The future of genomics in polar and alpine cyanobacteria

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Abstract

In recent years, genomic analyses have arisen as an exciting way of investigating the functional capacity and environmental adaptations of numerous micro-organisms of global relevance, including cyanobacteria. In the extreme cold of Arctic, Antarctic and alpine environments, cyanobacteria are of fundamental ecological importance as primary producers and ecosystem engineers. While their role in biogeochemical cycles is well appreciated, little is known about the genomic makeup of polar and alpine cyanobacteria. In this article, we present ways that genomic techniques might be used to further our understanding of cyanobacteria in cold environments in terms of their evolution and ecology. Existing examples from other environments (e.g. marine/hot springs) are used to discuss how methods developed there might be used to investigate specific questions in the cryosphere. Phylogenomics, comparative genomics and population genomics are identified as methods for understanding the evolution and biogeography of polar and alpine cyanobacteria. Transcriptomics will allow us to investigate gene expression under extreme environmental conditions, and metagenomics can be used to complement tradition amplicon-based methods of community profiling. Finally, new techniques such as single cell genomics and metagenome assembled genomes will also help to expand our understanding of polar and alpine cyanobacteria that cannot readily be cultured.

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