Microorganisms possess a variety of survival mechanisms, including the production of antimicrobials that function to kill and/or inhibit the growth of competing microorganisms. Studies of antimicrobial production have largely been driven by the medical community in response to the rise in antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and have involved isolated pure cultures under artificial laboratory conditions neglecting the important ecological roles of these compounds. The search for new natural products has extended to biofilms, soil, oceans, coral reefs, and shallow coastal sediments; however, the marine deep subsurface biosphere may be an untapped repository for novel antimicrobial discovery. Uniquely, prokaryotic survival in energy-limited extreme environments force microbial populations to either adapt their metabolism to outcompete or produce novel antimicrobials that inhibit competition. For example, subsurface sediments could yield novel antimicrobial genes, while at the same time answering important ecological questions about the microbial community.
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.
The recently proposed candidatus order Altiarchaeales remains an uncultured archaeal lineage composed of genetically diverse, globally widespread organisms frequently observed in anoxic subsurface environments. In spite of 15 years of studies on the psychrophilic biofilm-producingCandidatus Altiarchaeum hamiconexum and its close relatives, very little is known about the phylogenetic and functional diversity of the widespread free-living marine members of this taxon. From methanogenic sediments in the White Oak River Estuary, NC, USA, we sequenced a single cell amplified genome (SAG), WOR_SM1_SCG, and used it to identify and refine two high-quality genomes from metagenomes, WOR_SM1_79 and WOR_SM1_86-2, from the same site. These three genomic reconstructions form a monophyletic group, which also includes three previously published genomes from metagenomes from terrestrial springs and a SAG from Sakinaw Lake in a group previously designated as pMC2A384. A synapomorphic mutation in the Altiarchaeales tRNA synthetase β subunit, pheT, caused the protein to be encoded as two subunits at non-adjacent loci. Consistent with the terrestrial spring clades, our estuarine genomes contained a near-complete autotrophic metabolism, H2 or CO as potential electron donors, a reductive acetyl-CoA pathway for carbon fixation, and methylotroph-like NADP(H)-dependent dehydrogenase. Phylogenies based on 16S rRNA genes and concatenated conserved proteins identified two distinct sub-clades of Altiarchaeales, Alti-1 populated by organisms from actively flowing springs, and Alti-2 which was more widespread, diverse, and not associated with visible mats. The core Alti-1 genome suggested Alti-1 is adapted for the stream environment with lipopolysaccharide production capacity and extracellular hami structures. The core Alti-2 genome suggested members of this clade are free-living with distinct mechanisms for energy maintenance, motility, osmoregulation, and sulfur redox reactions. These data suggested that the hamus structures found in Candidatus Altiarchaeum hamiconexum are not present outside of stream-adapted Altiarchaeales. Homologs to a Na+transporter and membrane bound coenzyme A disulfide reductase that were unique to the brackish sediment Alti-2 genomes, could indicate adaptations to the estuarine, sulfur-rich environment.