Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: Direction and Mechanisms of Seasonal Change in Arctic Microbial Communities (Award# 1203857)

PI: Epstein, Slava S (
Phone: (617) 640.1095 
Institute/Department: Northeastern University, Department of Biology 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ANS
Program Manager: Dr. Neil Swanberg (
Discipline(s): | Biology\Microbial Ecology | Biology\Microbiology |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This project focuses on the characteristics and mechanisms of microbial succession in the high Arctic. Empirical observations suggest that seasonal change could be viewed as consisting of two phases, with simpler communities gradually replaced by more complex assemblages. The researchers hypothesize that life histories of the early colonizers include metabolic versatility and ability to expand quickly, which leads to communities characterized more by interspecies chemical warfare than intricate species integration. They also hypothesize that at later stages, species develop multiple synergies, their communities become more complex, and integrated by a signaling and regulatory network. A corollary of these traits is that the first phase is populated with species that are relatively easy to cultivate in pure culture, whereas species dominating at later stages may appear "uncultivable" in pure culture due to their dependencies on other species. Researchers will test these hypotheses in a study of a microbial community in the Thule Area in Northern Greenland. This environment offers a range of communities from simple to more complex with tractable (short) seasonal succession and constitutes a pristine and endangered community. Intellectual merit of this study is two-fold. The first is about bringing together in one study culture- dependent and culture-independent approaches, enabling us to relate microbial diversity and function in the most general sense. The enabling technology is important for general microbial ecology because it identifies functions expressed by the community with specific microbial players, and deciphers the roles of individual species, spatially and temporally. It has the potential to transform the study of arctic and other environmental microorganisms by informing us what key species are present, what functions they perform, and how the structure-function relationship changes over time. Second is the application of this platform to the ecology of arctic microorganisms, whereby they will test specific hypotheses related to the direction and aspects of microbial seasonal succession, aiming at their mechanistic explanation. Regardless of whether the hypotheses stand, they will assess the importance of community-level microbial interactions that are based on production of bioactive compounds, how these interactions change over the course of seasonal succession, and whether trajectory of the microbial seasonal succession can be manipulated in a predictable fashion. This approach may become useful in human and animal microbiome research helping establish roles of species implicated in a range of diseases; in bioremediation efforts by explaining roles of individual species in biotransformation of pollutants; and drug discovery since bioactive compounds are often produced in a community setting but not in isolation. These cultivation approaches are already used in biotechnology efforts, and are licensed to a biotech startup company. The project will provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate training in a multidisciplinary setting.

Logistics Summary:
This collaboration between Epstein (1203857, Northeastern, lead) and Nelson (1203831, J. Craig Venter) focuses on the characteristics and mechanisms of microbial growth succession in the High Arctic. Starting in 2013, a field team of 2- 4 (with rotations) will deploy to Thule, Greenland for approximately 60 days each year to collect samples for study at the home institutes. The researchers will collect samples during several sessions, each lasting several weeks, from spring through fall. They will reach sample locations via truck, and process them in the Thule laboratory. In 2013, researchers will make sampling excursions in May, July/August and December, with a trip routed through Ilulissat for reconaissance/sampling during July. Samples—both live and frozen—will be prepared and stored for Air National Guard shipment to Scotia, New York at several points in the season. In 2014, researchers will make sampling excursions May – August and in October. Samples, both live and frozen, will be prepared and stored for both Air National Guard shipment to Scotia, New York as well as via Air Mobility Command (AMC) cargo and as hand carry at several points in the season. The 2015 season will be deferred to 2016. In 2016, field team members will visit Thule on a staggered schedule, with up to four people at a time, from late June to mid-August. Members will travel to and from the station on Embassy and Air Mobility Command flights. Researchers will base from Thule and make day trips via truck to local areas for sampling. They will work with samples in the Thule labs, processing some for shipment to the home institute. Prior to departing, the researchers will ensure all project cargo is packed and ready for retrograde shipment. There will be no field deploment in 2017 but samples continued to be stored in Thule for the projects. Samples may be shipped back to the US by CPS in 2017.

CPS will provide Air National Guard (ANG) coordination for cargo (including samples) NY><Kangerlussuaq, AMC ticketing and cargo Thule><BWI, Embassy travel, lodging at TSAR in Thule with access to Thule infrastructure/services, en-route lodging in Kangerlussuaq as needed, and safety/communications equipment. In 2017 CPS will provide storage for samples and may be shipping samples back to US for the project. All other costs associated with this project will be paid by the PI through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2013Greenland - Ilulissat07 / 18 / 2013 07 / 22 / 20131
2013Greenland - Kangerlussuaq08 / 20 / 2013 08 / 22 / 20131
2013Greenland - Thule05 / 09 / 2013 10 / 04 / 20133
2014Greenland - Thule05 / 29 / 2014 10 / 10 / 20147
2016Greenland - Kangerlussuaq06 / 29 / 2016 07 / 29 / 20163
2016Greenland - Thule06 / 30 / 2016 08 / 10 / 20166
2017Greenland - Thule0

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "1203857", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1