Despite accounting for the majority of sedimentary methane, the physiology and relative abundance of subsurface methanogens remain poorly understood. We combined intact polar lipid and metagenome techniques to better constrain the presence and functions of methanogens within the highly reducing, organic-rich sediments of Antarctica’s Adélie Basin. The assembly of metagenomic sequence data identified phylogenic and functional marker genes of methanogens and generated the first Methanosaeta sp. genome from a deep subsurface sedimentary environment. Based on structural and isotopic measurements, glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers with diglycosyl phosphatidylglycerol head groups were classified as biomarkers for active methanogens. The stable carbon isotope (δ13C) values of these biomarkers and the Methanosaeta partial genome suggest that these organisms are acetoclastic methanogens and represent a relatively small (0.2%) but active population. Metagenomic and lipid analyses suggest that Thaumarchaeota and heterotrophic bacteria co-exist with Methanosaeta and together contribute to increasing concentrations and δ13C values of dissolved inorganic carbon with depth. This study presents the first functional insights of deep subsurface Methanosaeta organisms and highlights their role in methane production and overall carbon cycling within sedimentary environments.
Bacteria belonging to the newly classified candidate phylum “Atribacteria” (formerly referred to as “OP9” and “JS1”) are common in anoxic methane-rich sediments. However, the metabolic functions and biogeochemical role of these microorganisms in the subsurface remains unrealized due to the lack of pure culture representatives. In this study of deep sediment from Antarctica’s Adélie Basin, collected during Expedition 318 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), Atribacteria-related sequences of the 16S rRNA gene were abundant (up to 51% of the sequences) and steadily increased in relative abundance with depth throughout the methane-rich zones. To better understand the metabolic potential of Atribacteria within this environment, and to compare with phylogenetically distinct Atribacteria from non-deep-sea environments, individual cells were sorted for single cell genomics from sediment collected from 97.41 m below the seafloor from IODP Hole U1357C. As observed for non-marine Atribacteria, a partial single cell genome suggests a heterotrophic metabolism, with Atribacteria potentially producing fermentation products such as acetate, ethanol, and CO2. These products may in turn support methanogens within the sediment microbial community and explain the frequent occurrence of Atribacteria in anoxic methane-rich sediments. This first report of a single cell genome from deep sediment broadens the known diversity within the Atribacteria phylum and highlights the potential role of Atribacteria in carbon cycling in deep sediment.