Integrated 'Omics', Targeted Metabolite and Single-cell Analyses of Arctic Snow Algae Functionality and Adaptability

Stefanie Lutz, Alexandre M Anesio, Katie Field, Liane G Benning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)
407 Downloads (Pure)


Snow algae are poly-extremophilic microalgae and important primary colonizers and producers on glaciers and snow fields. Depending on their pigmentation they cause green or red mass blooms during the melt season. This decreases surface albedo and thus further enhances snow and ice melting. Although the phenomenon of snow algal blooms has been known for a long time, large aspects of their physiology and ecology sill remain cryptic. This study provides the first in-depth and multi-omics investigation of two very striking adjacent green and red snow fields on a glacier in Svalbard. We have assessed the algal community composition of green and red snow including their associated microbiota, i.e., bacteria and archaea, their metabolic profiles (targeted and non-targeted metabolites) on the bulk and single-cell level, and assessed the feedbacks between the algae and their physico-chemical environment including liquid water content, pH, albedo, and nutrient availability. We demonstrate that green and red snow clearly vary in their physico-chemical environment, their microbial community composition and their metabolic profiles. For the algae this likely reflects both different stages of their life cycles and their adaptation strategies. Green snow represents a wet, carbon and nutrient rich environment and is dominated by the algae Microglena sp. with a metabolic profile that is characterized by key metabolites involved in growth and proliferation. In contrast, the dry and nutrient poor red snow habitat is colonized by various Chloromonas species with a high abundance of storage and reserve metabolites likely to face upcoming severe conditions. Combining a multitude of techniques we demonstrate the power of such complementary approaches in elucidating the function and ecology of extremophiles such as green and red snow algal blooms, which play crucial roles in glacial ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1323
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2015


  • snow algae
  • Svalbard
  • metabolomics
  • genomics
  • single-cell


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