Microbial life has been detected well into the igneous crust of the seafloor (i.e., the oceanic basement), but there have been no reports confirming the presence of viruses in this habitat. To detect and characterize an ocean basement virome, geothermally heated fluid samples (ca. 60 to 65°C) were collected from 117 to 292 m deep into the ocean basement using seafloor observatories installed in two boreholes (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program [IODP] U1362A and U1362B) drilled in the eastern sediment-covered flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Concentrations of virus-like particles in the fluid samples were on the order of 0.2 × 105 to 2 × 105 ml−1 (n = 8), higher than prokaryote-like cells in the same samples by a factor of 9 on average (range, 1.5 to 27). Electron microscopy revealed diverse viral morphotypes similar to those of viruses known to infect bacteria and thermophilic archaea. An analysis of virus-like sequences in basement microbial metagenomes suggests that those from archaeon-infecting viruses were the most common (63 to 80%). Complete genomes of a putative archaeon-infecting virus and a prophage within an archaeal scaffold were identified among the assembled sequences, and sequence analysis suggests that they represent lineages divergent from known thermophilic viruses. Of the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-containing scaffolds in the metagenomes for which a taxonomy could be inferred (163 out of 737), 51 to 55% appeared to be archaeal and 45 to 49% appeared to be bacterial. These results imply that the warmed, highly altered fluids in deeply buried ocean basement harbor a distinct assemblage of novel viruses, including many that infect archaea, and that these viruses are active participants in the ecology of the basement microbiome.
IMPORTANCE The hydrothermally active ocean basement is voluminous and likely provided conditions critical to the origins of life, but the microbiology of this vast habitat is not well understood. Viruses in particular, although integral to the origins, evolution, and ecology of all life on earth, have never been documented in basement fluids. This report provides the first estimate of free virus particles (virions) within fluids circulating through the extrusive basalt of the seafloor and describes the morphological and genetic signatures of basement viruses. These data push the known geographical limits of the virosphere deep into the ocean basement and point to a wealth of novel viral diversity, exploration of which could shed light on the early evolution of viruses.
This paper is dedicated to the late James P. Cowen, whose collegiality, infectious enthusiasm for science, and pioneering studies of the ocean basement microbiome inspired the work.
AbstractThe rock-hosted, oceanic crustal aquifer is one of the largest ecosystems on Earth, yet little is known about its indigenous microorganisms. Here we provide the first phylogenetic and functional description of an active microbial community residing in the cold oxic crustal aquifer. Using subseafloor observatories, we recovered crustal fluids and found that the geochemical composition is similar to bottom seawater, as are cell abundances. However, based on relative abundances and functional potential of key bacterial groups, the crustal fluid microbial community is heterogeneous and markedly distinct from seawater. Potential rates of autotrophy and heterotrophy in the crust exceeded those of seawater, especially at elevated temperatures (25 °C) and deeper in the crust. Together, these results reveal an active, distinct, and diverse bacterial community engaged in both heterotrophy and autotrophy in the oxygenated crustal aquifer, providing key insight into the role of microbial communities in the ubiquitous cold dark subseafloor biosphere.
AbstractAlthough fluids within the upper oceanic basaltic crust harbor a substantial fraction of the total prokaryotic cells on Earth, the energy needs of this microbial population are unknown. In this study, a nanocalorimeter (sensitivity down to 1.2 nW ml-1) was used to measure the enthalpy of microbially catalyzed reactions as a function of temperature in samples from two distinct crustal fluid aquifers. Microorganisms in unamended, warm (63°C) and geochemically altered anoxic fluids taken from 292 meters sub-basement (msb) near the Juan de Fuca Ridge produced 267.3 mJ of heat over the course of 97 h during a step-wise isothermal scan from 35.5 to 85.0°C. Most of this heat signal likely stems from the germination of thermophilic endospores (6.66 × 104 cells ml-1FLUID) and their subsequent metabolic activity at temperatures greater than 50°C. The average cellular energy consumption (5.68 pW cell-1) reveals the high metabolic potential of a dormant community transported by fluids circulating through the ocean crust. By contrast, samples taken from 293 msb from cooler (3.8°C), relatively unaltered oxic fluids, produced 12.8 mJ of heat over the course of 14 h as temperature ramped from 34.8 to 43.0°C. Corresponding cell-specific energy turnover rates (0.18 pW cell-1) were converted to oxygen uptake rates of 24.5 nmol O2 ml-1FLUID d-1, validating previous model predictions of microbial activity in this environment. Given that the investigated fluids are characteristic of expansive areas of the upper oceanic crust, the measured metabolic heat rates can be used to constrain boundaries of habitability and microbial activity in the oceanic crust.
AbstractAlthough little is known regarding microbial life within our planet’s rock-hosted deep subseafloor biosphere, boreholes drilled through deep ocean sediment and into the underlying basaltic crust provide invaluable windows of access that have been used previously to document the presence of microorganisms within fluids percolating through the deep ocean crust. In this study, the analysis of 1.7 million small subunit ribosomal RNA genes amplified and sequenced from marine sediment, bottom seawater and basalt-hosted deep subseafloor fluids that span multiple years and locations on the Juan de Fuca Ridge flank was used to quantitatively delineate a subseafloor microbiome comprised of distinct bacteria and archaea. Hot, anoxic crustal fluids tapped by newly installed seafloor sampling observatories at boreholes U1362A and U1362B contained abundant bacterial lineages of phylogenetically unique Nitrospirae, Aminicenantes, Calescamantes and Chloroflexi. Although less abundant, the domain Archaea was dominated by unique, uncultivated lineages of marine benthic group E, the Terrestrial Hot Spring Crenarchaeotic Group, the Bathyarchaeota and relatives of cultivated, sulfate-reducing Archaeoglobi. Consistent with recent geochemical measurements and bioenergetic predictions, the potential importance of methane cycling and sulfate reduction were imprinted within the basalt-hosted deep subseafloor crustal fluid microbial community. This unique window of access to the deep ocean subsurface basement reveals a microbial landscape that exhibits previously undetected spatial heterogeneity.
AbstractThe oceanic basaltic basement contains the largest aquifer on Earth and potentially plays an important role in the global carbon cycle as a net sink for dissolved organic carbon (DOC). However, few details of the organic matter cycling in the subsurface are known because great water depths and thick sediments typically hinder direct access to this environment. In an effort to examine the role of water–rock–microorganism interaction on organic matter cycling in the oceanic basaltic crust, basement fluid samples collected from three borehole observatories installed on the eastern flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge were analyzed for dissolved amino acids. Our data show that dissolved free amino acids (1–13 nM) and dissolved hydrolyzable amino acids (43–89 nM) are present in the basement. The amino acid concentrations in the ridge-flank basement fluids are at the low end of all submarine hydrothermal fluids reported in the literature and are similar to those in deep seawater. Amino acids in recharging deep seawater, in situ amino acid production, and diffusional input from overlying sediments are potential sources of amino acids in the basement fluids. Thermodynamic modeling shows that amino acid synthesis in the basement can be sustained by energy supplied from inorganic substrates via chemolithotrophic metabolisms. Furthermore, an analysis of amino acid concentrations and compositions in basement fluids support the notion that heterotrophic activity is ongoing. Similarly, the enrichment of acidic amino acids and depletion of hydrophobic ones relative to sedimentary particulate organic matter suggests that surface sorption and desorption also alters amino acids in the basaltic basement. In summary, although the oceanic basement aquifer is a net sink for deep seawater DOC, similar amino acid concentrations in basement aquifer and deep seawater suggest that DOC is preferentially removed in the basement over dissolved amino acids. Our data also suggest that organic carbon cycling occurs in the oceanic basaltic basement, where an active subsurface biosphere is likely responsible for amino acid synthesis and degradation.
AbstractTo expand investigations into the phylogenetic diversity of microorganisms inhabiting the subseafloor biosphere, basalt-hosted crustal fluids were sampled from Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kits (CORKs) affixed to Holes 1025C and 1026B along the Juan de Fuca Ridge (JdFR) flank using a clean fluid pumping system. These boreholes penetrate the crustal aquifer of young ocean crust (1.24 and 3.51 million years old, respectively), but differ with respect to borehole depth and temperature at the sediment-basement interface (147 m and 39°C vs. 295 m and 64°C, respectively). Cloning and sequencing of PCR-amplified small subunit ribosomal RNA genes revealed that fluids retrieved from Hole 1025C were dominated by relatives of the genus Desulfobulbus of the Deltaproteobacteria (56% of clones) and Candidatus Desulforudis of the Firmicutes (17%). Fluids sampled from Hole 1026B also contained plausible deep subseafloor inhabitants amongst the most abundant clone lineages; however, both geochemical analysis and microbial community structure reveal the borehole to be compromised by bottom seawater intrusion. Regardless, this study provides independent support for previous observations seeking to identify phylogenetic groups of microorganisms common to the deep ocean crustal biosphere, and extends previous observations by identifying additional lineages that may be prevalent in this unique environment.
AbstractMarine sediments are a primary reservoir for the long-term storage of organic matter, and the rate of burial and oxidation of this sedimentary organic material help to regulate both atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations. To evaluate the impact of circulating basement fluid on the preservation of deeply buried organic carbon, sedimentary profiles of dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC) near the sediment/basement interface were obtained from sediment coring at Site U1363 during Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 327. Sedimentary DOC increased from 0.25 mM at 1 m below the seawater/sediment interface to a maximum of 0.86 mM at mid-depth (8–11 meters below seafloor [mbsf]), before subsequently decreasing to a minimum of 0.10 mM at the sediment/basement interface (222.7 mbsf). Thus, the oceanic basement appears to be a net sink for sedimentary DOC. Sedimentary DOC and alkalinity profiles were similar and inversely mirror those of sulfate, suggesting that the buildup of DOC in sediment pore water is related to remineralization of sedimentary POC. The sedimentary POC content at Site U1363 ranged from 47 to 391 µmol-C/g, with δ13C values from –25.3‰ to –22.4‰. The total particulate nitrogen (PN) content ranged from 4.1 to 32.9 µmol-N/g, with δ15N values from 1.8‰ to 7.2‰ and a POC:PN ratio of 12 ± 2 (n = 54). No depth-specific systematic variations in POC, PN, POC:PN ratio, δ13C-POC or δ15N-PN were detected, and no significant correlations between sedimentary DOC and POC concentrations were observed.
AbstractThe oceanic basaltic crust is the largest aquifer on Earth and has the potential to harbor substantial subsurface microbial ecosystems, which hitherto remains largely uncharacterized and is analogous to extraterrestrial subsurface habitats. Within the sediment-buried 3.5 Myr old basaltic crust of the eastern Juan de Fuca Ridge flank, the circulating basement fluids have moderate temperature (∼65 °C) and low to undetectable dissolved oxygen and nitrate concentrations. Sulfate, present in high concentrations, is therefore expected to serve as the major electron acceptor in this subsurface environment. This study focused on the availability and potential sources of two important electron donors, methane (CH4) and hydrogen (H2), for the subseafloor biosphere. High integrity basement fluids were collected via fluid delivery lines associated with Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kits (CORKs) that extend from basement depths to outlet ports at the seafloor. Two new CORKs installed during IODP 327 in 2010, 1362A and 1362B, were sampled in 2011 and 2013. The two CORKs are superior than earlier style CORKs in that they are equipped with coated casing and polytetrafluoroethylene fluid delivery lines, reducing the interaction between casing materials with the environment. Additional samples were collected from an earlier style CORK at Borehole 1301A. The basement fluids are enriched in H2 (0.05–1.8 μmol/kg), suggesting that the ocean basaltic aquifer can support H2-driven metabolism. The basement fluids also contain significant amount of CH4 (5–32 μmol/kg), revealing CH4 as an available substrate for subseafloor basaltic habitats. The δ13C values of CH4 from the three boreholes ranged from −22.5 to −58‰, while the δ2H values ranged from −316 to 57‰. The isotopic compositions of CH4 and the molecular compositions of hydrocarbons suggest that CH4 in the basement fluids is of both biogenic and abiotic origins, varying among sites and sampling times. The δ2H values of CH4 in CORK 1301A fluid samples are much more positive than found in all other marine environments investigated to date and are best explained by the partial microbial oxidation of biogenic CH4. In conclusion, our study shows that CH4 and H2 are persistently available to fuel the deep biosphere and that CH4 is both produced and potentially consumed by microorganisms in the oceanic basement.
The permeable rocks of the upper oceanic basement contain seawater-sourced fluids estimated to be ~ 2% of the global ocean volume. This represents a very large potential subsurface biosphere supported by chemosynthesis. Recent collection of high integrity samples of basement fluid from the sedimented young basaltic basement on the Juan de Fuca Ridge flanks, off the coasts of Vancouver Island (Canada) and Washington (USA), and subsequent chemical analyses permit numerical modeling of metabolic redox reaction energetics. Here, values of Gibbs free energy for potential chemolithotrophic net reactions were calculated in basement fluid and in zones where basement fluid and entrained seawater may mix; the energy yields are reported both on a per mole electrons transferred and on a per kg of basement fluid basis. In pure basement fluid, energy yields from the anaerobic respiration processes investigated are anemic, releasing < 0.3 J/kg basement fluid for all reactions except methane oxidation by ferric iron, which releases ~ 0.6 J/kg basement fluid. In mixed solutions, aerobic oxidation of hydrogen, methane, and sulfide is the most exergonic on a per mole electron basis. Per kg of basement fluid, the aerobic oxidation of ammonia is by far the most exergonic at low temperature and high seawater:basement fluid ratio, decreasing by more than two orders of magnitude at the highest temperature (63 °C) and lowest seawater:basement fluid ratio investigated. Compared with mixing zones in deep-sea hydrothermal systems, oceanic basement aquifers appear to be very low energy systems, but because of their expanse, may support what has been labeled the ‘starving majority’.