2500 high-quality genomes reveal that the biogeochemical cycles of C, N, S and H are cross-linked by metabolic handoffs in the terrestrial subsurface
Abstract:Microorganisms drive the transformations of carbon compounds in the terrestrial subsurface, a key reservoir of carbon on earth, and impact other linked biogeochemical cycles. Our current knowledge of the microbial ecology in this environment is primarily based on 16S rRNA gene sequences that paint a biased picture of microbial community composition and provide no reliable information on microbial metabolism. Consequently, little is known about the identity and metabolic roles of the uncultivated microbial majority in the subsurface. In turn, this lack of understanding of the microbial processes that impact the turnover of carbon in the subsurface has restricted the scope and ability of biogeochemical models to capture key aspects of the carbon cycle.
In this study, we used a culture-independent, genome-resolved metagenomic approach to decipher the metabolic capabilities of microorganisms in an aquifer adjacent to the Colorado River, near Rifle, CO, USA. We sequenced groundwater and sediment samples collected across fifteen different geochemical regimes. Sequence assembly, binning and manual curation resulted in the recovery of 2,542 high-quality genomes, 27 of which are complete. These genomes represent 1,300 non-redundant organisms comprising both abundant and rare community members. Phylogenetic analyses involving ribosomal proteins and 16S rRNA genes revealed the presence of up to 34 new phyla that were hitherto unknown. Less than 11% of all genomes belonged to the 4 most commonly represented phyla that constitute 93% of all currently available genomes. Genome-specific analyses of metabolic potential revealed the co-occurrence of important functional traits such as carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation and use of electron donors and electron acceptors. Finally, we predict that multiple organisms are often required to complete redox pathways through a complex network of metabolic handoffs that extensively cross-link subsurface biogeochemical cycles.