In 2017, Ice Alive teamed up with our science affiliate Dr Arwyn Edwards (Aberystwyth University) to bring cutting edge molecular biology to the Arctic, to better understand the processes that allow life to thrive in seemingly unfavourable conditions.
Dr Edwards has pioneered the use of portable gene sequencing using Oxford Nanopore’s “MinION” technology in the Earth’s coldest environments. In this example, with support from Aberystwyth student Tom Davy, he examined the genomes of microbes living in cryoconite holes on the Greenland Ice Sheet within hours of collecting the samples.
The significance of this is that traditionally samples collected on ice would have to be either chemically “fixed” or kept frozen during transport back to a well-funded laboratory – a process that damages and changes the sample and requires significant funding. With this new technology, the sequences are much closer to “in situ” and available for a much more accessible price. It is a big step towards democratising molecular biology and gaining much deeper insights into the functioning of icy ecosystems.
In these clips, Dr Edwards explains the process to Ice Alive in his own words. For more information, see Dr Edwards's own blog including musings on the benefits of MinION and experiences of real-time sequencing for Radio 4...