Anoxic subsurface sediments contain communities of heterotrophic microorganisms that metabolize organic carbon at extraordinarily slow rates. In order to assess the mechanisms by which subsurface microorganisms access detrital sedimentary organic matter, we measured kinetics of a range of extracellular peptidases in anoxic sediments of the White Oak River estuary, NC. Nine distinct peptidase substrates were enzymatically hydrolyzed at all depths. Potential peptidase activities (Vmax) decreased with increasing sediment depth, although Vmaxexpressed on a per cell basis was approximately the same at all depths. Half-saturation constants (Km) decreased with depth, indicating peptidases that functioned more efficiently at low substrate concentrations. Potential activities of extracellular peptidases acting on molecules that are enriched in degraded organic matter (D-phenylalanine and L-ornithine) increased relative to enzymes that act on L-phenylalanine, further suggesting microbial community adaptation to access degraded organic matter. Nineteen classes of predicted, exported peptidases were identified in genomic data from the same site, of which genes for class C25 (gingipain-like) peptidases represented more than 40% at each depth. Methionine aminopeptidases, zinc carboxypeptidases, and class S24-like peptidases, which are involved in single-stranded DNA repair, were also abundant. These results suggest a subsurface heterotrophic microbial community that primarily accesses low-quality detrital organic matter via a diverse suite of well-adapted extracellular enzymes.
Marine sediments host a large population of diverse, heterotrophic, uncultured microorganisms with unknown physiologies that control carbon flow through organic matter decomposition. Recently, single-cell genomics uncovered new key players in these processes, such as the miscellaneous crenarchaeotal group. These widespread archaea encode putative intra- and extracellular proteases for the degradation of detrital proteins present in sediments. Here, we show that one of these enzymes is a self-compartmentalizing tetrameric aminopeptidase with a preference for cysteine and hydrophobic residues at the N terminus of the hydrolyzed peptide. The ability to perform detailed characterizations of enzymes from native subsurface microorganisms, without requiring that those organisms first be grown in pure culture, holds great promise for understanding key carbon transformations in the environment as well as identifying new enzymes for biomedical and biotechnological applications.