AbstractThe 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.
AbstractMicrobial life inhabits deeply buried marine sediments, but the extent of this vast ecosystem remains poorly constrained. Here we provide evidence for the existence of microbial communities in ~40° to 60°C sediment associated with lignite coal beds at ~1.5 to 2.5 km below the seafloor in the Pacific Ocean off Japan. Microbial methanogenesis was indicated by the isotopic compositions of methane and carbon dioxide, biomarkers, cultivation data, and gas compositions. Concentrations of indigenous microbial cells below 1.5 km ranged from <10 to ~104 cells cm−3. Peak concentrations occurred in lignite layers, where communities differed markedly from shallower subseafloor communities and instead resembled organotrophic communities in forest soils. This suggests that terrigenous sediments retain indigenous community members tens of millions of years after burial in the seabed.
AbstractA method for the extraction of nucleic acids from a wide range of environmental samples was developed. This method consists of several modules, which can be individually modified to maximize yields in extractions of DNA and RNA or separations of DNA pools. Modules were designed based on elaborate tests, in which permutations of all nucleic acid extraction steps were compared. The final modular protocol is suitable for extractions from igneous rock, air, water, and sediments. Sediments range from high-biomass, organic rich coastal samples to samples from the most oligotrophic region of the world's oceans and the deepest borehole ever studied by scientific ocean drilling. Extraction yields of DNA and RNA are higher than with widely used commercial kits, indicating an advantage to optimizing extraction procedures to match specific sample characteristics. The ability to separate soluble extracellular DNA pools without cell lysis from intracellular and particle-complexed DNA pools may enable new insights into the cycling and preservation of DNA in environmental samples in the future. A general protocol is outlined, along with recommendations for optimizing this general protocol for specific sample types and research goals.
AbstractThe ability of microorganisms to withstand long periods with extremely low energy input has gained increasing scientific attention in recent years. Starvation experiments in the laboratory have shown that a phylogenetically wide range of microorganisms evolve fitness-enhancing genetic traits within weeks of incubation under low-energy stress. Studies on natural environments that are cut off from new energy supplies over geologic time scales, such as deeply buried sediments, suggest that similar adaptations might mediate survival under energy limitation in the environment. Yet, the extent to which laboratory-based evidence of starvation survival in pure or mixed cultures can be extrapolated to sustained microbial ecosystems in nature remains unclear. In this review, we discuss past investigations on microbial energy requirements and adaptations to energy limitation, identify gaps in our current knowledge, and outline possible future foci of research on life under extreme energy limitation.
AbstractGene sequencing of natural microbial communities in the deep subsurface has provided access to a biosphere of Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryotes, characterized by unexpected evolutionary depth and diversity. Despite phylogenetic overlaps with surface environments, the predominant groups of Bacteria and Archaea in the subseafloor differ from those found in surface seafloor environments. The extent and diversity of the deep subsurface biosphere has been mapped to a large extent using gene and genome sequence analysis; these approaches have extended ongoing cultivation efforts on subseafloor microbial communities, including new types of Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryotes in pure culture. This chapter starts by introducing the most commonly used, highly conserved, and phylogenetically informative marker gene, the 16S ribosomal RNA gene, then provides an overview on sequence analysis of functional genes that code for proteins and enzymes with distinct biological and process-relevant functions, and concludes with recent metagenome and single-cell sequencing surveys that allow novel insights into microbial diversity and function of the deep subseafloor biosphere.
AbstractThe detection of life in extreme environments and the amazing capacity of microbes to obtain energy from the environment has led to the hypothesis that heat, not water or energy sources, is the final barrier that constrains life on Earth. As such, life is expected to extend far into Earth’s crust, potentially inhabiting an environment as extensive as the world’s oceans . This chapter aims to summarize what is currently known about life in the oceanic crust, which contains all three domains of life and is a vastly underexplored habitat. This is not the first summary of this topic, and additional content can be found in numerous review and primary research papers [2–16], book chapters [17, 18], and books [19–21].
AbstractHalf of the microbial cells in the Earth’s oceans are found in sediments. Many of these cells are members of the Archaea, single-celled prokaryotes in a domain of life separate from Bacteria and Eukaryota. However, most of these archaea lack cultured representatives, leaving their physiologies and placement on the tree of life uncertain. Here we show that the uncultured miscellaneous crenarchaeotal group (MCG) and marine benthic group-D (MBG-D) are among the most numerous archaea in the marine sub-sea floor. Single-cell genomic sequencing of one cell of MCG and three cells of MBG-D indicated that they form new branches basal to the archaeal phyla Thaumarchaeota and Aigarchaeota, for MCG, and the order Thermoplasmatales, for MBG-D. All four cells encoded extracellular protein-degrading enzymes such as gingipain and clostripain that are known to be effective in environments chemically similar to marine sediments. Furthermore, we found these two types of peptidase to be abundant and active in marine sediments, indicating that uncultured archaea may have a previously undiscovered role in protein remineralization in anoxic marine sediments.
Sediment-covered basalt on the flanks of mid-ocean ridges constitutes most of Earth's oceanic crust, but the composition and metabolic function of its microbial ecosystem are largely unknown. By drilling into 3.5-million-year-old subseafloor basalt, we demonstrated the presence of methane- and sulfur-cycling microbes on the eastern flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Depth horizons with functional genes indicative of methane-cycling and sulfate-reducing microorganisms are enriched in solid-phase sulfur and total organic carbon, host δ13C- and δ34S-isotopic values with a biological imprint, and show clear signs of microbial activity when incubated in the laboratory. Downcore changes in carbon and sulfur cycling show discrete geochemical intervals with chemoautotrophic δ13C signatures locally attenuated by heterotrophic metabolism.