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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2019 Feb 6;85(4). pii: e02164-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02164-18. Print 2019 Feb 15.

Microbial Organic Matter Degradation Potential in Baltic Sea Sediments Is Influenced by Depositional Conditions and In Situ Geochemistry.

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Department of Life Sciences, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Center for Geomicrobiology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Department of Microbiology, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Department of Life Sciences, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA


Globally, marine sediments are a vast repository of organic matter, which is degraded through various microbial pathways, including polymer hydrolysis and monomer fermentation. The sources, abundances, and quality (i.e., labile or recalcitrant) of the organic matter and the composition of the microbial assemblages vary between sediments. Here, we examine new and previously published sediment metagenomes from the Baltic Sea and the nearby Kattegat region to determine connections between geochemistry and the community potential to degrade organic carbon. Diverse organic matter hydrolysis encoding genes were present in sediments between 0.25 and 67 meters below seafloor and were in higher relative abundances in those sediments that contained more organic matter. New analysis of previously published metatranscriptomes demonstrated that many of these genes were transcribed in two organic-rich Holocene sediments. Some of the variation in deduced pathways in the metagenomes correlated with carbon content and depositional conditions. Fermentation-related genes were found in all samples and encoded multiple fermentation pathways. Notably, genes involved in alcohol metabolism were amongst the most abundant of these genes, indicating that this is an important but underappreciated aspect of sediment carbon cycling. This study is a step towards a more complete understanding of microbial food webs and the impacts of depositional facies on present sedimentary microbial communities.IMPORTANCE Sediments sequester organic matter over geologic time scales and impact global climate regulation. Microbial communities in marine sediments drive organic matter degradation, but the factors controlling their assemblages and activities, which in turn impact their role in organic matter degradation, are not well understood. Hence, determining the role of microbial communities in carbon cycling in various sediment types is necessary for predicting future sediment carbon cycling. We examined microbial communities in Baltic Sea sediments, which were deposited across various climatic and geographical regimes to determine the relationship between microbial potential for breakdown of organic matter and abiotic factors, including geochemistry and sediment lithology. The findings from this study will contribute to our understanding of carbon cycling in the deep biosphere and how microbial communities live in deeply buried environments.


Baltic Sea; heterotrophy; microbial ecology; sediment

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