Adapt or Die on the Highway To Hell: Metagenomic Insights into Altered Genomes of Firmicutes from the Deep Biosphere
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 10:50 AM
The ability of a microbe to persist in low-nutrient environments requires adaptive mechanisms to survive. These microorganisms must reduce metabolic energy and increase catabolic efficiency. For example, Escherichia coli surviving in low-nutrient extended stationary phase have mutations that confer a growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype, thus allowing for persistence for years in low-nutrient environments. Based on the fact that subseafloor environments are characterized by energy flux decrease with time of burial we hypothesize that cells from older (deeper) sediment layers will have more altered genomes compared to sequenced surface relatives and that these differences reflect adaptations to a low-energy flux environment. To test this hypothesis, sediment samples were collected from the Andaman Sea from the depths of 21, 40 and 554 meters below seafloor, with the ages of 0.34, 0.66, and 8.76 million years, respectively. A single operational taxonomic unit within Firmicutes, based on full-length 16S rDNA, dominated these low diversity samples. This unique feature allowed for metagenomic sequencing using the Illumina HiSeq to identify nucleotide variations (NV) between the subsurface Firmicutes and the closest sequenced representative, Bacillus subtilis BEST7613. NVs were present at all depths in genes that code for proteins used in energy-dependent proteolysis, cell division, sporulation, and (similar to the GASP mutants) biosynthetic pathways for amino acids, nucleotides, and fatty acids. Conserved genes such as 16S rDNA did not contain NVs. More NVs were found in genes from deeper depths. These NV may be beneficial or harmful allowing them to survive for millions of years in the deep biosphere or may be latent deleterious gene alterations that are masked by the minimal-growth status of these deep microbes. Either way these results show that microbes present in the deep biosphere experience environmental forcing that alters the genome.