The deep marine subsurface is one of the largest unexplored biospheres on Earth and is widely inhabited by members of the phylum Chloroflexi. In this report, we investigated genomes of single cells obtained from deep-sea sediments of the Peruvian Margin, which are enriched in such Chloroflexi. 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis placed two of these single-cell-derived genomes (DscP3 and Dsc4) in a clade of subphylum I Chloroflexi which were previously recovered from deep-sea sediment in the Okinawa Trough and a third (DscP2-2) as a member of the previously reported DscP2 population from Peruvian Margin site 1230. The presence of genes encoding enzymes of a complete Wood-Ljungdahl pathway, glycolysis/gluconeogenesis, a Rhodobacter nitrogen fixation (Rnf) complex, glyosyltransferases, and formate dehydrogenases in the single-cell genomes of DscP3 and Dsc4 and the presence of an NADH-dependent reduced ferredoxin:NADP oxidoreductase (Nfn) and Rnf in the genome of DscP2-2 imply a homoacetogenic lifestyle of these abundant marine Chloroflexi. We also report here the first complete pathway for anaerobic benzoate oxidation to acetyl coenzyme A (CoA) in the phylum Chloroflexi (DscP3 and Dsc4), including a class I benzoyl-CoA reductase. Of remarkable evolutionary significance, we discovered a gene encoding a formate dehydrogenase (FdnI) with reciprocal closest identity to the formate dehydrogenase-like protein (complex iron-sulfur molybdoenzyme [CISM], DET0187) of terrestrial Dehalococcoides/Dehalogenimonas spp. This formate dehydrogenase-like protein has been shown to lack formate dehydrogenase activity in Dehalococcoides/Dehalogenimonas spp. and is instead hypothesized to couple HupL hydrogenase to a reductive dehalogenase in the catabolic reductive dehalogenation pathway. This finding of a close functional homologue provides an important missing link for understanding the origin and the metabolic core of terrestrial Dehalococcoides/Dehalogenimonas spp. and of reductive dehalogenation, as well as the biology of abundant deep-sea Chloroflexi.
The phylum Chloroflexi is one of the most frequently detected phyla in the subseafloor of the Pacific Ocean margins. Dehalogenating Chloroflexi (Dehalococcoidetes) was originally discovered as the key microorganisms mediating reductive dehalogenation via their key enzymes reductive dehalogenases (Rdh) as sole mode of energy conservation in terrestrial environments. The frequent detection of Dehalococcoidetes-related 16S rRNA and rdh genes in the marine subsurface implies a role for dissimilatory dehalorespiration in this environment; however, the two genes have never been linked to each other. To provide fundamental insights into the metabolism, genomic population structure and evolution of marine subsurface Dehalococcoidetes sp., we analyzed a non-contaminated deep-sea sediment core sample from the Peruvian Margin Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) site 1230, collected 7.3% complete. Despite a high degree of sequence-level similarity between the shared proteins in the Dsc and terrestrial Dehalococcoidetes, no evidence for catabolic reductive dehalogenation was found in Dsc. The genome content is however consistent with a strictly anaerobic organotrophic or lithotrophic lifestyle.
Dehalogenating Chloroflexi, such as Dehalococcoidites (Dhc) were originally discovered as the key microorganisms mediating reductive dehalogenation of the prevalent groundwater contaminants tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene. Molecular and genomic studies on their key enzymes for energy conservation, reductive dehalogenases (rdh), have provided evidence for ubiquitous horizontal gene transfer. A pioneering study by Futagami et al. discovered novel putative rdh phylotypes in sediments from the Pacific, revealing an unknown and surprising abundance of rdh genes in pristine habitats. The frequent detection of Dhc-related 16S rRNA genes from these environments implied the occurrence of dissimilatory dehalorespiration in marine subsurface sediments. Despite being ubiquitous in those environments, metabolic life style or ecological function of Dhc in the absence of anthropogenic contaminants is still completely unknown. We therefore analyzed a non-contaminated deep sea sediment sample of the Peru Margin 1230 site by a single cell genomic (SGC) approach. We were able get for the first time data on three single Dhc cells, helping to elucidate their role in the poorly understood oligotrophic marine sub-surface environment. Although all three single cells show the majority of their best Blast hits to Dhc species only one putative reductive dehalogenase was discovered, with very weak similarity to other known sequences. One of the reasons might be the incompleteness of the genome and rdh genes might have been missed. Another possibility is that deep sea Dhc are not halorespirers like their terrestrial relatives. Interestingly, when screening the DNA of other single cells, PCR shows a positive match for a rdh sequence in Firmicutes. This was quite an unexpected twist of the project.