Globally, marine sediments are a vast repository of organic matter which is degraded through various microbial pathways, including polymer hydrolysis and monomer fermentation. The sources, abundances, and quality (i.e. labile or recalcitrant) of the organic matter and the composition of the microbial assemblages vary between sediments. Here, we examine new and previously published sediment metagenomes from the Baltic Sea and the nearby Kattegat to determine connections between geochemistry and the community potential to degrade organic carbon. Diverse organic matter hydrolysis encoding genes were present in sediments between 0.25 to 67 meters below seafloor, and were in higher relative abundances in those sediments that contained more organic matter. New analysis of previously published metatranscriptomes demonstrated that many of these genes were transcribed in two organic-rich Holocene sediments. Some of the variation in deduced pathways in the metagenomes correlated to carbon content and depositional conditions. Fermentation-related genes were found in all samples, and encoded for multiple fermentation strategies. Notably, genes conferring alcohol metabolism were amongst the most abundant of these genes, indicating this is an important but underappreciated aspect of sediment carbon cycling. This study is a step towards a more complete understanding of microbial food webs and the impacts of depositional facies on present sedimentary microbial communities.
The hydrothermal mats, mounds, and chimneys of the southern Guaymas Basin are the surface expression of complex subsurface hydrothermal circulation patterns. In this overview, we document the most frequently visited features of this hydrothermal area with photographs, temperature measurements, and selected geochemical data; many of these distinct habitats await characterization of their microbial communities and activities. Microprofiler deployments on microbial mats and hydrothermal sediments show their steep geochemical and thermal gradients at millimeter-scale vertical resolution. Mapping these hydrothermal features and sampling locations within the southern Guaymas Basin suggest linkages to underlying shallow sills and heat flow gradients. Recognizing the inherent spatial limitations of much current Guaymas Basin sampling calls for comprehensive surveys of the wider spreading region.
Microbial communities can subsist at depth in marine sediments without fresh supply of organic matter for millions of years. At threshold sedimentation rates of 1 millimeter per 1000 years, the low rates of microbial community metabolism in the North Pacific Gyre allow sediments to remain oxygenated tens of meters below the sea floor. We found that the oxygen respiration rates dropped from 10 micromoles of O2 liter−1 year−1 near the sediment-water interface to 0.001 micromoles of O2 liter−1 year−1 at 30-meter depth within 86 million-year-old sediment. The cell-specific respiration rate decreased with depth but stabilized at around 10−3 femtomoles of O2 cell−1 day−1 10 meters below the seafloor. This result indicated that the community size is controlled by the rate of carbon oxidation and thereby by the low available energy flux.