Dissemination and survival of non-indigenous bacterial genomes in pristine Antarctic environments.

22 Sep 2010

Continental Antarctic is perceived as a largely pristine environment, although certain localized regions (e.g., parts of the Ross Dependency Dry Valleys) are relatively heavy impacted by human activities. The procedures imposed on Antarctic field parties for the handling and disposal of both solid and liquid wastes are designed to minimise eutrofication and contamination (particularly by human enteric bacteria). However, little consideration has been given to the significance, if any, of less obvious forms of microbial contamination resulting from periodic human activities in Antarctica. The predominant commensal microorganism on human skin, Staphylococcus epidermidis, could be detected by PCR, in Dry Valley mineral soils collected from heavily impacted areas, but could not be detected in Dry Valley mineral soils collected from low impact and pristine areas. Cell viability of this non-enteric human commensal is rapidly lost in Dry Valley mineral soil. However, S. epidermidis can persist for long periods in Dry Valley mineral soil as non-viable cells and/or naked DNA.