Shifts in Microbial Community Structure with Changes in Cathodic Potential in Marine Sediment Microcosms 

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Bonita R Lam, Annette R Rowe and Kenneth H Nealson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Microorganisms comprise more than 90% of the biomass of the ocean. Their ability to thrive and survive in a wide range of environments from oligotrophic waters to the deep subsurface stems from the great metabolic versatility that exists among them. This metabolic versatility has further expanded with the discovery of extracellular electron transport (EET). EET is the capability of microorganisms to transfer electrons to and from insoluble substrates outside of the cell. Much of what is known about EET comes from studies of model metal reducing microorganisms in the groups Shewanellaceae and Geobacteraceae. However, EET is not limited to these metal reducing microorganisms, and may play a large role in the biogeochemical cycling of several elements. We have developed an electrochemical culturing technique designed to target microorganisms with EET ability and tested these methods in marine sediments. The use of electrodes allows for greater control and quantification of electrons flowing to insoluble substrates as opposed to insoluble substrates such as minerals that are often difficult to measure. We have recently shown that poising electrodes at different redox potentials will enrich for different microbial groups and thus possible metabolisms. In marine sediment microcosms, triplicate electrodes were poised at different cathodic (electron donating) potentials (-300, -400, -500 and -600 mV) and incubated for eight weeks. Community analysis of the 16S rRNA revealed that at lower negative potentials (-500 and -600 mV), more sulfate reducing bacteria in the class Deltaproteobacteria were enriched in comparison to the communities at -300 and -400 mV being dominated by microorganisms within Alphaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria, and Clostridia. This can be explained by sulfate (abundant in seawater) becoming a more energetically favorable electron acceptor with lower applied potentials. In addition, communities at higher potentials showed greater enrichment of the candidate division WS3. We are currently conducting enrichments at lower negative potentials to probe for other possible microbial groups capable of cathode oxidation. Our studies will contribute to the elucidation of the depth and breadth of EET across phylogenies and provide understanding to the extent of EET in nature.