RAPID: Meta-genomic and Transcriptomic Investigation of Complex Organic Matter Degradation in Antarctic Benthic Sediments

Grant Details


Western Antarctica is one of the fastest warming locations on Earth. Its changing climate will lead to an increase in sea-level and will also alter regional water temperature and chemistry. These changes will directly alter the microbes that inhabit the ecosystem. Microbes are the smallest forms of life on Earth, but they are also the most abundant. They drive cycling of essential nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen that are found in ocean sediments. In this way they form the foundation of the food chain that supports larger and more complex life. However, we do not know much about how different communities of microbes break down sediments in Antarctica and this will influence the chemistry of those waters. This research will determine how communities of microbes on the coastal shelf of Antarctica degrade complex organic sediments using genetic and chemical data. This data will identify the species in the community, what enzymes they are producing and what chemical reactions they are driving. This research will create broader impacts as the data will be used to create in-class activities that improve a student's data analysis and critical thinking skills. The data will be used in graduate, undergraduate and K-12 classrooms.

This research will provide genetic and enzymatic insight into how microbial communities in benthic sediments on the coastal shelf of Antarctica degrade complex organic matter. The current understanding of how benthic microbial communities respond to and then degrade complex organic matter in Antarctica is fragmented. Recent work suggests benthic microbial communities are shaped by organic matter availability. However, those studies were observational and did not directly examine community function. A preliminary study of metagenomic data from western Antarctic marine sediments, indicates a genetic potential for organic matter degradation but functional data was not been collected. Other studies have examined either enzyme activity or metagenomic potential, but few have been able to directly connect the two. To address this gap in knowledge, this study will utilize metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, coupled with microcosm experiments, enzyme assays, and geochemical data. It will examine Antarctic microbial communities from the Ross Sea, the Bransfield Strait and Weddell Sea to document how the relationship between a communities' enzymatic activity and the genes used to degrade complex organic matter is related to sediment breakdown. The data will expand our current knowledge of microbial genetic potential and provide a solid understanding of enzyme function as it relates to degradation of complex organic matter in those marine sediments. It will thereby improve our understanding of temperature change on the chemistry of Antarctic seawater.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date08/15/2007/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $98,380.00


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