Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The report highlights research areas in polar biology that can benefit from genomic technologies and assesses the impediments to the conduct of polar genomic research. It also emphasizes the importance of ancillary technologies to the successful application of genomic technologies to polar studies. The report recommends the development of a new initiative in polar genome sciences that emphasizes collaborative multidisciplinary research to facilitate genome analyses of polar organisms and coordinate research efforts.

Key Messages

  • A polar genome research initiative will provide important new information on the evolution, physiology, and biochemistry of polar organisms. Such information not only enhances our understanding of how polar ecosystems function but also helps our search for life in icy worlds.
  • Attempts to conduct comparative research at both poles can be difficult. Although NSF's Office of Polar Programs support research at both poles, grant applications for Arctic and Antarctic research have to be made to two separate NSF research programs. Research proposals often undergo two reviews and scientists must prepare separate budgets for each proposal.
  • Coordination among directorates within NSF and coordination among agencies are both essential for advancing polar biology.
  • Enabling technologies are critical to the successful application of genomic technologies to polar studies.
  • Genome science is an addition to, not a replacement for, other approaches to the study of polar biology. The application of new genomic technologies has the potential to be a unifying paradigm for polar biological sciences.
  • Genome sciences have vast potential for elucidating function in microbial communities.
  • Genomic technologies, both those currently available and those anticipated in the future, are applicable to some of the key questions in polar biology. However, the technical demands of genome science often transcend the resources of any individual researcher.
  • Infrastructure for Arctic and Antarctic biology needs improvement. The conduct of molecular research in the polar regions requires specific infrastructure, and there is no high-technology equipment for such work in the Arctic.
  • International collaborations are vital for all polar research. Current procedures make the involvement of international scientists in U.S. polar biological projects difficult.
  • Polar genome sciences could make broad contributions to biomedicine and biotechnology (for example, cryopreservation, cryosurgery, and cold-functioning enzymes).
  • Polar organisms and communities offer unique opportunities to study evolution using genome sciences.
  • Polar systems play important roles in global-scale phenomena and there is a need for enhanced flow of information about polar biology to a wide audience of scientists, policymakers, and the general public.
  • The use of genomic methods will give insights into the effects of global change on polar biota and biogeochemistry.
  • To facilitate the advancement of polar genome sciences, coordination of research efforts will be required to ensure efficient transfer of technologies, provide guidance to researchers on choosing organisms for genome analyses, and help in the development of new scientific initiatives. Coordination of research efforts should begin with syntheses of the available information, thereby avoiding duplication of research efforts.