Research Concept

Mission Statement The Earth's Cryosphere consists of perennial and seasonal frozen formations. Among them, seasonally frozen soils (cryopedosphere) and permafrost (cryolithosphere) are the most populated habitats of thе modern and ancient biota. Along with snow and ice sheets, they form what is known as cryobiosphere – an under-studied part of the biosphere which hosts the negative-temperature ecosystems and features extremely low rates of biochemical reactions and biological processes. Coupled with its stable physico-chemical regime, and the films of unfrozen water preserving the integrity of the cell structures, these unique conditions allow for preservation of the biological systems over geological time – incomparably longer than in any other habitats. Considering its thickness and widespread distribution, cryolithosphere is a large natural bank of viable paleosystems containing an enormous amount of biomass isolated from the impact of the outside factors. The genetic diversity of the permafrost biomass reflects that of the old times, long before any anthropogenic impacts on the environment. At the same time, frozen part of the lithosphere (both seasonal, cryopedosphere, and perennial, cryolithosphere) are not in a state of biogeochemical rest. During sediment thawing, paleobiota regains its physiological activity and gets re-involved in biogeochemical processes. Late Cainozoe generation of microorganisms – their age corresponding to the age of permafrost – have unknown adaptation and viability preservation mechanisms. Identification of these mechanisms involves determining the time required for qualitative and quantitative adaptive changes to take place in the bio-communites as well as in the individual biological species in the frozen soil, at the biogeochemical boundary between the soil and the permafrost table, and in the permafrost itself. Cryopedosphere and its biodiversity is a starting point for evolutionary constructs. Today, our goal is to describe the frozen soil as a microbial habitat and an environment for genetic resource preservation. In addition, we work to determine biodiversity and survival strategy of the microorganisms and that of the higher species in native-temperature ecosystems. This will bring us closer to solving a more fundamental problem – the estimation of life preservation duration – which cannot be solved neither empirically nor though calculations because it is impossible to model real biological time. Cryobiosphere as a repository of the ancient biological communities, makes it possible to observe the results of their cryopreservation in the course of geological time. Study of the viable ecosystems in the cryolithosphere is an independent branch of bacterial paleontology which allows for paleoreconstruction based on the permafrost-preserved DNA. Furthermore, it is possible to construct geobiological clocks measuring the time viable organisms spent outside the active circulation. In addition, there are new prospects for the use of mineral resources in the permafrost zone. Although their significance may not yet be comprehended, the current trends in biotechnology suggest that genetic resources preserved in the lithosphere at the subzero temperatures may be just as important as the geological ones. The scale and nature of the paleobiosphere is of a major scientific interest as following the thawing of thesediments paleobiota regains it physiological activity and gets re-involved in biogeochemical processes. As a result, it affects the cycling of the elements and greenhouse gases and contributes to modern biodiversity. Finally, the Earth's cryobiosphere is a model of space environment on the planets of cryogenic type whilst its microbial inhabitants are possible analogs of extraterrestrial life on Mars.