Authors: Marianne Quéméneur, Gaël Erauso, Eléonore Frouin, Emna Zeghal, Céline Vandecasteele, Bernard Ollivier, Christian Tamburini, Marc Garel, Bénédicte Ménez and Anne Postec
Rock-hosted subseafloor habitats are very challenging for life, and current knowledge about microorganisms inhabiting such lithic environments is still limited. This study explored the cultivable microbial diversity in anaerobic enrichment cultures from cores recovered during the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 357 from the Atlantis Massif (Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 30°N). 16S rRNA gene survey of enrichment cultures grown at 10–25°C and pH 8.5 showed that Firmicutes and Proteobacteria were generally dominant. However, cultivable microbial diversity significantly differed depending on incubation at atmospheric pressure (0.1 MPa), or hydrostatic pressures (HP) mimicking the in situ pressure conditions (8.2 or 14.0 MPa). An original, strictly anaerobic bacterium designated 70B-AT was isolated from core M0070C-3R1 (1150 meter below sea level; 3.5 m below seafloor) only from cultures performed at 14.0 MPa. This strain named Petrocella atlantisensis is a novel species of a new genus within the newly described family Vallitaleaceae (order Clostridiales, phylum Firmicutes). It is a mesophilic, moderately halotolerant and piezophilic chemoorganotroph, able to grow by fermentation of carbohydrates and proteinaceous compounds. Its 3.5 Mb genome contains numerous genes for ABC transporters of sugars and amino acids, and pathways for fermentation of mono- and di-saccharides and amino acids were identified. Genes encoding multimeric [FeFe] hydrogenases and a Rnf complex form the basis to explain hydrogen and energy production in strain 70B-AT. This study outlines the importance of using hydrostatic pressure in culture experiments for isolation and characterization of autochthonous piezophilic microorganisms from subseafloor rocks.