In 2015-2017 the University of Tennessee offers an International Research Experience for Students (IRES) opportunities called "Undergraduate Research Opportunities in Microbiology and Biogeosciences of Siberian Deep Subsurface Permafrost". This program is funded by the National Science Foundation. The 6-weeks course will take place at the Soil Cryology Laboratory of the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems of Soil Sciences (IPBPSS) within the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). Each summer for the next three years four undergraduate students will have an opportunity to conduct research on unique sediment samples permanently frozen for up to 3 million years under supervision of Russian and US investigators. Faculty mentors for this IRES program from the University of Tennessee, the University of South Carolina, and the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems of Soil Sciences will provide scientific and educational mentoring, as well as cultural and language support.
By definition permafrost is sediment, soil, or rock that stay continuously frozen for longer than 2 years. In the Northern Hemisphere, permafrost occupies approximately 25% (23 million square kilometers) of the Earth's continental surface being here as long as 5 thousand to 2 million years. In spite the fact that this environment widespread in polar regions, yet its microbiota remains largely unexplored. The microbial communities embedded within permafrost for millions of years is a "gold mine" of genes encoding for low-temperature biocatalysts involved in biosynthetic and biodegradative pathways. The undergraduate students' research projects will be devoted to studying the biodiversity and functional capabilities of the deep subsurface permafrost from the northeast Siberian Arctic in order to expand our knowledge and understanding of this ecologically significant biome. The deep knowledge of permafrost microbiome is becaming even more important during the global warming and intensified permafrost degradation.