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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2014 Jan;80(1):328-38. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02680-13. Epub 2013 Oct 25.

Metatranscriptomic analyses of plankton communities inhabiting surface and subpycnocline waters of the Chesapeake Bay during oxic-anoxic-oxic transitions.

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Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.


We used metatranscriptomics to study the gene transcription patterns of microbial plankton (0.2 to 64 μm) at a mesohaline station in the Chesapeake Bay under transitions from oxic to anoxic waters in spring and from anoxic to oxic waters in autumn. Samples were collected from surface (i.e., above pycnocline) waters (3 m) and from waters beneath the pycnocline (16 to 22 m) in both 2010 and 2011. Metatranscriptome profiles based on function and potential phylogeny were different between 2010 and 2011 and strongly variable in 2011. This difference in variability corresponded with a highly variable ratio of eukaryotic to bacterial sequences (0.3 to 5.5), reflecting transient algal blooms in 2011 that were absent in 2010. The similarity between metatranscriptomes changed at a lower rate during the transition from oxic to anoxic waters than after the return to oxic conditions. Transcripts related to photosynthesis and low-affinity cytochrome oxidases were significantly higher in shallow than in deep waters, while in deep water genes involved in anaerobic metabolism, particularly sulfate reduction, succinyl coenzyme A (succinyl-CoA)-to-propionyl-CoA conversion, and menaquinone synthesis, were enriched relative to in shallow waters. Expected transitions in metabolism between oxic and anoxic deep waters were reflected in elevated levels of anaerobic respiratory reductases and utilization of propenediol and acetoin. The percentage of archaeal transcripts increased in both years in late summer (from 0.1 to 4.4% of all transcripts in 2010 and from 0.1 to 6.2% in 2011). Denitrification-related genes were expressed in a predicted pattern during the oxic-anoxic transition. Overall, our data suggest that Chesapeake Bay microbial assemblages express gene suites differently in shallow and deep waters and that differences in deep waters reflect variable redox states.

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