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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Oct;71(10):6070-6.

Pelagic-benthic coupling and diagenesis of nucleic acids in a deep-sea continental margin and an open-slope system of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Department of Marine Science, Polytechnic University of Marche, Via Brecce Bianche, 60131 Ancona, Italy.


Downward fluxes of nucleic acids adsorbed onto settling particles play a key role in the supply of organic phosphorus and genetic material to the ocean interior. However, information on pelagic-benthic coupling, diagenesis, and processes controlling nucleic acid preservation in deep-sea sediments is practically nonexistent. In this study, we compared nucleic acid fluxes, sedimentary DNA and RNA concentrations, and the enzymatically hydrolyzable fraction of DNA in a bathyal continental margin (North Aegean Sea) and an open-sea system (South Aegean Sea) of the Eastern Mediterranean. The two systems displayed contrasting patterns of nucleic acid fluxes, which increased significantly with depth in the North Aegean Sea and decreased with depth in the South Aegean Sea. These results suggest that in continental margin and open-ocean systems different processes control the nucleic acid supply to the sea floor. Differences in nucleic acid fluxes were reflected by nucleic acid concentrations in the sediments, which reached extremely high values in the North Aegean Sea. In this system, a large fraction of DNA may be buried, as suggested by the large fraction of DNA resistant to nuclease degradation and by estimates of burial efficiency (ca. eight times higher in the North than in the South Aegean Sea). Overall, the results reported here suggest that the preservation of DNA in deeper sediment layers may be favored in benthic systems characterized by high sedimentation rates.

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