Finding Signals for Quiescence from the Dark Matter in Marine Subsurface Metagenomics

Monday, 15 December 2014
Jennifer Biddle, Adam Marsh, Ian M Rambo, Annamarie Pasqualone and Glenn Christman, Univ of Delaware, Lewes, DE, United States
Microorganisms are expected to occupy deep marine sediments and underlying basalts, suriving on limited energy and potentially dividing on a thousand year time scale. For a microorganism to do this, and be only slightly active, is a difficult process to maintain, as many cells are programmed to be constantly active or face death. In order to maintain low levels of activity, cells may need additional control on which genes are activated in their genomes. In the surface world, particularly in eukaryotes, gene activity is controlled by factors including methylation of genes to silence activity. Methylation is now recognized as being present in many bacterial and archaeal genomes, and we hypothesized that this may be a prevalent lifestyle in subsurface organisms. We saw initial signals of methylation activity in a deep subsurface metatranscriptome and have shown which genes are methylated in a shallower sediment core. Methylation does appear to be a widespread phenomenon in microbial genomes of the subsurface, and additional tests will be needed to prove it’s overall control on the potential for microbial activity.