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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jan 26;107(4):1612-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0905369107. Epub 2010 Jan 11.

Archaea and bacteria with surprising microdiversity show shifts in dominance over 1,000-year time scales in hydrothermal chimneys.

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  • 1School of Oceanography and Center for Astrobiology and Early Evolution, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


The Lost City Hydrothermal Field, an ultramafic-hosted system located 15 km west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has experienced at least 30,000 years of hydrothermal activity. Previous studies have shown that its carbonate chimneys form by mixing of approximately 90 degrees C, pH 9-11 hydrothermal fluids and cold seawater. Flow of methane and hydrogen-rich hydrothermal fluids in the porous interior chimney walls supports archaeal biofilm communities dominated by a single phylotype of Methanosarcinales. In this study, we have extensively sampled the carbonate-hosted archaeal and bacterial communities by obtaining sequences of >200,000 amplicons of the 16S rRNA V6 region and correlated the results with isotopic ((230)Th) ages of the chimneys over a 1,200-year period. Rare sequences in young chimneys were commonly more abundant in older chimneys, indicating that members of the rare biosphere can become dominant members of the ecosystem when environmental conditions change. These results suggest that a long history of selection over many cycles of chimney growth has resulted in numerous closely related species at Lost City, each of which is preadapted to a particular set of reoccurring environmental conditions. Because of the unique characteristics of the Lost City Hydrothermal Field, these data offer an unprecedented opportunity to study the dynamics of a microbial ecosystem's rare biosphere over a thousand-year time scale.

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