Microorganisms possess a variety of survival mechanisms, including the production of antimicrobials that function to kill and/or inhibit the growth of competing microorganisms. Studies of antimicrobial production have largely been driven by the medical community in response to the rise in antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and have involved isolated pure cultures under artificial laboratory conditions neglecting the important ecological roles of these compounds. The search for new natural products has extended to biofilms, soil, oceans, coral reefs, and shallow coastal sediments; however, the marine deep subsurface biosphere may be an untapped repository for novel antimicrobial discovery. Uniquely, prokaryotic survival in energy-limited extreme environments force microbial populations to either adapt their metabolism to outcompete or produce novel antimicrobials that inhibit competition. For example, subsurface sediments could yield novel antimicrobial genes, while at the same time answering important ecological questions about the microbial community.
Marine sediments harbor a vast amount of Earth’s microbial biomass, yet little is understood regarding how cells subsist in this low-energy, presumably slow-growth environment. Cells in marine sediments may require additional methods for genetic regulation, such as epigenetic modification via DNA methylation. We investigated this potential phenomenon within a shallow estuary sediment core spanning 100 years of age. Here, we provide evidence of dynamic community m5-cytosine methylation within estuarine sediment metagenomes. The methylation states of individual CpG sites were reconstructed and quantified across three depths within the sediment core. A total of 6,254 CpG sites were aligned for direct comparison of methylation states between samples, and 4,235 of these sites mapped to taxa and genes. Our results demonstrate the presence of differential methylation within environmental CpG sites across an age gradient of sediment. We show that epigenetic modification can be detected via Illumina sequencing within complex environmental communities. The change in methylation state of environmentally relevant genes across depths may indicate a dynamic role of DNA methylation in regulation of biogeochemical processes.