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1.  Characterization of uncultivated prokaryotes: isolation and analysis of a 40-kilobase-pair genome fragment from a planktonic marine archaeon. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1996;178(3):591-599.
One potential approach for characterizing uncultivated prokaryotes from natural assemblages involves genomic analysis of DNA fragments retrieved directly from naturally occurring microbial biomass. In this study, we sought to isolate large genomic fragments from a widely distributed and relatively abundant but as yet uncultivated group of prokaryotes, the planktonic marine Archaea. A fosmid DNA library was prepared from a marine picoplankton assemblage collected at a depth of 200 m in the eastern North Pacific. We identified a 38.5-kbp recombinant fosmid clone which contained an archaeal small subunit ribosomal DNA gene. Phylogenetic analyses of the small subunit rRNA sequence demonstrated it close relationship to that of previously described planktonic archaea, which form a coherent group rooted deeply within the Crenarchaeota branch of the domain Archaea. Random shotgun sequencing of subcloned fragments of the archaeal fosmid clone revealed several genes which bore highest similarity to archaeal homologs, including large subunit ribosomal DNA and translation elongation factor 2 (EF2). Analyses of the inferred amino acid sequence of archaeoplankton EF2 supported its affiliation with the Crenarchaeote subdivision of Archaea. Two gene fragments encoding proteins not previously found in Archaea were also identified: RNA helicase, responsible for the ATP-dependent alteration of RNA secondary structure, and glutamate semialdehyde aminotransferase, an enzyme involved in initial steps of heme biosynthesis. In total, our results indicate that genomic analysis of large DNA fragments retrieved from mixed microbial assemblages can provide useful perspective on the physiological potential of abundant but as yet uncultivated prokaryotes.
PMCID: PMC177699  PMID: 8550487
2.  A Few Cosmopolitan Phylotypes Dominate Planktonic Archaeal Assemblages in Widely Different Oceanic Provinces 
We compared the phylogenetic compositions of marine planktonic archaeal populations in different marine provinces. Samples from eight different environments were collected at two depths (surface and aphotic zone), and 16 genetic libraries of PCR-amplified archaeal 16S rRNA genes were constructed. The libraries were analyzed by using a three-step hierarchical approach. Membrane hybridization experiments revealed that most of the archaeal clones were affiliated with one of the two groups of marine archaea described previously, crenarchaeotal group I and euryarchaeotal group II. One of the 2,328 ribosomal DNA clones analyzed was related to a different euryarchaeal lineage, which was recently recovered from deep-water marine plankton. In temperate regions (Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea) both major groups were found at the two depths investigated; group II predominated at the surface, and group I predominated at depth. In Antarctic and subantarctic waters group II was practically absent. The clonal compositions of archaeal libraries were investigated by performing a restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis with two tetrameric restriction enzymes, which defined discrete operational taxonomic units (OTUs). The OTUs defined in this way were phylogenetically consistent; clones belonging to the same OTU were closely related. The clonal diversity as determined by the RFLP analysis was low, and most libraries were dominated by only one or two OTUs. Some OTUs were found in samples obtained from very distant places, indicating that some phylotypes were ubiquitous. A tree containing one example of each OTU detected was constructed, and this tree revealed that there were several clusters within archaeal group I and group II. The members of some of these clusters had different depth distributions.
PMCID: PMC101412  PMID: 10788339
3.  Insights into the evolution of Archaea and eukaryotic protein modifier systems revealed by the genome of a novel archaeal group 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(8):3204-3223.
The domain Archaea has historically been divided into two phyla, the Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota. Although regarded as members of the Crenarchaeota based on small subunit rRNA phylogeny, environmental genomics and efforts for cultivation have recently revealed two novel phyla/divisions in the Archaea; the ‘Thaumarchaeota’ and ‘Korarchaeota’. Here, we show the genome sequence of Candidatus ‘Caldiarchaeum subterraneum’ that represents an uncultivated crenarchaeotic group. A composite genome was reconstructed from a metagenomic library previously prepared from a microbial mat at a geothermal water stream of a sub-surface gold mine. The genome was found to be clearly distinct from those of the known phyla/divisions, Crenarchaeota (hyperthermophiles), Euryarchaeota, Thaumarchaeota and Korarchaeota. The unique traits suggest that this crenarchaeotic group can be considered as a novel archaeal phylum/division. Moreover, C. subterraneum harbors an ubiquitin-like protein modifier system consisting of Ub, E1, E2 and small Zn RING finger family protein with structural motifs specific to eukaryotic system proteins, a system clearly distinct from the prokaryote-type system recently identified in Haloferax and Mycobacterium. The presence of such a eukaryote-type system is unprecedented in prokaryotes, and indicates that a prototype of the eukaryotic protein modifier system is present in the Archaea.
PMCID: PMC3082918  PMID: 21169198
4.  Characterization of a DNA polymerase from the uncultivated psychrophilic archaeon Cenarchaeum symbiosum. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(24):7803-7811.
Cenarchaeum symbiosum, an archaeon which lives in specific association with a marine sponge, belongs to a recently recognized nonthermophilic crenarchaeotal group that inhabits diverse cold and temperate environments. Nonthermophilic crenarchaeotes have not yet been obtained in laboratory culture, and so their phenotypic characteristics have been inferred solely from their ecological distribution. Here we report on the first protein to be characterized from one of these organisms. The DNA polymerase gene of C. symbiosum was identified in the vicinity of the rRNA operon on a large genomic contig. Its deduced amino acid sequence is highly similar to those of the archaeal family B (alpha-type) DNA polymerases. It shared highest overall sequence similarity with the crenarchaeal DNA polymerases from the extreme thermophiles Sulfolobus acidocaldarius and Pyrodictium occultum (54% and 53%, respectively). The conserved motifs of B (alpha-)-type DNA polymerases and 3'-5' exonuclease were identified in the 845-amino-acid sequence. The 96-kDa protein was expressed in Escherichia coli and purified with affinity tags. It exhibited its highest specific activity with gapped-duplex (activated) DNA as the substrate. Single-strand- and double-strand-dependent 3'-5' exonuclease activity was detected, as was a marginal 5'-3' exonuclease activity. The enzyme was rapidly inactivated at temperatures higher than 40 degrees C, with a half-life of 10 min at 46 degrees C. It was found to be less thermostable than polymerase I of E. coli and is substantially more heat labile than its most closely related homologs from thermophilic and hyperthermophilic crenarchaeotes. Although phylogenetic studies suggest a thermophilic ancestry for C. symbiosum and its relatives, our biochemical analysis of the DNA polymerase is consistent with the postulated nonthermophilic phenotype of these crenarchaeotes, to date inferred solely from their ecological distribution.
PMCID: PMC179745  PMID: 9401041
5.  Pangenome Evidence for Extensive Interdomain Horizontal Transfer Affecting Lineage Core and Shell Genes in Uncultured Planktonic Thaumarchaeota and Euryarchaeota 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;6(7):1549-1563.
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is an important force in evolution, which may lead, among other things, to the adaptation to new environments by the import of new metabolic functions. Recent studies based on phylogenetic analyses of a few genome fragments containing archaeal 16S rRNA genes and fosmid-end sequences from deep-sea metagenomic libraries have suggested that marine planktonic archaea could be affected by high HGT frequency. Likewise, a composite genome of an uncultured marine euryarchaeote showed high levels of gene sequence similarity to bacterial genes. In this work, we ask whether HGT is frequent and widespread in genomes of these marine archaea, and whether HGT is an ancient and/or recurrent phenomenon. To answer these questions, we sequenced 997 fosmid archaeal clones from metagenomic libraries of deep-Mediterranean waters (1,000 and 3,000 m depth) and built comprehensive pangenomes for planktonic Thaumarchaeota (Group I archaea) and Euryarchaeota belonging to the uncultured Groups II and III Euryarchaeota (GII/III-Euryarchaeota). Comparison with available reference genomes of Thaumarchaeota and a composite marine surface euryarchaeote genome allowed us to define sets of core, lineage-specific core, and shell gene ortholog clusters for the two archaeal lineages. Molecular phylogenetic analyses of all gene clusters showed that 23.9% of marine Thaumarchaeota genes and 29.7% of GII/III-Euryarchaeota genes had been horizontally acquired from bacteria. HGT is not only extensive and directional but also ongoing, with high HGT levels in lineage-specific core (ancient transfers) and shell (recent transfers) genes. Many of the acquired genes are related to metabolism and membrane biogenesis, suggesting an adaptive value for life in cold, oligotrophic oceans. We hypothesize that the acquisition of an important amount of foreign genes by the ancestors of these archaeal groups significantly contributed to their divergence and ecological success.
PMCID: PMC4122925  PMID: 24923324
horizontal gene transfer; Thaumarchaeota; Euryarchaeota; ammonia-oxidizing archaea; uncultured archaea
6.  Seasonal and Spatial Variability of Bacterial and Archaeal Assemblages in the Coastal Waters near Anvers Island, Antarctica 
A previous report of high levels of members of the domain Archaea in Antarctic coastal waters prompted us to investigate the ecology of Antarctic planktonic prokaryotes. rRNA hybridization techniques and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis of the bacterial V3 region were used to study variation in Antarctic picoplankton assemblages. In Anvers Island nearshore waters during late winter to early spring, the amounts of archaeal rRNA ranged from 17.1 to 3.6% of the total picoplankton rRNA in 1996 and from 16.0 to 1.0% of the total rRNA in 1995. Offshore in the Palmer Basin, the levels of archaeal rRNA throughout the water column were higher (average, 24% of the total rRNA) during the same period in 1996. The archaeal rRNA levels in nearshore waters followed a highly seasonal pattern and markedly decreased during the austral summer at two stations. There was a significant negative correlation between archaeal rRNA levels and phytoplankton levels (as inferred from chlorophyll a concentrations) in nearshore surface waters during the early spring of 1995 and during an 8-month period in 1996 and 1997. In situ hybridization experiments revealed that 5 to 14% of DAPI (4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole)-stained cells were archaeal, corresponding to 0.9 × 104 to 2.7 × 104 archaeal cells per ml, in late winter 1996 samples. Analysis of bacterial ribosomal DNA fragments by DGGE revealed that the assemblage composition may reflect changes in water column stability, depth, or season. The data indicate that changes in Antarctic seasons are accompanied by significant shifts in the species composition of bacterioplankton assemblages and by large decreases in the relative proportion of archaeal rRNA in the nearshore water column.
PMCID: PMC106430  PMID: 9647834
7.  Vertical distribution and phylogenetic characterization of marine planktonic Archaea in the Santa Barbara Channel. 
Newly described phylogenetic lineages within the domain Archaea have recently been found to be significant components of marine picoplankton assemblages. To better understand the ecology of these microorganisms, we investigated the relative abundance, distribution, and phylogenetic composition of Archaea in the Santa Barbara Channel. Significant amounts of archaeal rRNA and rDNA (genes coding for rRNA) were detected in all samples analyzed. The relative abundance of archaeal rRNA as measured by quantitative oligonucleotide hybridization experiments was low in surface waters but reached higher values (20 to 30% of prokaryotic rRNA) at depths below 100 m. Probes were developed for the two major groups of marine Archaea detected. rRNA originating from the euryarchaeal group (group II) was most abundant in surface waters, whereas rRNA from the crenarchaeal group (group I) dominated at depth. Clone libraries of PCR-amplified archaeal rRNA genes were constructed with samples from 0 and 200 m deep. Screening of libraries by hybridization with specific oligonucleotide probes, as well as subsequent sequencing of the cloned genes, indicated that virtually all archaeal rDNA clones recovered belonged to one of the two groups. The recovery of cloned rDNA sequence types in depth profiles exhibited the same trends as were observed in quantitative rRNA hybridization experiments. One representative of each of 18 distinct restriction fragment length polymorphism types was partially sequenced. Recovered sequences spanned most of the previously reported phylogenetic diversity detected in planktonic crenarchaeal and euryarchaeal groups. Several rDNA sequences appeared to be harbored in archaeal types which are widely distributed in marine coastal waters. In total, data suggest that marine planktonic crenarchaea and euryarchaea of temperate coastal habitats thrive in different zones of the water column. The relative rRNA abundance of the crenarchaeal group suggests that its members constitute a significant fraction of the prokaryotic biomass in subsurface coastal waters.
PMCID: PMC168301  PMID: 8979338
8.  Phylogenetic Composition of Arctic Ocean Archaeal Assemblages and Comparison with Antarctic Assemblages 
Archaea assemblages from the Arctic Ocean and Antarctic waters were compared by PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis of 16S rRNA genes amplified using the Archaea-specific primers 344f and 517r. Inspection of the DGGE fingerprints of 33 samples from the Arctic Ocean (from SCICEX submarine cruises in 1995, 1996, and 1997) and 7 Antarctic samples from Gerlache Strait and Dallman Bay revealed that the richness of Archaea assemblages was greater in samples from deep water than in those from the upper water column in both polar oceans. DGGE banding patterns suggested that most of the Archaea ribotypes were common to both the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean. However, some of the Euryarchaeota ribotypes were unique to each system. Cluster analysis of DGGE fingerprints revealed no seasonal variation but supported depth-related differences in the composition of the Arctic Ocean Archaea assemblage. The phylogenetic composition of the Archaea assemblage was determined by cloning and then sequencing amplicons obtained from the Archaea-specific primers 21f and 958r. Sequences of 198 clones from nine samples covering three seasons and all depths grouped with marine group I Crenarchaeota (111 clones), marine group II Euryarchaeota (86 clones), and group IV Euryarchaeota (1 clone). A sequence obtained only from a DGGE band was similar to those of the marine group III Euryarchaeota.
PMCID: PMC348845  PMID: 14766555
9.  Complete-fosmid and fosmid-end sequences reveal frequent horizontal gene transfers in marine uncultured planktonic archaea 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(8):1291-1302.
The extent of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) among marine pelagic prokaryotes and the role that HGT may have played in their adaptation to this particular environment remain open questions. This is partly due to the paucity of cultured species and genomic information for many widespread groups of marine bacteria and archaea. Molecular studies have revealed a large diversity and relative abundance of marine planktonic archaea, in particular of Thaumarchaeota (also known as group I Crenarchaeota) and Euryarchaeota of groups II and III, but only one species (the thaumarchaeote Candidatus Nitrosopumilus maritimus) has been isolated in pure culture so far. Therefore, metagenomics remains the most powerful approach to study these environmental groups. To investigate the impact of HGT in marine archaea, we carried out detailed phylogenetic analyses of all open reading frames of 21 archaeal 16S rRNA gene-containing fosmids and, to extend our analysis to other genomic regions, also of fosmid-end sequences of 12 774 fosmids from three different deep-sea locations (South Atlantic and Adriatic Sea at 1000 m depth, and Ionian Sea at 3000 m depth). We found high HGT rates in both marine planktonic Thaumarchaeota and Euryarchaeota, with remarkable converging values estimated from complete-fosmid and fosmid-end sequence analysis (25 and 21% of the genes, respectively). Most HGTs came from bacterial donors (mainly from Proteobacteria, Firmicutes and Chloroflexi) but also from other archaea and eukaryotes. Phylogenetic analyses showed that in most cases HGTs are shared by several representatives of the studied groups, implying that they are ancient and have been conserved over relatively long evolutionary periods. This, together with the functions carried out by these acquired genes (mostly related to energy metabolism and transport of metabolites across membranes), suggests that HGT has played an important role in the adaptation of these archaea to the cold and nutrient-depleted deep marine environment.
PMCID: PMC3146271  PMID: 21346789
Thaumarchaeota; marine Euryarchaeota; metagenomics; deep ocean; planktonic archaea; horizontal gene transfer
10.  Vertical Distribution of Ammonia-Oxidizing Crenarchaeota and Methanogens in the Epipelagic Waters of Lake Kivu (Rwanda-Democratic Republic of the Congo)▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(20):6853-6863.
Four stratified basins in Lake Kivu (Rwanda-Democratic Republic of the Congo) were sampled in March 2007 to investigate the abundance, distribution, and potential biogeochemical role of planktonic archaea. We used fluorescence in situ hybridization with catalyzed-reported deposition microscopic counts (CARD-FISH), denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) fingerprinting, and quantitative PCR (qPCR) of signature genes for ammonia-oxidizing archaea (16S rRNA for marine Crenarchaeota group 1.1a [MCG1] and ammonia monooxygenase subunit A [amoA]). Abundance of archaea ranged from 1 to 4.5% of total DAPI (4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) counts with maximal concentrations at the oxic-anoxic transition zone (∼50-m depth). Phylogenetic analysis of the archaeal planktonic community revealed a higher level of richness of crenarchaeal 16S rRNA gene sequences (21 of the 28 operational taxonomic units [OTUs] identified [75%]) over euryarchaeotal ones (7 OTUs). Sequences affiliated with the kingdom Euryarchaeota were mainly recovered from the anoxic water compartment and mostly grouped into methanogenic lineages (Methanosarcinales and Methanocellales). In turn, crenarchaeal phylotypes were recovered throughout the sampled epipelagic waters (0- to 100-m depth), with clear phylogenetic segregation along the transition from oxic to anoxic water masses. Thus, whereas in the anoxic hypolimnion crenarchaeotal OTUs were mainly assigned to the miscellaneous crenarchaeotic group, the OTUs from the oxic-anoxic transition and above belonged to Crenarchaeota groups 1.1a and 1.1b, two lineages containing most of the ammonia-oxidizing representatives known so far. The concomitant vertical distribution of both nitrite and nitrate maxima and the copy numbers of both MCG1 16S rRNA and amoA genes suggest the potential implication of Crenarchaeota in nitrification processes occurring in the epilimnetic waters of the lake.
PMCID: PMC2953034  PMID: 20802065
11.  Diversity and genomics of Antarctic marine micro-organisms 
Marine bacterioplanktons are thought to play a vital role in Southern Ocean ecology and ecosystem function, as they do in other ocean systems. However, our understanding of phylogenetic diversity, genome-enabled capabilities and specific adaptations to this persistently cold environment is limited. Bacterioplankton community composition shifts significantly over the annual cycle as sea ice melts and phytoplankton bloom. Microbial diversity in sea ice is better known than that of the plankton, where culture collections do not appear to represent organisms detected with molecular surveys. Broad phylogenetic groupings of Antarctic bacterioplankton such as the marine group I Crenarchaeota, α-Proteobacteria (Roseobacter-related and SAR-11 clusters), γ-Proteobacteria (both cultivated and uncultivated groups) and Bacteriodetes-affiliated organisms in Southern Ocean waters are in common with other ocean systems. Antarctic SSU rRNA gene phylotypes are typically affiliated with other polar sequences. Some species such as Polaribacter irgensii and currently uncultivated γ-Proteobacteria (Ant4D3 and Ant10A4) may flourish in Antarctic waters, though further studies are needed to address diversity on a larger scale. Insights from initial genomics studies on both cultivated organisms and genomes accessed through shotgun cloning of environmental samples suggest that there are many unique features of these organisms that facilitate survival in high-latitude, persistently cold environments.
PMCID: PMC2443171  PMID: 17553778
Antarctic bacterioplankton; marine bacteria; marine microbial genomics; bacterioplankton diversity; Southern Ocean
12.  Pathways of Carbon Assimilation and Ammonia Oxidation Suggested by Environmental Genomic Analyses of Marine Crenarchaeota  
PLoS Biology  2006;4(4):e95.
Marine Crenarchaeota represent an abundant component of oceanic microbiota with potential to significantly influence biogeochemical cycling in marine ecosystems. Prior studies using specific archaeal lipid biomarkers and isotopic analyses indicated that planktonic Crenarchaeota have the capacity for autotrophic growth, and more recent cultivation studies support an ammonia-based chemolithoautotrophic energy metabolism. We report here analysis of fosmid sequences derived from the uncultivated marine crenarchaeote, Cenarchaeum symbiosum, focused on the reconstruction of carbon and energy metabolism. Genes predicted to encode multiple components of a modified 3-hydroxypropionate cycle of autotrophic carbon assimilation were identified, consistent with utilization of carbon dioxide as a carbon source. Additionally, genes predicted to encode a near complete oxidative tricarboxylic acid cycle were also identified, consistent with the consumption of organic carbon and in the production of intermediates for amino acid and cofactor biosynthesis. Therefore, C. symbiosum has the potential to function either as a strict autotroph, or as a mixotroph utilizing both carbon dioxide and organic material as carbon sources. From the standpoint of energy metabolism, genes predicted to encode ammonia monooxygenase subunits, ammonia permease, urease, and urea transporters were identified, consistent with the use of reduced nitrogen compounds as energy sources fueling autotrophic metabolism. Homologues of these genes, recovered from ocean waters worldwide, demonstrate the conservation and ubiquity of crenarchaeal pathways for carbon assimilation and ammonia oxidation. These findings further substantiate the likely global metabolic importance of Crenarchaeota with respect to key steps in the biogeochemical transformation of carbon and nitrogen in marine ecosystems.
Sequence data reveal the presence of key genes from pathways for carbon assimilation and ammonia oxidation in marine microbiota, supporting their importance in regulating the biogeochemistry of marine ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC1403158  PMID: 16533068
13.  Diversity and Stratification of Archaea in a Hypersaline Microbial Mat▿ † 
The Guerrero Negro (GN) hypersaline microbial mats have become one focus for biogeochemical studies of stratified ecosystems. The GN mats are found beneath several of a series of ponds of increasing salinity that make up a solar saltern fed from Pacific Ocean water pumped from the Laguna Ojo de Liebre near GN, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Molecular surveys of the laminated photosynthetic microbial mat below the fourth pond in the series identified an enormous diversity of bacteria in the mat, but archaea have received little attention. To determine the bulk contribution of archaeal phylotypes to the pond 4 study site, we determined the phylogenetic distribution of archaeal rRNA gene sequences in PCR libraries based on nominally universal primers. The ratios of bacterial/archaeal/eukaryotic rRNA genes, 90%/9%/1%, suggest that the archaeal contribution to the metabolic activities of the mat may be significant. To explore the distribution of archaea in the mat, sequences derived using archaeon-specific PCR primers were surveyed in 10 strata of the 6-cm-thick mat. The diversity of archaea overall was substantial albeit less than the diversity observed previously for bacteria. Archaeal diversity, mainly euryarchaeotes, was highest in the uppermost 2 to 3 mm of the mat and decreased rapidly with depth, where crenarchaeotes dominated. Only 3% of the sequences were specifically related to known organisms including methanogens. While some mat archaeal clades corresponded with known chemical gradients, others did not, which is likely explained by heretofore-unrecognized gradients. Some clades did not segregate by depth in the mat, indicating broad metabolic repertoires, undersampling, or both.
PMCID: PMC2663194  PMID: 19114531
14.  Genomic Analysis Reveals Chromosomal Variation in Natural Populations of the Uncultured Psychrophilic Archaeon Cenarchaeum symbiosum 
Journal of Bacteriology  1998;180(19):5003-5009.
Molecular phylogenetic surveys have recently revealed an ecologically widespread crenarchaeal group that inhabits cold and temperate terrestrial and marine environments. To date these organisms have resisted isolation in pure culture, and so their phenotypic and genotypic characteristics remain largely unknown. To characterize these archaea, and to extend methodological approaches for characterizing uncultivated microorganisms, we initiated genomic analyses of the nonthermophilic crenarchaeote Cenarchaeum symbiosum found living in association with a marine sponge, Axinella mexicana. Complex DNA libraries derived from the host-symbiont population yielded several large clones containing the ribosomal operon from C. symbiosum. Unexpectedly, cloning and sequence analysis revealed the presence of two closely related variants that were consistently found in the majority of host individuals analyzed. Homologous regions from the two variants were sequenced and compared in detail. The variants exhibit >99.2% sequence identity in both small- and large-subunit rRNA genes and they contain homologous protein-encoding genes in identical order and orientation over a 28-kbp overlapping region. Our study not only indicates the potential for characterizing uncultivated prokaryotes by genome sequencing but also identifies the primary complication inherent in the approach: the widespread genomic microheterogeneity in naturally occurring prokaryotic populations.
PMCID: PMC107533  PMID: 9748430
15.  Communities of Archaea and Bacteria in a Subsurface Radioactive Thermal Spring in the Austrian Central Alps, and Evidence of Ammonia-Oxidizing Crenarchaeota▿  
Scanning electron microscopy revealed great morphological diversity in biofilms from several largely unexplored subterranean thermal Alpine springs, which contain radium 226 and radon 222. A culture-independent molecular analysis of microbial communities on rocks and in the water of one spring, the “Franz-Josef-Quelle” in Bad Gastein, Austria, was performed. Four hundred fifteen clones were analyzed. One hundred thirty-two sequences were affiliated with 14 bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and 283 with four archaeal OTUs. Rarefaction analysis indicated a high diversity of bacterial sequences, while archaeal sequences were less diverse. The majority of the cloned archaeal 16S rRNA gene sequences belonged to the soil-freshwater-subsurface (1.1b) crenarchaeotic group; other representatives belonged to the freshwater-wastewater-soil (1.3b) group, except one clone, which was related to a group of uncultivated Euryarchaeota. These findings support recent reports that Crenarchaeota are not restricted to high-temperature environments. Most of the bacterial sequences were related to the Proteobacteria (α, β, γ, and δ), Bacteroidetes, and Planctomycetes. One OTU was allied with Nitrospina sp. (δ-Proteobacteria) and three others grouped with Nitrospira. Statistical analyses suggested high diversity based on 16S rRNA gene analyses; the rarefaction plot of archaeal clones showed a plateau. Since Crenarchaeota have been implicated recently in the nitrogen cycle, the spring environment was probed for the presence of the ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA) gene. Sequences were obtained which were related to crenarchaeotic amoA genes from marine and soil habitats. The data suggested that nitrification processes are occurring in the subterranean environment and that ammonia may possibly be an energy source for the resident communities.
PMCID: PMC1797131  PMID: 17085711
16.  Stratified Communities of Active Archaea in Deep Marine Subsurface Sediments 
Archaeal 16S rRNA was extracted from samples of deep marine subsurface sediments from Peru Margin site 1227, Ocean Drilling Program leg 201. The amounts of archaeal 16S rRNA in each extract were quantified by serial dilution and reverse transcription (RT)-PCR. The results indicated a 1,000-fold variation in rRNA content with depth in the sediment, with the highest concentrations found near the sediment surface and in the sulfate-methane transition zone (SMTZ). The phylogenetic composition of the active archaeal population revealed by cloning and sequencing of RT-PCR products changed with depth. Several phylotypes affiliated with marine benthic group B (MBGB) dominated clone libraries from the upper part of the SMTZ and were detected only in this layer. Members of the miscellaneous crenarchaeotal group (MCG) dominated clone libraries from the other layers. These results demonstrate that archaeal communities change in activity and community composition over short distances in geochemically distinct zones of deep subseafloor sediments and that these changes are traceable in the rRNA pool. It was shown for the first time that members of both the MCG and MBGB Archaea are more active in the SMTZ than in layers above and below. This indicates that they benefit either directly or indirectly from the anaerobic oxidation of methane. They also appear to be ecophysiologically flexible, as they have been retrieved from a wide range of marine sediments of various geochemical properties.
PMCID: PMC1489303  PMID: 16820449
17.  Novel Euryarchaeotal Lineages Detected on Rice Roots and in the Anoxic Bulk Soil of Flooded Rice Microcosms 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1998;64(12):4983-4989.
Because excised, washed roots of rice (Oryza sativa) immediately produce CH4 when they are incubated under anoxic conditions (P. Frenzel and U. Bosse, FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. 21:25–36, 1996), we employed a culture-independent molecular approach to identify the methanogenic microbial community present on roots of rice plants. Archaeal small-subunit rRNA-encoding genes were amplified directly from total root DNA by PCR and then cloned. Thirty-two archaeal rice root (ARR) gene clones were randomly selected, and the amplified primary structures of ca. 750 nucleotide sequence positions were compared. Only 10 of the environmental sequences were affiliated with known methanogens; 5 were affiliated with Methanosarcina spp., and 5 were affiliated with Methanobacterium spp. The remaining 22 ARR gene clones formed four distinct lineages (rice clusters I through IV) which were not closely related to any known cultured member of the Archaea. Rice clusters I and II formed distinct clades within the phylogenetic radiation of the orders “Methanosarcinales” and Methanomicrobiales. Rice cluster I was novel, and rice cluster II was closely affiliated with environmental sequences obtained from bog peat in northern England. Rice cluster III occurred on the same branch as Thermoplasma acidophilum and marine group II but was only distantly related to these taxa. Rice cluster IV was a deep-branching crenarchaeotal assemblage that was closely related to clone pGrfC26, an environmental sequence recovered from a temperate marsh environment. The use of a domain-specific oligonucleotide probe in a fluorescent in situ hybridization analysis revealed that viable members of the Archaea were present on the surfaces of rice roots. In addition, we describe a novel euryarchaeotal main line of descent, designated rice cluster V, which was detected in anoxic rice paddy soil. These results indicate that there is an astonishing richness of archaeal diversity present on rice roots and in the surrounding paddy soil.
PMCID: PMC90952  PMID: 9835592
18.  Comparative Genomics of DNA Fragments from Six Antarctic Marine Planktonic Bacteria† 
Six environmental fosmid clones from Antarctic coastal water bacterioplankton were completely sequenced. The genome fragments harbored small-subunit rRNA genes that were between 85 and 91% similar to those of their nearest cultivated relatives. The six fragments span four phyla, including the Gemmatimonadetes, Proteobacteria (α and γ), Bacteroidetes, and high-G+C gram-positive bacteria. Gene-finding and annotation analyses identified 244 total open reading frames. Amino acid comparisons of 123 and 113 Antarctic bacterial amino acid sequences to mesophilic homologs from G+C-specific and SwissProt/UniProt databases, respectively, revealed widespread adaptation to the cold. The most significant changes in these Antarctic bacterial protein sequences included a reduction in salt-bridge-forming residues such as arginine, glutamic acid, and aspartic acid, reduced proline contents, and a reduction in stabilizing hydrophobic clusters. Stretches of disordered amino acids were significantly longer in the Antarctic sequences than in the mesophilic sequences. These characteristics were not specific to any one phylum, COG role category, or G+C content and imply that underlying genotypic and biochemical adaptations to the cold are inherent to life in the permanently subzero Antarctic waters.
PMCID: PMC1392886  PMID: 16461708
19.  Genomic properties of Marine Group A bacteria indicate a role in the marine sulfur cycle 
The ISME Journal  2013;8(2):455-468.
Marine Group A (MGA) is a deeply branching and uncultivated phylum of bacteria. Although their functional roles remain elusive, MGA subgroups are particularly abundant and diverse in oxygen minimum zones and permanent or seasonally stratified anoxic basins, suggesting metabolic adaptation to oxygen-deficiency. Here, we expand a previous survey of MGA diversity in O2-deficient waters of the Northeast subarctic Pacific Ocean (NESAP) to include Saanich Inlet (SI), an anoxic fjord with seasonal O2 gradients and periodic sulfide accumulation. Phylogenetic analysis of small subunit ribosomal RNA (16S rRNA) gene clone libraries recovered five previously described MGA subgroups and defined three novel subgroups (SHBH1141, SHBH391, and SHAN400) in SI. To discern the functional properties of MGA residing along gradients of O2 in the NESAP and SI, we identified and sequenced to completion 14 fosmids harboring MGA-associated 16S RNA genes from a collection of 46 fosmid libraries sourced from NESAP and SI waters. Comparative analysis of these fosmids, in addition to four publicly available MGA-associated large-insert DNA fragments from Hawaii Ocean Time-series and Monterey Bay, revealed widespread genomic differentiation proximal to the ribosomal RNA operon that did not consistently reflect subgroup partitioning patterns observed in 16S rRNA gene clone libraries. Predicted protein-coding genes associated with adaptation to O2-deficiency and sulfur-based energy metabolism were detected on multiple fosmids, including polysulfide reductase (psrABC), implicated in dissimilatory polysulfide reduction to hydrogen sulfide and dissimilatory sulfur oxidation. These results posit a potential role for specific MGA subgroups in the marine sulfur cycle.
PMCID: PMC3906813  PMID: 24030600
marine; candidate phylum; sulfur cycle; marine group A; oxygen minimum zone; polysulfide
20.  Anaerobic oxidation of methane at different temperature regimes in Guaymas Basin hydrothermal sediments 
The ISME Journal  2011;6(5):1018-1031.
Anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) was investigated in hydrothermal sediments of Guaymas Basin based on δ13C signatures of CH4, dissolved inorganic carbon and porewater concentration profiles of CH4 and sulfate. Cool, warm and hot in-situ temperature regimes (15–20 °C, 30–35 °C and 70–95 °C) were selected from hydrothermal locations in Guaymas Basin to compare AOM geochemistry and 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA), mcrA and dsrAB genes of the microbial communities. 16S rRNA gene clone libraries from the cool and hot AOM cores yielded similar archaeal types such as Miscellaneous Crenarchaeotal Group, Thermoproteales and anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea (ANME)-1; some of the ANME-1 archaea formed a separate 16S rRNA lineage that at present seems to be limited to Guaymas Basin. Congruent results were obtained by mcrA gene analysis. The warm AOM core, chemically distinct by lower porewater sulfide concentrations, hosted a different archaeal community dominated by the two deep subsurface archaeal lineages Marine Benthic Group D and Marine Benthic Group B, and by members of the Methanosarcinales including ANME-2 archaea. This distinct composition of the methane-cycling archaeal community in the warm AOM core was confirmed by mcrA gene analysis. Functional genes of sulfate-reducing bacteria and archaea, dsrAB, showed more overlap between all cores, regardless of the core temperature. 16S rRNA gene clone libraries with Euryarchaeota-specific primers detected members of the Archaeoglobus clade in the cool and hot cores. A V6-tag high-throughput sequencing survey generally supported the clone library results while providing high-resolution detail on archaeal and bacterial community structure. These results indicate that AOM and the responsible archaeal communities persist over a wide temperature range.
PMCID: PMC3329104  PMID: 22094346
anaerobic methane oxidation; Guaymas Basin; hydrothermal vents; thermophiles
21.  Phylogenetic Analysis of Nonthermophilic Members of the Kingdom Crenarchaeota and Their Diversity and Abundance in Soils 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1998;64(11):4333-4339.
Within the last several years, molecular techniques have uncovered numerous 16S rRNA gene (rDNA) sequences which represent a unique and globally distributed lineage of the kingdom Crenarchaeota that is phylogenetically distinct from currently characterized crenarchaeotal species. rDNA sequences of members of this novel crenarchaeotal group have been recovered from low- to moderate-temperature environments (−1.5 to 32°C), in contrast to the high-temperature environments (temperature, >80°C) required for growth of the currently recognized crenarchaeotal species. We determined the diversity and abundance of the nonthermophilic members of the Crenarchaeota in soil samples taken from cultivated and uncultivated fields located at the Kellogg Biological Station’s Long-Term Ecological Research site (Hickory Corners, Mich.). Clones were generated from 16S rDNA that was amplified by using broad-specificity archaeal PCR primers. Twelve crenarchaeotal sequences were identified, and the phylogenetic relationships between these sequences and previously described crenarchaeotal 16S rDNA sequences were determined. Phylogenetic analyses included nonthermophilic crenarchaeotal sequences found in public databases and revealed that the nonthermophilic Crenarchaeota group is composed of at least four distinct phylogenetic clusters. A 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probe specific for all known nonthermophilic crenarchaeotal sequences was designed and used to determine their abundance in soil samples. The nonthermophilic Crenarchaeota accounted for as much as 1.42% ± 0.42% of the 16S rRNA in the soils analyzed.
PMCID: PMC106648  PMID: 9797286
22.  Archaeal Diversity in Waters from Deep South African Gold Mines 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2001;67(12):5750-5760.
A culture-independent molecular analysis of archaeal communities in waters collected from deep South African gold mines was performed by performing a PCR-mediated terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis of rRNA genes (rDNA) in conjunction with a sequencing analysis of archaeal rDNA clone libraries. The water samples used represented various environments, including deep fissure water, mine service water, and water from an overlying dolomite aquifer. T-RFLP analysis revealed that the ribotype distribution of archaea varied with the source of water. The archaeal communities in the deep gold mine environments exhibited great phylogenetic diversity; the majority of the members were most closely related to uncultivated species. Some archaeal rDNA clones obtained from mine service water and dolomite aquifer water samples were most closely related to environmental rDNA clones from surface soil (soil clones) and marine environments (marine group I [MGI]). Other clones exhibited intermediate phylogenetic affiliation between soil clones and MGI in the Crenarchaeota. Fissure water samples, derived from active or dormant geothermal environments, yielded archaeal sequences that exhibited novel phylogeny, including a novel lineage of Euryarchaeota. These results suggest that deep South African gold mines harbor novel archaeal communities distinct from those observed in other environments. Based on the phylogenetic analysis of archaeal strains and rDNA clones, including the newly discovered archaeal rDNA clones, the evolutionary relationship and the phylogenetic organization of the domain Archaea are reevaluated.
PMCID: PMC93369  PMID: 11722932
23.  Population Structure and Phylogenetic Characterization of Marine Benthic Archaea in Deep-Sea Sediments 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1999;65(10):4375-4384.
During the past few years Archaea have been recognized as a widespread and significant component of marine picoplankton assemblages and, more recently, the presence of novel archaeal phylogenetic lineages has been reported in coastal marine benthic environments. We investigated the relative abundance, vertical distribution, phylogenetic composition, and spatial variability of Archaea in deep-sea sediments collected from several stations in the Atlantic Ocean. Quantitative oligonucleotide hybridization experiments indicated that the relative abundance of archaeal 16S rRNA in deep-sea sediments (1500 m deep) ranged from about 2.5 to 8% of the total prokaryotic rRNA. Clone libraries of PCR-amplified archaeal rRNA genes (rDNA) were constructed from 10 depth intervals obtained from sediment cores collected at depths of 1,500, 2,600, and 4,500 m. Phylogenetic analysis of rDNA sequences revealed the presence of a complex archaeal population structure, whose members could be grouped into discrete phylogenetic lineages within the two kingdoms, Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota. Comparative denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis profile analysis of archaeal 16S rDNA V3 fragments revealed a significant depth-related variability in the composition of the archaeal population.
PMCID: PMC91581  PMID: 10508063
24.  Archaeal Population Dynamics during Sequential Reduction Processes in Rice Field Soil 
The population dynamics of Archaea after flooding of an Italian rice field soil were studied over 17 days. Anoxically incubated rice field soil slurries exhibited a typical sequence of reduction processes characterized by reduction of nitrate, Fe3+, and sulfate prior to the initiation of methane production. Archaeal population dynamics were followed using a dual approach involving molecular sequence retrieval and fingerprinting of small-subunit (SSU) rRNA genes. We retrieved archaeal sequences from four clone libraries (30 each) constructed for different time points (days 0, 1, 8, and 17) after flooding of the soil. The clones could be assigned to known methanogens (i.e., Methanosarcinaceae, Methanosaetaceae, Methanomicrobiaceae, and Methanobacteriaceae) and to novel euryarchaeotal (rice clusters I, II, and III) and crenarchaeotal (rice clusters IV and VI) lineages previously detected in anoxic rice field soil and on rice roots (R. Grosskopf, S. Stubner, and W. Liesack, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 64:4983–4989, 1998). During the initiation of methanogenesis (days 0 to 17), we detected significant changes in the frequency of individual clones, especially of those affiliated with the Methanosaetaceae and Methanobacteriaceae. However, these findings could not be confirmed by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis of SSU rDNA amplicons. Most likely, the fluctuations in sequence composition of clone libraries resulted from cloning bias. Clonal SSU rRNA gene sequences were used to define operational taxonomic units (OTUs) for T-RFLP analysis, which were distinguished by group-specific TaqI restriction sites. Sequence analysis showed a high degree of conservation of TaqI restriction sites within the different archaeal lineages present in Italian rice field soil. Direct T-RFLP analysis of archaeal populations in rice field soil slurries revealed the presence of all archaeal lineages detected by cloning with a predominance of terminal restriction fragments characteristic of rice cluster I (389 bp), Methanosaetaceae (280 bp), and Methanosarcinaceae/rice cluster VI (182 bp). In general, the relative gene frequency of most detected OTUs remained rather constant over time during the first 17 days after flooding of the soil. Most minor OTUs (e.g., Methanomicrobiaceae and rice cluster III) and Methanosaetaceae did not change in relative frequency. Rice cluster I (37 to 30%) and to a lesser extent rice cluster IV as well as Methanobacteriaceae decreased over time. Only the relative abundance of Methanosarcinaceae (182 bp) increased, roughly doubling from 15 to 29% of total archaeal gene frequency within the first 11 days, which was positively correlated to the dynamics of acetate and formate concentrations. Our results indicate that a functionally dynamic ecosystem, a rice field soil after flooding, was linked to a relatively stable archaeal community structure.
PMCID: PMC92067  PMID: 10877762
25.  Metagenomics of the Deep Mediterranean, a Warm Bathypelagic Habitat 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(9):e914.
Metagenomics is emerging as a powerful method to study the function and physiology of the unexplored microbial biosphere, and is causing us to re-evaluate basic precepts of microbial ecology and evolution. Most marine metagenomic analyses have been nearly exclusively devoted to photic waters.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We constructed a metagenomic fosmid library from 3,000 m-deep Mediterranean plankton, which is much warmer (∼14°C) than waters of similar depth in open oceans (∼2°C). We analyzed the library both by phylogenetic screening based on 16S rRNA gene amplification from clone pools and by sequencing both insert extremities of ca. 5,000 fosmids. Genome recruitment strategies showed that the majority of high scoring pairs corresponded to genomes from Rhizobiales within the Alphaproteobacteria, Cenarchaeum symbiosum, Planctomycetes, Acidobacteria, Chloroflexi and Gammaproteobacteria. We have found a community structure similar to that found in the aphotic zone of the Pacific. However, the similarities were significantly higher to the mesopelagic (500–700 m deep) in the Pacific than to the single 4000 m deep sample studied at this location. Metabolic genes were mostly related to catabolism, transport and degradation of complex organic molecules, in agreement with a prevalent heterotrophic lifestyle for deep-sea microbes. However, we observed a high percentage of genes encoding dehydrogenases and, among them, cox genes, suggesting that aerobic carbon monoxide oxidation may be important in the deep ocean as an additional energy source.
The comparison of metagenomic libraries from the deep Mediterranean and the Pacific ALOHA water column showed that bathypelagic Mediterranean communities resemble more mesopelagic communities in the Pacific, and suggests that, in the absence of light, temperature is a major stratifying factor in the oceanic water column, overriding pressure at least over 4000 m deep. Several chemolithotrophic metabolic pathways could supplement organic matter degradation in this most depleted habitat.
PMCID: PMC1976395  PMID: 17878949

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