Applicability of cryoconite consortia of microorganisms and glacier-dwelling animals in astrobiological studies

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Abstract

For several years it has been of interest to astrobiologists to focus on Earth’s glaciers as a habitat that can be similar to glaciers on other moons and planets. Microorganisms on glaciers form consortia – cryoconite granules (cryoconites). They are granular/spherical mineral particles connected with archaea, cyanobacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, algae, fungi, and micro animals (mainly Tardigrada and Rotifera). Cryophilic organisms inhabiting glaciers have been studied in different aspects: from taxonomy, ecology and biogeography, to searching of biotechnological potentials and physiological strategies to survive in extreme glacial habitats. However, they have never been used in astrobiological experiments. The main aim of this paper is brief review of literature and supporting assumptions that cryoconite granules and microinvertebrates on glaciers, are promising models in astrobiology for looking for analogies and survival strategies in terms of icy planets and moons. So far, astrobiological research have been conducted on single strains of prokaryotes or microinvertebrates but never on a consortium of them. Due to the hypothetical similarity of glaciers on the Earth to those on other planets these cryoconites consortia of microorganisms and glacier microinvertebrates may be applied in astrobiological experiments instead of the limno-terrestrial ones used currently. Those consortia and animals have qualities to use them in such studies and they may be the key to understanding how organisms are able to survive, reproduce and remain active at low temperatures.

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