Polar microalgae: New approaches towards understanding adaptations to an extreme and changing environment

Barbara Lyon, Thomas Mock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Polar Regions are unique and highly prolific ecosystems characterized by extreme environmental gradients. Photosynthetic autotrophs, the base of the food web, have had to adapt physiological mechanisms to maintain growth, reproduction and metabolic activity despite environmental conditions that would shut-down cellular processes in most organisms. High latitudes are characterized by temperatures below the freezing point, complete darkness in winter and continuous light and high UV in the summer. Additionally, sea-ice, an ecological niche exploited by microbes during the long winter seasons when the ocean and land freezes over, is characterized by large salinity fluctuations, limited gas exchange, and highly oxic conditions. The last decade has been an exciting period of insights into the molecular mechanisms behind adaptation of microalgae to the cryosphere facilitated by the advancement of new scientific tools, particularly “omics” techniques. We review recent insights derived from genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics studies. Genes, proteins and pathways identified from these highly adaptable polar microbes have far-reaching biotechnological applications. Furthermore, they may provide insights into life outside this planet, as well as glimpses into the past. High latitude regions also have disproportionately large inputs into global biogeochemical cycles and are the region most sensitive to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-80
Number of pages25
JournalRNA Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2014


  • polar microalgae
  • physiology
  • genomics
  • proteomics
  • biogeochemistry
  • sea ice
  • oceanography
  • adaptation
  • evolution
  • environment

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