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PLoS One. 2013 May 31;8(5):e64659. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064659. Print 2013.

Metagenomic insights into anaerobic metabolism along an Arctic peat soil profile.

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San Diego State University, San Diego, California, United States of America.


A metagenomic analysis was performed on a soil profile from a wet tundra site in northern Alaska. The goal was to link existing biogeochemical knowledge of the system with the organisms and genes responsible for the relevant metabolic pathways. We specifically investigated how the importance of iron (Fe) oxides and humic substances (HS) as terminal electron acceptors in this ecosystem is expressed genetically, and how respiratory and fermentative processes varied with soil depth into the active layer and into the upper permafrost. Overall, the metagenomes reflected a microbial community enriched in a diverse range of anaerobic pathways, with a preponderance of known Fe reducing species at all depths in the profile. The abundance of sequences associated with anaerobic metabolic processes generally increased with depth, while aerobic cytochrome c oxidases decreased. Methanogenesis genes and methanogen genomes followed the pattern of CH4 fluxes: they increased steeply with depth into the active layer, but declined somewhat over the transition zone between the lower active layer and the upper permafrost. The latter was relatively enriched in fermentative and anaerobic respiratory pathways. A survey of decaheme cytochromes (MtrA, MtrC and their homologs) revealed that this is a promising approach to identifying potential reducers of Fe(III) or HS, and indicated a possible role for Acidobacteria as Fe reducers in these soils. Methanogens appear to coexist in the same layers, though in lower abundance, with Fe reducing bacteria and other potential competitors, including acetogens. These observations provide a rich set of hypotheses for further targeted study.

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