Frontiers in Microbiology
Published: February 13, 2018
C-DEBI Contribution Number: 415


Marine sediments constitute one of the most energy-limited habitats on Earth, in which microorganisms persist over extraordinarily long timescales with very slow metabolisms. This habitat provides an ideal environment in which to study the energetic limits of life. However, the bioenergetic factors that can determine whether microorganisms will grow, lie dormant, or die, as well as the selective environmental pressures that determine energetic trade-offs between growth and maintenance activities, are not well understood. Numerical models will be pivotal in addressing these knowledge gaps. However, models rarely account for the variable physiological states of microorganisms and their demand for energy. Here, we review established modeling constructs for microbial growth rate, yield, maintenance, and physiological state, and then provide a new model that incorporates all of these factors. We discuss this new model in context with its future application to the marine subsurface. Understanding the factors that regulate cell death, physiological state changes, and the provenance of maintenance energy (i.e., endogenous versus exogenous metabolism), is crucial to the design of this model. Further, measurements of growth rate, growth yield, and basal metabolic activity will enable bioenergetic parameters to be better constrained. Last, biomass and biogeochemical rate measurements will enable model simulations to be validated. The insight provided from the development and application of new microbial modeling tools for marine sediments will undoubtedly advance the understanding of the minimum power required to support life, and the ecophysiological strategies that organisms utilize to cope under extreme energy limitation for extended periods of time.