First global study of microbial communities at gas seeps in the deep sea shows the distribution and diversity of methane-consuming microorganisms. The specific energy source selects for unique microorganisms, which turn these ecosystems into hotspots of diversity in the deep sea.
Methane seeps are places in the ocean, where methane from deep sediment layers escapes the seabed. Specific microorganisms use the potential greenhouse gas as an energy source and thus form the basis for complex ecosystems.
Methanotrophic microorganisms of methane seep ecosystems.
Micrographs of aerobic methanotrophic bacteria (white), anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME – red) and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB – green) visualized by fluorescence in situ hybridization. ANME and SRB perform the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM). AOM is a globally relevant process removing 60 million tons, the mass of ten pyramids of Giza, of the greenhouse gas methane from seafloor sediments each year. Courtesy of Katrin Knittel/Emil Ruff, MPI Bremen.
Now an international team of researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology has investigated the microbial communities of selected methane seeps from all oceans, and compared those to communities of other marine ecosystems. In the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), the researchers report that methane seeps contain many endemic microorganisms and therefore are hotspots of biodiversity in the deep sea.
In general, the seep communities are very different from those of other ecosystems. Only a few species of methanotrophs occur at all seeps worldwide, but these microorganisms seem to greatly influence the methane budget of the ocean.
Seafloor ecosystems have unique inhabitants
Each ecosystem in the deep sea is inhabited by certain microorganisms that can be assigned to the three domains of the tree of life: eukaryotes, archaea and bacteria. Eukaryotes have a nucleus and include all plants, fungi, animals and man. Archaea and bacteria are single cells without a nucleus.
The researchers studied the composition and relative abundance of archaea and bacteria at 77 locations of different marine ecosystems, including coastal sediments, deep-sea sediments, black smokers and methane seeps. They extracted the DNA of these organisms from the seabed samples and analyzed it using modern DNA sequencing techniques and mathematical algorithms.
Emil Ruff, scientist at the Max Planck Institute, summarizes: "Almost all of the major groups of archaea and bacteria were present at all examined sites. With increasing resolution, however, the differences between the ecosystems became clearer. At the level of individual species, which are the smallest branches of the tree of life, we found communities that are characteristic for each ecosystem and have a very specific task."
These characteristic communities were defined as the methane seep microbiome. The term microbiome is used to describe all microorganisms of a particular ecosystem and their genetic diversity. Such an ecosystem may be a methane seep, or soil or even the human intestine. The head of the research group, Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius, adds: "This study represents the first global view on microbes inhabiting methane seeps. It was enabled by a large international effort, the International Census of Marine Microbes.”
Methane seeps accommodate many specialists
Natural methane seeps (cold seeps) are found worldwide at continental margins. The gas is formed by decomposition processes in the anoxic layers deep down in the sediment, moves upwards and escapes at the seafloor. The uppermost sediment layers harbor methane oxidizers, which consume about three-quarters of the escaping methane.
This is equivalent to 60 million tons of carbon per year. At methane seeps, the primary energy source is completely different from those of the surrounding seabed. Thus, like oases in the desert methane sources attract particular organisms. These include groups with known function, such as anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea (ANME) and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). However, the researchers also found microbial groups on the methane sources with unknown function.
Emil Ruff, first author of the study, said: "It was surprising that microorganisms from seeps that are thousands of miles away in different oceans, are so closely related. Many methane oxidizers and sulfate reducers are sensitive to oxygen. Therefore, it is a mystery how they survive the great distances between the methane seeps."
The findings of the researchers suggest that only a few worldwide populations are responsible for the bulk of the methane consumption. The vast diversity of species and the evolution of new species, however, is limited to and can only be found at certain sites. Methane seeps thus contribute greatly to the biodiversity of the deep sea.
Global dispersion and local diversification of the methane seep microbiome
Emil Ruff, Jennifer F. Biddle, Andreas Teske, Katrin Knittel, Antje Boetius, Alban Ramette PNAS 2015, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1421865112.
Emil Ruff, Max Plank Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen: +49 421 2028 942; email@example.com
or from the press officer
Manfred Schlösser, Max Plank Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen: +49 421 2028 704 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Manfred Schloesser | Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering