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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2007 Mar;59(3):611-21. Epub 2006 Oct 24.

Methane and sulfate profiles within the subsurface of a tidal flat are reflected by the distribution of sulfate-reducing bacteria and methanogenic archaea.

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Institut für Chemie und Biologie des Meeres, Carl-von-Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany.


The anoxic layers of marine sediments are dominated by sulfate reduction and methanogenesis as the main terminal oxidation processes. The aim of this study was to analyze the vertical succession of microbial populations involved in these processes along the first 4.5 m of a tidal-flat sediment. Therefore, a quantitative PCR approach was applied using primers targeting the domains of Bacteria and Archaea, and key functional genes for sulfate reduction (dsrA) and methanogenesis (mcrA). The sampling site was characterized by an unusual sulfate peak at 250 cm depth resulting in separate sulfate-methane transition zones. Methane and sulfate profiles were diametrically opposed, with a methane maximum in the sulfate-depleted zone showing high numbers of archaea and methanogens. The methane-sulfate interfaces harbored elevated numbers of sulfate reducers, and revealed a slight increase in mcrA and archaeal 16S rRNA genes, suggesting sulfate-dependent anaerobic oxidation of methane. A diversity analysis of both functional genes by PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis revealed a vertical succession of subpopulations that were governed by geochemical and sedimentologic conditions. Along the upper 200 cm, sulfate-reducing populations appeared quite uniform and were dominated by the Deltaproteobacteria. In the layers beneath, an apparent increase in diversity and a shift to the Firmicutes as the predominant group was observed.

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