With the generous support from the C-DEBI research exchange grant, I had the opportunity to participate in the International Geobiology Course, which was directed by Drs. Alex Session, Victoria Orphan, and Woody Fischer from the California Institute of Technology (in conjuction with the Agouron Institute, Simons Foundation and USC Wrigley Institute). In this course, I traveled with 15 other geobiology graduate students to Mono Lake, Naples Beach, and Santa Paula Creek where we learned how to collect biological and geochemical samples for analysis at Caltech. At Caltech, I learned cutting-edge laboratory techniques including SEM, stable isotope analysis, SIMS, and NanoSIMS. Finally, on Catalina Island, I worked with three other students on a project that investigated the sulfur cycle at Santa Paula Creek, which we will be presenting at the AGU annual meeting. Participating in this course provided not only comprehensive training in geobiology, but also a unique opportunity to network with established scientists and peers that I hope to collaborate with in the future. Since returning from this course, I have a stronger understanding of current interdisciplinary topics and questions in geobiology and the ways in which these ideas are addressed. I look forward to continuing to pursue research in geobiology and collaborating with the scientists I have connected with on this course.
AbstractA C-DEBI research exchange was awarded for travel to the International Geobiology Summer Course hosted by California Institute of Technology (in conjuction with the Agouron Institute, Simons Foundation and USC Wrigley Institute). This course offered many unique opportunities including extensive field sampling, lab work, and data analyses. Field sampling occurred at Mono Lake, Little Hot Creek, the Monterey Formation, and Sulfur Mountain. Laboratory procedures included DNA extraction and PCR, CARD-FISH, microeukaryote culturing, nanoSIMS, beamline, SEM, biomarker, isotopes, and petrography analyses. We found that there was potential for microbial communities to be active at low levels in Mono Lake sediments. We also concluded that there were detrital input of albite and orthoclase into Mono sediments that correlated with El Niño and La Niña events. These data were analyzed and presented for the participants, directors, and course administrators on the final day. This experience not only provided me with technical training, but also allowed me to build an extensive network of colleagues in the field of geobiology. This course was relevant to C-DEBI Research Themes 2 (Activities, Communities, and Ecosystems) and 3 (Metabolism, Survival, and Adaptation) because we connected microbial community structure and potential function to geochemical measurements.
AbstractThe past decade of scientific ocean drilling has revealed seemingly ubiquitous, slow-growing microbial life within a range of deep biosphere habitats. Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 337 expanded these studies by successfully coring Miocene-aged coal beds 2 km below the seafloor hypothesized to be “hot spots” for microbial life. To characterize the activity of coal-associated microorganisms from this site, a series of stable isotope probing (SIP) experiments were conducted using intact pieces of coal and overlying shale incubated at in situ temperatures (45 °C). The 30-month SIP incubations were amended with deuterated water as a passive tracer for growth and different combinations of 13C- or 15N-labeled methanol, methylamine, and ammonium added at low (micromolar) concentrations to investigate methylotrophy in the deep subseafloor biosphere. Although the cell densities were low (50–2,000 cells per cubic centimeter), bulk geochemical measurements and single-cell–targeted nanometer-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry demonstrated active metabolism of methylated substrates by the thermally adapted microbial assemblage, with differing substrate utilization profiles between coal and shale incubations. The conversion of labeled methylamine and methanol was predominantly through heterotrophic processes, with only minor stimulation of methanogenesis. These findings were consistent with in situ and incubation 16S rRNA gene surveys. Microbial growth estimates in the incubations ranged from several months to over 100 y, representing some of the slowest direct measurements of environmental microbial biosynthesis rates. Collectively, these data highlight a small, but viable, deep coal bed biosphere characterized by extremely slow-growing heterotrophs that can utilize a diverse range of carbon and nitrogen substrates.
AbstractThe anaerobic oxidation of methane by anaerobic methanotrophic (ANME) archaea in syntrophic partnership with deltaproteobacterial sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) is the primary mechanism for methane removal in ocean sediments. The mechanism of their syntrophy has been the subject of much research as traditional intermediate compounds, such as hydrogen and formate, failed to decouple the partners. Recent findings have indicated the potential for extracellular electron transfer from ANME archaea to SRB, though it is unclear how extracellular electrons are integrated into the metabolism of the SRB partner. We used metagenomics to reconstruct eight genomes from the globally distributed SEEP-SRB1 clade of ANME partner bacteria to determine what genomic features are required for syntrophy. The SEEP-SRB1 genomes contain large multiheme cytochromes that were not found in previously described free-living SRB and also lack periplasmic hydrogenases that may prevent an independent lifestyle without an extracellular source of electrons from ANME archaea. Metaproteomics revealed the expression of these cytochromes at in situ methane seep sediments from three sites along the Pacific coast of the United States. Phylogenetic analysis showed that these cytochromes appear to have been horizontally transferred from metal-respiring members of the Deltaproteobacteria such as Geobacter and may allow these syntrophic SRB to accept extracellular electrons in place of other chemical/organic electron donors.
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.