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Nat Microbiol. 2016 Sep 5:16146. doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.146. [Epub ahead of print]

Microbial metabolisms in a 2.5-km-deep ecosystem created by hydraulic fracturing in shales.

Author information

  • 1Department of Microbiology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43214, USA.
  • 2School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43214, USA.
  • 3EMSL, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington 99352, USA.
  • 4Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43214, USA.
  • 5Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA.


Hydraulic fracturing is the industry standard for extracting hydrocarbons from shale formations. Attention has been paid to the economic benefits and environmental impacts of this process, yet the biogeochemical changes induced in the deep subsurface are poorly understood. Recent single-gene investigations revealed that halotolerant microbial communities were enriched after hydraulic fracturing. Here, the reconstruction of 31 unique genomes coupled to metabolite data from the Marcellus and Utica shales revealed that many of the persisting organisms play roles in methylamine cycling, ultimately supporting methanogenesis in the deep biosphere. Fermentation of injected chemical additives also sustains long-term microbial persistence, while thiosulfate reduction could produce sulfide, contributing to reservoir souring and infrastructure corrosion. Extensive links between viruses and microbial hosts demonstrate active viral predation, which may contribute to the release of labile cellular constituents into the extracellular environment. Our analyses show that hydraulic fracturing provides the organismal and chemical inputs for colonization and persistence in the deep terrestrial subsurface.

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