Ice Association in Microbes

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Wilson, Sandra
Freeze-Thaw , Ice Nucleation Activity , Ice Recrystallization Inhibition , Cross-Tolerance
Microbes have a remarkable ability to adapt to a host of environmental stressors, including low temperature, high pressure and osmotic stresses. The adaptations of resistant microbes to low temperatures are varied, and may include the accumulation of solutes to maintain osmotic balance, the production of antifreeze proteins (AFPs) or ice nucleation proteins (INPs) to manipulate ice growth or formation. AFPs depress the freezing point, inhibit ice recrystallization, and have been reported to inhibit or delay the growth of gas hydrates. Conversely, INPs precipitate ice formation at relatively high subzero temperatures. Collectively, these activities can be described as ‘ice-association’ activities. Here, ice-affinity and/or freeze-thaw cycling were used to either select for isolates with ice association properties or to assess the low temperature resistance of microbial consortia derived from various environments. Ice-affinity successfully selected psychrotolerant microbes from cultured temperate and boreal soils, some of which had been previously reported in glaciers and Arctic/Antarctic sites. Many of the recovered microbes demonstrated ice-association activities. Freeze-thaw selection also greatly decreased the abundance and diversity of consortia from distinct sites, and allowed the recovery of individual isolates, many of which demonstrated ice-association. Freeze-thaw selection was also used to assess the role of cross-tolerance between osmotic and freeze-thaw stresses, based on the common challenge of desiccation. Microbial consortia from lakes with varying degrees of salinity were subjected to freeze-thaw stress, and the consortia from more saline lakes tended to show greater low temperature resistance. While few of the recovered microbes demonstrated ice-association activities, those from the more saline lakes tended to contain a higher intracellular solute concentration and were more likely to form biofilms. This underscores the diversity of resistance strategies and supports the notion of cross-tolerance. To determine if these selective regimes would have applications for hydrate growth inhibition, microbes derived from an oil well sample were subjected to freeze-thaw stress. Selection reduced microbial abundance, shifted the diversity, and resulted in the recovery of microbes with some ice-association activity. Taken together, this thesis demonstrates that the application of low temperature stress can be used to successfully investigate stress resistance mechanisms within microbial communities from distinct environments.
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