Comparative genomic analysis of oil spill impacts on deep water shipwreck microbiomes in the northern Gulf of Mexico
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Shipwrecks serve as artificial reefs in the deep ocean. Because of their inherent diversity compared to their surrounding environment and their random distribution, shipwrecks are ideal ecosystems to study pollution impacts and microbial distribution patterns in the deep biosphere. This study provides a comparative assessment of Deepwater Horizon spill impacts on shipwreck and local sedimentary microbiomes and the synergistic effects of contaminants on these communities and the physical structures that support them. For this study, microbiomes associated with wooden 19th century shipwrecks and World War II era steel shipwrecks in the northern Gulf of Mexico were investigated using next generation sequencing. Samples derived from in situ biofilm monitoring platforms deployed adjacent to 5 shipwrecks for 4 months, and sediment collected from distances ranging from 2-200m from each shipwreck were evaluated for shifts in microbiome structure and gene function relative to proximity to the spill, and oil spill related contaminants in the local environment. The goals of the investigation are to determine impacts to recruitment and community structure at sites located within and outside of areas impacted by the spill. Taxonomic classification of dominant and rare members of shipwreck microbiomes and metabolic information extracted from sequence data yield new understanding of microbial processes associated with site formation. The study provides information on the identity of microbial inhabitants of shipwrecks, their role in site preservation, and impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the primary colonizers of artificial reefs in the deep ocean. This approach could inform about the role of microorganisms in establishment and maintenance of the artificial reef environment, while providing information about ecosystem feedbacks resulting from spills.