Arctic / Antarctic / Alpine

Novel Endolithic Bacteria Of phylum Chloroflexota Reveal A Myriad Of Potential Survival Strategies In The Antarctic Desert

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
Appl Environ Microbiol
February 27, 2024
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Novel Endolithic Bacteria Of phylum Chloroflexota Reveal A Myriad Of Potential Survival Strategies In The Antarctic Desert

The ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are dominated by nutrient-poor mineral soil and rocky outcrops. The principal habitat for microorganisms is within rocks (endolithic).

In this environment, microorganisms are provided with protection against sub-zero temperatures, rapid thermal fluctuations, extreme dryness, and ultraviolet and solar radiation. Endolithic communities include lichen, algae, fungi, and a diverse array of bacteria. Chloroflexota is among the most abundant bacterial phyla present in these communities.

Among the Chloroflexota are four novel classes of bacteria, here named Candidatus Spiritibacteria class. nov. (=UBA5177), Candidatus Martimicrobia class. nov. (=UBA4733), Candidatus Tarhunnaeia class. nov. (=UBA6077), and Candidatus Uliximicrobia class. nov. (=UBA2235). We retrieved 17 high-quality metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) that represent these four classes.

Based on genome predictions, all these bacteria are inferred to be aerobic heterotrophs that encode enzymes for the catabolism of diverse sugars. These and other organic substrates are likely derived from lichen, algae, and fungi, as metabolites (including photosynthate), cell wall components, and extracellular matrix components.

The majority of MAGs encode the capacity for trace gas oxidation using high-affinity uptake hydrogenases, which could provide energy and metabolic water required for survival and persistence. Furthermore, some MAGs encode the capacity to couple the energy generated from H2 and CO oxidation to support carbon fixation (atmospheric chemosynthesis). All encode mechanisms for the detoxification and efflux of heavy metals. Certain MAGs encode features that indicate possible interactions with other organisms, such as Tc-type toxin complexes, hemolysins, and macroglobulins.

IMPORTANCE The ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are the coldest and most hyperarid desert on Earth. It is, therefore, the closest analog to the surface of the planet Mars. Bacteria and other microorganisms survive by inhabiting airspaces within rocks (endolithic). We identify four novel classes of phylum Chloroflexota, and, based on interrogation of 17 metagenome-assembled genomes, we predict specific metabolic and physiological adaptations that facilitate the survival of these bacteria in this harsh environment-including oxidation of trace gases and the utilization of nutrients (including sugars) derived from lichen, algae, and fungi. We propose that such adaptations allow these endolithic bacteria to eke out an existence in this cold and extremely dry habitat., Appl Environ Microbiol

Authors: Timothy J. Williams, Michelle A. Allen, Angelique E. Ray, Nicole Benau, Devan S. Chelliah, Davide Albanese, Claudio Donati, Laura Selbmann, Claudia Colei, Belinda C. Ferrari


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