Studying Microbial Mat Functioning Amidst “Unexpected Diversity”: Methodological Approaches and Initial Results from Metatranscriptomes of Mats Over Diel cycles, iTags from Long Term Manipulations, and Biogeochemical Cycling in Simplified Microbial Mats Constructed from Cultures
Monday, 15 December 2014: 1:55 PM
Microbial mats are famously amongst the most diverse microbial ecosystems on Earth, inhabiting some of the most inclement environments known, including hypersaline, dry, hot, cold, nutrient poor, and high UV environments. The high microbial diversity of microbial mats makes studies of microbial ecology notably difficult. To address this challenge, we have been using a combination of metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, iTags and culture-based simplified microbial mats to study biogeochemical cycling (H2 production, N2 fixation, and fermentation) in microbial mats collected from Elkhorn Slough, Monterey Bay, California. Metatranscriptomes of microbial mats incubated over a diel cycle have revealed that a number of gene systems activate only during the day in Cyanobacteria, while the remaining appear to be constitutive. The dominant cyanobacterium in the mat (Microcoleus chthonoplastes) expresses several pathways for nitrogen scavenging undocumented in cultured strains, as well as the expression of two starch storage and utilization cycles. Community composition shifts in response to long term manipulations of mats were assessed using iTags. Changes in community diversity were observed as hydrogen fluxes increased in response to a lowering of sulfate concentrations. To produce simplified microbial mats, we have isolated members of 13 of the 15 top taxa from our iTag libraries into culture. Simplified microbial mats and simple co-cultures and consortia constructed from these isolates reproduce many of the natural patterns of biogeochemical cycling in the parent natural microbial mats, but against a background of far lower overall diversity, simplifying studies of changes in gene expression (over the short term), interactions between community members, and community composition changes (over the longer term), in response to environmental forcing.