In this study, we isolated and characterized bacterial strains from ancient (Neogene) permafrost sediment that was permanently frozen for 3.5 million years. The sampling site was located at Mammoth Mountain in the Aldan river valley in Central Yakutia in Eastern Siberia. Analysis of phospolipid fatty acids (PLFA) demonstrated the dominance of bacteria over fungi; the analysis of fatty acids specific for Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria revealed an approximately twofold higher amount of Gram-negative bacteria compared to Gram-positive bacteria. Direct microbial counts after natural permafrost enrichment showed the presence of (4.7 ± 1.5) × 108
sediment dry mass. Viable heterotrophic bacteria were found at 0 °C, 10 °C and 25 °C, but not at 37 °C. Spore-forming bacteria were not detected. Numbers of viable fungi were low and were only detected at 0 °C and 10 °C. Selected culturable bacterial isolates were identified as representatives of Arthrobacter phenanthrenivorans
, Subtercola frigoramans
and Glaciimonas immobilis
. Representatives of each of these species were characterized with regard to their growth temperature range, their ability to grow on different media, to produce enzymes, to grow in the presence of NaCl, antibiotics, and heavy metals, and to degrade hydrocarbons. All strains could grow at −5 °C; the upper temperature limit for growth in liquid culture was 25 °C or 30 °C. Sensitivity to rich media, antibiotics, heavy metals, and salt increased when temperature decreased (20 °C > 10 °C > 1 °C). In spite of the ligninolytic activity of some strains, no biodegradation activity was detected.