Genomic Evidence for Formate Metabolism by Chloroflexi as the Key to Unlocking Deep Carbon in Lost City Microbial Ecosystems


Overview of the Lost City Sulfurovum central carbon metabolism pathways and electron transport chain. Abbreviations: fdh: formate dehydrogenase, fdhC: formate transporter, FHL: formate hydrogenlyase complex, HQ: hydroquinone, Q: quinone, cty c: cytochrome c, PFOR: pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase

The Lost City hydrothermal field on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge supports dense microbial life on the lofty calcium carbonate chimney structures.

The vent field is fueled by chemical reactions between the ultramafic rock under the chimneys and ambient seawater. These serpentinization reactions provide reducing power (as hydrogen gas) and organic compounds that can serve as microbial food; the most abundant of these are methane and formate. Previous studies have characterized the interior of the chimneys as a single-species biofilm inhabited by the Lost City Methanosarcinales, but also indicated that this methanogen is unable to metabolize formate.

The new metagenomic results presented here indicate that carbon cycling in these Lost City chimney biofilms could depend on the metabolism of formate by low-abundance Chloroflexi species. Additionally, we present evidence that metabolically diverse, formate-utilizing Sulfurovum species are living in the transition zone between the interior and exterior of the chimneys.

IMPORTANCE Primitive forms of life may have originated around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ancient ocean. The Lost City hydrothermal vent field, fueled by just rock and water, provides an analog for not only primitive ecosystems but also extraterrestrial ecosystems that might support life. The microscopic life covering towering chimney structures at the Lost City has been well characterized, yet little is known about the carbon cycling in this ecosystem. These results provide a better understanding of how carbon from the deep subsurface can fuel rich microbial ecosystems on the seafloor.

Julia M. McGonigle, Susan Q. Lang, William J. Brazelton
doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/831230
This article is a preprint and has not been certified by peer review

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/831230v1
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