues such as climate change, ozone depletion, and elemental cycling. Designed for a general microbiology audience as well as for scientists and students in all areas of biology and geomicrobiology, Polar Microbiologyhighlights and analyzes the significance of recent findings and set forth avenues for further research.

The book also

  •  Explores polar terrestrial systems, polar marine systems, and cryosphere environments
  • Compares the microbial communities of Arctic and Antarctic environments
  • Describes how research into cold-adapted microorganisms has led to the development of new biotechnology applications
  • Examines the diversity of the four major microbial groups found in polar environments: bacteria, archaea, viruses, and eukaryotes

Click here to see ASM's "Author Insights" interview with Polar Microbiology's author Robert Verne Miller, PhD.

Hardcover, 312 pages, illustrations, index.

“An exciting introduction to the rapidly emerging field of cold biosphere microbiology, this book provides a compelling overview of how microbial life survives and even thrives in the coldest regions of our planet, and the implications for potential life on other icy worlds.”

─ Warwick F. Vincent, Director, Centre for Northern Studies (CEN: Centre d'Etudes Nordiques), Professor & Canada Research Chair, Dept. de Biologie, Laval University 

Polar Microbiology capsulizes a wide swath of knowledge about microbial life in the cold. This book will help launch new understanding of the perplexing behaviors of polar microorganisms—organisms that drive ecosystems critical to the functioning of the earth.”

─ Joshua Schimel, Chair, Environmental Studies Program & Professor, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Robert V. Miller, PhD, is Regents Professor and Head of the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Department at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Since earning his doctorate at the University of Illinois, he has been awarded 32 research grants, published 200 works, including 5 co-authored books, and trained 16 Doctoral and 7 Masters students.  Miller is a former Cardiff University Distinguished International Scholar and frequent invited lecturer on polar microbiology. 

Lyle Whyte, PhD, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, leads the Canadian Astrobiology Training Program. He completed his doctorate at the University of Waterloo and has served as a Research Officer at the Biotechnology Research Institute, National Research Council of Canada. His research examines microbial biodiversity, activity, and ecology in polar ecosystems, especially permafrost and unique cold saline springs, in the emerging field of cryomicrobiology, the exploration of the low-temperature limits of microbial life.

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 Quarterly Review of Biology

27 February 2014

This is one of the first books where a detailed view into microbial ecology (archaea, bacteria, and fungi) of polar habitats is introduced. Great attention is paid to the microbial diversity, physiological adaptations to cold, and biochemical cycling of polar microbial communities.  

The first part deals with microbial diversity in polar environments. Molecular and morphological diversity in most of geographical regions across the Antarctic and the Arctic, and in most of polar habitat types—soil, lithic, permafrost, lakes, shallow wetlands (including extremes), glacial and sea ice, snow, marine (including seafloor)—is summarized. The second part shows how microorganisms adapt to cold, including genomic and metagenomic analyses together with potential biotechnology use. The ecology and biochemical cycling of polar microbial communities is introduced in the third part. This part covers the three most important habitat types: microbial carbon cycling in permafrost; polar marine microbiology; and cryospheric environment in polar regions. The most challenging last part contains three chapters: low-temperature limit of microbial growth and metabolism; climate change, ozone depletion, and life at the poles; and life in ice on other worlds. This part discusses if the origin of life could be related with low-temperature or icy environment. This very provocative topic is discussed in detail with respect of physical and chemical properties of all types of ice, including adaptations and metabolic characteristics of ice microbes. One of the most important topics describes the exchange of microbial genome between ice, marine, and terrestrial environments and possible microbial genome exchanges between solar system planets.

This special volume is indeed an excellent summary of our present knowledge of polar microbiology. The extensive and comprehensive knowledge of polar microbiology provided by this book will help all scientists who are interested in the biology, ecology, physiology, and molecular biology of the polar environment but, further, could be useful also for the wider public. The volume is highly recommended to anyone concerned with these fields.

The Quarterly Review of Biology

Volume 89, Number 1

Reviewer: Josef Elster, Ecosystem Biology and Centre for Polar Ecology, University of South Bohemia, Cˇ eske´ Budeˇjovice, Czech Republic

Review Date: March 2014

Antarctic Science

11 February 2014

The editors entitle the preface of their book ‘‘An Exciting Era in Polar Microbiology’’. This is a fair statement because of the amount of information available, and the development of techniques. In addition recent concerted efforts to co-ordinate polar research have all reached a stage where the synthesis of the subject can be attempted with the aim of developing understanding from a whole book that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. This book takes a large step in this direction. This is a well presented book the origins of which are in the 2008 International Polar and Alpine Microbiology conference held in Banff, Canada. It is not, however, a conference proceedings. The individual chapters have been commissioned to provide an overview of the subject and draw together research from the International Polar Year in 2008. The book has 39 contributors with a strong North American presence. The book is divided into four sections: I. Microbial Diversity in Polar Environments, II. Adaptations and Physiology of Cold-Adapted Microorganisms in Polar Environments, III. Ecology and Biogeochemical Cycling of Polar Microbiology Communities, IV. Challenges to Living in Polar and Subpolar Environments, and comprises 14 separate chapters. The transition from consideration of the diversity of different groups, to adaptations and physiology, to ecology and then to future challenges offers a logical and structured approach to the subject which works well, presumably because the individual authors properly understood their mission and the editors worked hard to ensure good consistency and continuity between the chapters. In addition to leading the reader through the subjects, the individual chapters can stand alone, which is a useful attribute. Polar microbiology is an emerging set of disciplines potentially covering both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems which offer habitats where biological activity and processes are governed by extremes of water activity, and which also spans the extremes of latitude and altitude. Therefore polar microbiology spans a full range of taxonomic and physiological diversity. This books covers the topics well, although there are inevitably some gaps - for my part, I would have welcomed greater coverage of the protozoa and the algae, but this is a minor observation rather than a major criticism recognizing the fact that information and investigations on these groups are very sparse. The book is well-referenced, covering both the modern literature consistent with many of the authors being current researchers in their respective fields, and the older literature which is becoming increasingly difficult to access. The book is also strengthened by careful indexing. Of course, I have not checked every entry, but the samples I did check were accurate and helpful. This is to the credit of the editors because multi-author books often suffer from weak indexing, but not so in this book. So would I recommend it? I certainly think it has a place in institutional libraries and would be interesting to advanced level undergraduate and specialist postgraduate students and researchers.

Antarctic Science vol 25 (6)

Published by Cambridge University Press

Reviewer: D.W. HOPKINS

Review Date: December 2013

Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education (JMBE)

15 December 2013

As a Ph.D.-trained microbial physiologist with experience in microbial ecology, I find learning about microbes that live under some of the harshest conditions on the planet invigorating. Understanding how the structural and physiological adaptations of these microorganisms allow them to live under these harsh conditions provides insight into what life had to endure when our own world was a much more inhospitable place. The new text Polar Microbiology: Life in a Deep Freeze by Robert V. Miller and Lyle G. Whyte (ed) delves into the secrets of those organisms that have adapted to living in environments that are consistently around zero degrees Celsius or lower. I was delighted to see that the overall scope of the material covered in this text does not focus only on the cryosphere environments (ice glaciers, etc.), but on polar terrestrial and marine systems as well.

Unlike the recent Polar Microbiology: The Ecology, Biodiversity and Bioremediation Potential of Microorganisms in Extremely Cold Environments (2010), edited by Bej, Aislabie and Atlas, which is more focused in its scope and meant for a more advanced academic reading audience, the Miller and Whyte Polar Microbiology text is written to be accessible to a more general audience. Each chapter was written by leading scientists in Arctic and Antarctic microbiology who set up their topics with an informative introduction meant for those who have little experience in microbiology, let alone polar microbiology. They then delve into the current research on that topic without being overwhelmingly technical and, finally, they discuss where future research may lead. The bibliographical information provided on the authors’ research is sufficiently detailed with primary literature for the academic reader who has further interest in each chapter’s topics.

I am also pleased with how Miller and Whyte have organized the text. They have divided the topics into four parts, focusing on the different aspects of microbiology. Part I addresses microbial diversity in polar environments, looking not only at bacteria and archaea, but eukaryotic and bacteriophage diversity as well. Part II addresses structural and physiological adaptations to the cold, while Part III looks at the importance of these modifications and how they play a role in the ecology of their native habitats. Part IV addresses the challenges these microbes face while living in the current, rapidly changing polar environments of our planet. This part also explores the lower limits of microbial life and its implications for potential life on other planets.

Overall, I found Polar Microbiology an enjoyable reading experience. It is well written, informative and thought-provoking. While it is a bit too general to be used as a text for a college-level course, it is a solid resource for those interested in learning more about life at the extremes. For the microbiologist, it is an excellent summary of our current knowledge of the diversity, adaptations, ecology, and challenges of the microbes thriving in the coldest zones of our planet. I hope that, as the authors continue to answer the scientific questions posed in their chapters, a new edition will be organized to highlight these advances in the future.

JMBE, 284 Volume 14, Number 2

Reviewer: Michael R. Leonardo, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, IA

Review Date: December 2013

Microbe Magazine

29 May 2013

Polar microbiology (i.e., the investigation of microbes inhabiting the Arctic and Antarctic regions in the world) is a fascinating and fast-growing branch of microbiology. Scientists believe that the study of “Life in a Deep Freeze” can provide important information about the ecosystems of psychrophilic (cold-loving) microorganisms and lead to the identifıcation of unique cold-adapted biomolecules (e.g., enzymes) useful in biotechnological applications. Furthermore, since astrobiologists are increasingly searching for life on other cold and icy places in the solar system (e.g., Mars), knowledge about psychrophilic microbes on Earth can be useful for comparison. Also, research about polar microbes may provide insights into the fundamental characteristics of life on our planet. Another reason to study psychrophilic microorganisms is the fact that they are most likely to be the most affected by climatic changes on Earth, in particular global warming and ozone depletion. To sum it up, there are many reasons why polar microbiology is an important area of contemporary science research.

Miller and Whyte assembled a large group of leading scientists in polar microbiology who describe ideas, research, and future directions. The book contains four major sections with a total of 14 chapters. Many chapters are illustrated by tables, schematics, diagrams, and black-and-white photographs. There is also a set of 11 color plates organized by chapters and presented near the end of the book. The table of contents and the eight page index are functional, enabling readers to quickly access specifıc areas of interest.

The fırst section is entitled “Microbial Diversity in Polar Environments.” The authors describe the four major groups of microbial inhabitants found in polar and subpolar regions: bacteria (Chapter 1), archaea (Chapter 2), viruses (Chapter 3), and fungi (Chapter 4). They discuss polar microbial habitats, such as sea ice, polar coastal waters and inland lakes, polar tundra soils and rock, permafrost at different latitudes, and alpine sites in the Arctic Circle.

Section 2 covers the adaptations and physiology of cold-adapted microorganisms. The authors of Chapter 5 describe the general characteristics of psychrophilic microbes and emphasize that polar microbes face many biochemical and physiological challenges, such as reduced enzyme activity, protein denaturation and misfolding, and decreased membrane fluidity and transport effıciency. Chapter 6 provides information about the genomic and expression analyses of psychrophilic microorganisms, and Chapter 7 is about the metagenomic approaches to decipher polar ecosystems. The authors of the eighth chapter turn their attention to uses of cold-adapted microbes in biotechnology. They discuss uses of cold-active biomolecules, for example, in molecular biology, pharmaceuticals/cosmetics, food and textile industries, and organic syntheses. The authors point out that the use of psychrophiles in biotechnology appears to be larger than that of thermophiles (i.e., “heat-loving” microorganisms) because the former have greater biodiversity and the colder temperature range offers broader fıelds of applications.

The third section is entitled “Ecology and Biogeochemical Cycling of Polar Microbiology Communities.” Chapter 9 addresses microbial carbon turnover in arctic terrestrial ecosystems, especially in permafrost. The authors discuss carbon pools and fluxes, and freeze-thaw stresses and their influence on microbial activity. The tenth chapter characterizes polar marine systems with an emphasis on diversity and vertical distribution of pelagic (open-ocean) microbes and their influences on biogeochemistry and (upper) food webs. Chapter 11 discusses microbial life in cryospheric polar environments, which means in glaciers, ice sheets, sea ice, and ice shelves.

Section 4 reviews the challenges microbes face when living in polar and subpolar environments. More specifıcally, Chapter 12 discusses the low temperature limits of microbial growth and metabolisms, and Chapter 13 the effects of climate change and ozone depletion on life at the poles. Chapter 14 is about the search for “Life in Ice on Other Worlds.” The authors look at Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan, as well as comets, and other small, icy solar system bodies.

In conclusion, I consider Polar Microbiology an excellent book useful on many levels and for scientists with various educational backgrounds. For example, this book is suitable as a comprehensive resource for geomicrobiologists, biotechnologists, evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and even astrobiologists. It is also useful as a textbook for students interested in extremophilic microorganisms. Finally, I believe that even those only remotely connected with the fıeld of polar microbiology will fınd something of interest to read and learn about in this book.

Microbe Magazine

Reviewer: Christian T. K.-H. Stadtländer St. Paul, Minn.

Review Date: January 2013

Microbiology Today

05 March 2013

This book is derived from the 4th Polar and Alpine Microbiology conference in Banff (2008), one of a series of meetings that began in 2004 in Finland and have grown steadily in popularity. As a result of broad representation of the community, this is a well-balanced and up-to-date presentation of current thinking in the field. Of particular interest are sections on genome and expression analysis, Antarctic metagenomic studies, subglacial environments and cold-active biomolecules in biotechnology. The layout follows a logical progression from taxonomic diversity, through molecular adaptations to ecology and then future challenges. It is a good reference source and contains many useful and informative tables, such as summaries of primers used, reports of sub-zero metabolic activity, relevant genomes sequenced, molecular adaptations and biodiversity studies. The reference lists cite work from most, if not all, of those present at the meeting and could be said to present an introduction to an exciting era in polar microbiology.

Society for General Microbiology: Microbiology Today

Reviewer: David Pearce, British Antarctic Survey

Review Date: Feb 2012

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