AbstractMethane seep systems along continental margins host diverse and dynamic microbial assemblages, sustained in large part through the microbially mediated process of sulfate-coupled Anaerobic Oxidation of Methane (AOM). This methanotrophic metabolism has been linked to consortia of anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea (ANME) and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). These two groups are the focus of numerous studies; however, less is known about the wide diversity of other seep associated microorganisms. We selected a hierarchical set of FISH probes targeting a range of Deltaproteobacteria diversity. Using the Magneto-FISH enrichment technique, we then magnetically captured CARD-FISH hybridized cells and their physically associated microorganisms from a methane seep sediment incubation. DNA from nested Magneto-FISH experiments was analyzed using Illumina tag 16S rRNA gene sequencing (iTag). Enrichment success and potential bias with iTag was evaluated in the context of full-length 16S rRNA gene clone libraries, CARD-FISH, functional gene clone libraries, and iTag mock communities. We determined commonly used Earth Microbiome Project (EMP) iTAG primers introduced bias in some common methane seep microbial taxa that reduced the ability to directly compare OTU relative abundances within a sample, but comparison of relative abundances between samples (in nearly all cases) and whole community-based analyses were robust. The iTag dataset was subjected to statistical co-occurrence measures of the most abundant OTUs to determine which taxa in this dataset were most correlated across all samples. Many non-canonical microbial partnerships were statistically significant in our co-occurrence network analysis, most of which were not recovered with conventional clone library sequencing, demonstrating the utility of combining Magneto-FISH and iTag sequencing methods for hypothesis generation of associations within complex microbial communities. Network analysis pointed to many co-occurrences containing putatively heterotrophic, candidate phyla such as OD1, Atribacteria, MBG-B, and Hyd24-12 and the potential for complex sulfur cycling involving Epsilon-, Delta-, and Gammaproteobacteria in methane seep ecosystems.
To understand the biogeochemical roles of microorganisms in the environment, it is important to determine when and under which conditions they are metabolically active. Bioorthogonal noncanonical amino acid tagging (BONCAT) can reveal active cells by tracking the incorporation of synthetic amino acids into newly synthesized proteins. The phylogenetic identity of translationally active cells can be determined by combining BONCAT with rRNA-targeted fluorescence in situ hybridization (BONCAT-FISH). In theory, BONCAT-labeled cells could be isolated with fluorescence-activated cell sorting (BONCAT-FACS) for subsequent genetic analyses. Here, in the first application, to our knowledge, of BONCAT-FISH and BONCAT-FACS within an environmental context, we probe the translational activity of microbial consortia catalyzing the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM), a dominant sink of methane in the ocean. These consortia, which typically are composed of anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea (ANME) and sulfate-reducing bacteria, have been difficult to study due to their slow in situ growth rates, and fundamental questions remain about their ecology and diversity of interactions occurring between ANME and associated partners. Our activity-correlated analyses of >16,400 microbial aggregates provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, that AOM consortia affiliated with all five major ANME clades are concurrently active under controlled conditions. Surprisingly, sorting of individual BONCAT-labeled consortia followed by whole-genome amplification and 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed previously unrecognized interactions of ANME with members of the poorly understood phylum Verrucomicrobia. This finding, together with our observation that ANME-associated Verrucomicrobia are found in a variety of geographically distinct methane seep environments, suggests a broader range of symbiotic relationships within AOM consortia than previously thought.