DNA double-strand break repair at--15{degrees}C

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The survival of microorganisms in ancient glacial ice and permafrost has been ascribed to their ability to persist in a dormant, metabolically inert state. An alternative possibility, supported by experimental data, is that microorganisms in frozen matrices are able to sustain a level of metabolic function that is sufficient for cellular repair and maintenance. To examine this experimentally, frozen populations of Psychrobacter arcticus 273-4 were exposed to ionizing radiation (IR) to simulate the damage incurred from natural background IR sources in the permafrost environment from over ∼225 kiloyears (ky). High-molecular-weight DNA was fragmented by exposure to 450 Gy of IR, which introduced an average of 16 double-strand breaks (DSBs) per chromosome. During incubation at -15°C for 505 days, P. arcticus repaired DNA DSBs in the absence of net growth. Based on the time frame for the assembly of genomic fragments by P. arcticus, the rate of DNA DSB repair was estimated at 7 to 10 DSBs year(-1) under the conditions tested. Our results provide direct evidence for the repair of DNA lesions, extending the range of complex biochemical reactions known to occur in bacteria at frozen temperatures. Provided that sufficient energy and nutrient sources are available, a functional DNA repair mechanism would allow cells to maintain genome integrity and augment microbial survival in icy terrestrial or extraterrestrial environments.

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Applied and environmental microbiology

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