Deep-sea hydrothermal vents and methane seeps are extreme environments that have a high concentration of hydrogen sulphide. However, abundant unique invertebrates including shrimps of the family Bresiliidae have been found in such environments. The bresiliid shrimps are believed to have radiated in the Miocene (less than 20 Myr); however, the period when and the mechanisms by which they dispersed across the hydrothermal vents and cold seeps in oceans worldwide have not been clarified. In the present study, we collected the deep-sea blind shrimp Alvinocaris longirostris from the hydrothermal vent site in the Okinawa Trough and carried out the first investigation of the 18S rRNA gene of a bresiliid shrimp. The phylogenetic analysis revealed that the bresiliid shrimp is situated at an intermediate lineage within the infraorder Caridea and shows monophyly with palaemonid shrimps, which live in shallow sea and freshwater. Furthermore, the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene sequences were analysed to determine the phylogenetic relationship with known bresiliid shrimps. A. longirostris of the Okinawa Trough had two haplotypes of the COI gene, one of which was identical to the Alvinocaris sp. of the cold seeps in Sagami Bay. These results indicate that a long-distance dispersal of A. longirostris occurred possibly within the last 100 000 years.
dispersal; hydrothermal vent; water current; phylogeny; Bresiliidae Alvinocarididae
The Mid-Cayman spreading centre is an ultraslow-spreading ridge in the Caribbean Sea. Its extreme depth and geographic isolation from other mid-ocean ridges offer insights into the effects of pressure on hydrothermal venting, and the biogeography of vent fauna. Here we report the discovery of two hydrothermal vent fields on the Mid-Cayman spreading centre. The Von Damm Vent Field is located on the upper slopes of an oceanic core complex at a depth of 2,300 m. High-temperature venting in this off-axis setting suggests that the global incidence of vent fields may be underestimated. At a depth of 4,960 m on the Mid-Cayman spreading centre axis, the Beebe Vent Field emits copper-enriched fluids and a buoyant plume that rises 1,100 m, consistent with >400 °C venting from the world's deepest known hydrothermal system. At both sites, a new morphospecies of alvinocaridid shrimp dominates faunal assemblages, which exhibit similarities to those of Mid-Atlantic vents.
The Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre is an ultraslow-spreading mid-ocean ridge in the Caribbean. This study reveals two hydrothermal vent fields on the ridge, including high-temperature vents on an off-axis oceanic core complex where, similar to Mid-Atlantic vents, an alvinocaridid shrimp is common at both vent fields.
Submarine hydrothermal vents above serpentinite produce chemical potential gradients of aqueous and ionic hydrogen, thus providing a very attractive venue for the origin of life. This environment was most favourable before Earth's massive CO2 atmosphere was subducted into the mantle, which occurred tens to approximately 100 Myr after the moon-forming impact; thermophile to clement conditions persisted for several million years while atmospheric pCO2 dropped from approximately 25 bar to below 1 bar. The ocean was weakly acid (pH ∼ 6), and a large pH gradient existed for nascent life with pH 9–11 fluids venting from serpentinite on the seafloor. Total CO2 in water was significant so the vent environment was not carbon limited. Biologically important phosphate and Fe(II) were somewhat soluble during this period, which occurred well before the earliest record of preserved surface rocks approximately 3.8 billion years ago (Ga) when photosynthetic life teemed on the Earth and the oceanic pH was the modern value of approximately 8. Serpentinite existed by 3.9 Ga, but older rocks that might retain evidence of its presence have not been found. Earth's sequesters extensive evidence of Archaean and younger subducted biological material, but has yet to be exploited for the Hadean record.
RNA world; origin of life; Hadean; Archaean; anoxygenic photosynthesis; serpentine
One of the greatest puzzles of all time is how did life arise? It has been universally presumed that life arose in a soup rich in carbon compounds, but from where did these organic molecules come? In this article, I will review proposed terrestrial sources of prebiotic organic molecules, such as Miller–Urey synthesis (including how they would depend on the oxidation state of the atmosphere) and hydrothermal vents and also input from space. While the former is perhaps better known and more commonly taught in school, we now know that comet and asteroid dust deliver tons of organics to the Earth every day, therefore this flux of reduced carbon from space probably also played a role in making the Earth habitable. We will compare and contrast the types and abundances of organics from on and off the Earth given standard assumptions. Perhaps each process provided specific compounds (amino acids, sugars, amphiphiles) that were directly related to the origin or early evolution of life. In any case, whether planetary, nebular or interstellar, we will consider how one might attempt to distinguish between abiotic organic molecules from actual signs of life as part of a robotic search for life in the Solar System.
prebiotic chemistry; exogenous delivery; endogenous synthesis; impact; hydrothermal vents; IDP (interplanetary dust particle)
All life is organized as cells. Physical compartmentation from the environment and self-organization of self-contained redox reactions are the most conserved attributes of living things, hence inorganic matter with such attributes would be life's most likely forebear. We propose that life evolved in structured iron monosulphide precipitates in a seepage site hydrothermal mound at a redox, pH and temperature gradient between sulphide-rich hydrothermal fluid and iron(II)-containing waters of the Hadean ocean floor. The naturally arising, three-dimensional compartmentation observed within fossilized seepage-site metal sulphide precipitates indicates that these inorganic compartments were the precursors of cell walls and membranes found in free-living prokaryotes. The known capability of FeS and NiS to catalyse the synthesis of the acetyl-methylsulphide from carbon monoxide and methylsulphide, constituents of hydrothermal fluid, indicates that pre-biotic syntheses occurred at the inner surfaces of these metal-sulphide-walled compartments, which furthermore restrained reacted products from diffusion into the ocean, providing sufficient concentrations of reactants to forge the transition from geochemistry to biochemistry. The chemistry of what is known as the RNA-world could have taken place within these naturally forming, catalyticwalled compartments to give rise to replicating systems. Sufficient concentrations of precursors to support replication would have been synthesized in situ geochemically and biogeochemically, with FeS (and NiS) centres playing the central catalytic role. The universal ancestor we infer was not a free-living cell, but rather was confined to the naturally chemiosmotic, FeS compartments within which the synthesis of its constituents occurred. The first free-living cells are suggested to have been eubacterial and archaebacterial chemoautotrophs that emerged more than 3.8 Gyr ago from their inorganic confines. We propose that the emergence of these prokaryotic lineages from inorganic confines occurred independently, facilitated by the independent origins of membrane-lipid biosynthesis: isoprenoid ether membranes in the archaebacterial and fatty acid ester membranes in the eubacterial lineage. The eukaryotes, all of which are ancestrally heterotrophs and possess eubacterial lipids, are suggested to have arisen ca. 2 Gyr ago through symbiosis involving an autotrophic archaebacterial host and a heterotrophic eubacterial symbiont, the common ancestor of mitochondria and hydrogenosomes. The attributes shared by all prokaryotes are viewed as inheritances from their confined universal ancestor. The attributes that distinguish eubacteria and archaebacteria, yet are uniform within the groups, are viewed as relics of their phase of differentiation after divergence from the non-free-living universal ancestor and before the origin of the free-living chemoautotrophic lifestyle. The attributes shared by eukaryotes with eubacteria and archaebacteria, respectively, are viewed as inheritances via symbiosis. The attributes unique to eukaryotes are viewed as inventions specific to their lineage. The origin of the eukaryotic endomembrane system and nuclear membrane are suggested to be the fortuitous result of the expression of genes for eubacterial membrane lipid synthesis by an archaebacterial genetic apparatus in a compartment that was not fully prepared to accommodate such compounds, resulting in vesicles of eubacterial lipids that accumulated in the cytosol around their site of synthesis. Under these premises, the most ancient divide in the living world is that between eubacteria and archaebacteria, yet the steepest evolutionary grade is that between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
Zoothamnium niveum is a giant, colonial marine ciliate from sulfide-rich habitats obligatorily covered with chemoautotrophic, sulfide-oxidizing bacteria which appear as coccoid rods and rods with a series of intermediate shapes. Comparative 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis and fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that the ectosymbiont of Z. niveum belongs to only one pleomorphic phylotype. The Z. niveum ectosymbiont is only moderately related to previously identified groups of thiotrophic symbionts within the Gammaproteobacteria, and shows highest 16S rRNA sequence similarity with the free-living sulfur-oxidizing bacterial strain ODIII6 from shallow-water hydrothermal vents of the Mediterranean Sea (94.5%) and an endosymbiont from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent gastropod of the Indian Ocean Ridge (93.1%). A replacement of this specific ectosymbiont by a variety of other bacteria was observed only for senescent basal parts of the host colonies. The taxonomic status “Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli” is proposed for the ectosymbiont of Z. niveum based on its ultrastructure, its 16S rRNA gene, the intergenic spacer region, and its partial 23S rRNA gene sequence.
The complexity of the problem of the origin of life has spawned a large number of possible evolutionary scenarios. Their number, however, can be dramatically reduced by the simultaneous consideration of various bioenergetic, physical, and geological constraints.
This work puts forward an evolutionary scenario that satisfies the known constraints by proposing that life on Earth emerged, powered by UV-rich solar radiation, at photosynthetically active porous edifices made of precipitated zinc sulfide (ZnS) similar to those found around modern deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Under the high pressure of the primeval, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere ZnS could precipitate at the surface of the first continents, within reach of solar light. It is suggested that the ZnS surfaces (1) used the solar radiation to drive carbon dioxide reduction, yielding the building blocks for the first biopolymers, (2) served as templates for the synthesis of longer biopolymers from simpler building blocks, and (3) prevented the first biopolymers from photo-dissociation, by absorbing from them the excess radiation. In addition, the UV light may have favoured the selective enrichment of photostable, RNA-like polymers. Falsification tests of this hypothesis are described in the accompanying article (A.Y. Mulkidjanian, M.Y. Galperin, Biology Direct 2009, 4:27).
The suggested "Zn world" scenario identifies the geological conditions under which photosynthesizing ZnS edifices of hydrothermal origin could emerge and persist on primordial Earth, includes a mechanism of the transient storage and utilization of solar light for the production of diverse organic compounds, and identifies the driving forces and selective factors that could have promoted the transition from the first simple, photostable polymers to more complex living organisms.
This paper was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Simon Silver (nominated by Arcady Mushegian), Antoine Danchin (nominated by Eugene Koonin) and Dieter Braun (nominated by Sergey Maslov).
Deep sea hydrothermal vents are located along the mid-ocean ridge system, near volcanically active areas, where tectonic plates are moving away from each other. Sea water penetrates the fissures of the volcanic bed and is heated by magma. This heated sea water rises to the surface dissolving large amounts of minerals which provide a source of energy and nutrients to chemoautotrophic organisms. Although this environment is characterized by extreme conditions (high temperature, high pressure, chemical toxicity, acidic pH and absence of photosynthesis) a diversity of microorganisms and many animal species are specially adapted to this hostile environment. These organisms have developed a very efficient metabolism for the assimilation of inorganic CO2 from the external environment. In order to develop technology for the capture of carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, enzymes involved in CO2 fixation and assimilation might be very useful. This review describes some current research concerning CO2 fixation and assimilation in the deep sea environment and possible biotechnological application of enzymes for carbon dioxide capture.
deep sea hydrothermal vents; carbon dioxide; fixation; assimilation; capturing enzyme
Microbial oxidation and precipitation of manganese at deep-sea hydrothermal vents are important oceanic biogeochemical processes, yet nothing is known about the types of microorganisms or mechanisms involved. Here we report isolation of a number of diverse spore-forming Mn(II)-oxidizing Bacillus species from Guaymas Basin, a deep-sea hydrothermal vent environment in the Gulf of California, where rapid microbially mediated Mn(II) oxidation was previously observed. mnxG multicopper oxidase genes involved in Mn(II) oxidation were amplified from all Mn(II)-oxidizing Bacillus spores isolated, suggesting that a copper-mediated mechanism of Mn(II) oxidation could be important at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA and mnxG genes revealed that while many of the deep-sea Mn(II)-oxidizing Bacillus species are very closely related to previously recognized isolates from coastal sediments, other organisms represent novel strains and clusters. The growth and Mn(II) oxidation properties of these Bacillus species suggest that in hydrothermal sediments they are likely present as spores that are active in oxidizing Mn(II) as it emerges from the seafloor.
Chemosynthetic primary production by microbes supports abundant faunal assemblages at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, with zonation of invertebrate species typically occurring along physico-chemical gradients. Recently discovered vent fields on the East Scotia Ridge (ESR) in the Southern Ocean represent a new province of vent biogeography, but the spatial dynamics of their distinct fauna have yet to be elucidated. This study determines patterns of faunal zonation, species associations, and relationships between faunal microdistribution and hydrothermal activity in a vent field at a depth of 2,400 m on the ESR. Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives obtained high-definition imagery of three chimney structures with varying levels of hydrothermal activity, and a mosaic image of >250 m2 of seafloor co-registered with temperature measurements. Analysis of faunal microdistribution within the mosaiced seafloor reveals a consistent pattern of faunal zonation with increasing distance from vent sources and peak temperatures. Assemblages closest to vent sources are visibly dominated by a new species of anomuran crab, Kiwa n. sp. (abundance >700 individuals m−2), followed by a peltospiroid gastropod (>1,500 individuals m−2), eolepadid barnacle (>1,500 individuals m−2), and carnivorous actinostolid anemone (>30 individuals m−2). Peripheral fauna are not dominated by a single taxon, but include predatory and scavenger taxa such as stichasterid seastars, pycnogonids and octopus. Variation in faunal microdistribution on chimneys with differing levels of activity suggests a possible successional sequence for vent fauna in this new biogeographic province. An increase in δ34S values of primary consumers with distance from vent sources, and variation in their δ13C values also indicate possible zonation of nutritional modes of the vent fauna. By using ROV videography to obtain a high-resolution representation of a vent environment over a greater extent than previous studies, these results provide a baseline for determining temporal change and investigations of processes structuring faunal assemblages at Southern Ocean vents.
A survey of Antarctic waters along the East Scotia Ridge in the Southern Ocean reveals a new vent biogeographic province among previously uncharacterized deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities.
Since the first discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents along the Galápagos Rift in 1977, numerous vent sites and endemic faunal assemblages have been found along mid-ocean ridges and back-arc basins at low to mid latitudes. These discoveries have suggested the existence of separate biogeographic provinces in the Atlantic and the North West Pacific, the existence of a province including the South West Pacific and Indian Ocean, and a separation of the North East Pacific, North East Pacific Rise, and South East Pacific Rise. The Southern Ocean is known to be a region of high deep-sea species diversity and centre of origin for the global deep-sea fauna. It has also been proposed as a gateway connecting hydrothermal vents in different oceans but is little explored because of extreme conditions. Since 2009 we have explored two segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR) in the Southern Ocean using a remotely operated vehicle. In each segment we located deep-sea hydrothermal vents hosting high-temperature black smokers up to 382.8°C and diffuse venting. The chemosynthetic ecosystems hosted by these vents are dominated by a new yeti crab (Kiwa n. sp.), stalked barnacles, limpets, peltospiroid gastropods, anemones, and a predatory sea star. Taxa abundant in vent ecosystems in other oceans, including polychaete worms (Siboglinidae), bathymodiolid mussels, and alvinocaridid shrimps, are absent from the ESR vents. These groups, except the Siboglinidae, possess planktotrophic larvae, rare in Antarctic marine invertebrates, suggesting that the environmental conditions of the Southern Ocean may act as a dispersal filter for vent taxa. Evidence from the distinctive fauna, the unique community structure, and multivariate analyses suggest that the Antarctic vent ecosystems represent a new vent biogeographic province. However, multivariate analyses of species present at the ESR and at other deep-sea hydrothermal vents globally indicate that vent biogeography is more complex than previously recognised.
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents are mainly associated with seafloor spreading at mid-ocean ridges and in basins near volcanic island arcs. They host animals found nowhere else that derive their energy not from the sun but from bacterial oxidation of chemicals in the vent fluids, particularly hydrogen sulphide. Hydrothermal vents and their communities of organisms have become important models for understanding the origins and limits of life as well as evolution of island-like communities in the deep ocean. We describe the fauna associated with high-temperature hydrothermal vents on the East Scotia Ridge, Southern Ocean, to our knowledge the first to be discovered in Antarctic waters. These communities are dominated by a new species of yeti crab, stalked barnacles, limpets and snails, sea anemones, and a predatory seven-armed starfish. Animals commonly found in hydrothermal vents of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, including giant Riftia tubeworms, annelid worms, vent mussels, vent crabs, and vent shrimps, were not present at the Southern Ocean vents. These discoveries suggest that the environmental conditions of the Southern Ocean may act as a barrier to some vent animals and that the East Scotia Ridge communities form a new biogeographic province with a unique species composition and structure.
The banded iron formation deposited during the first 2 billion years of Earth's history holds the key to understanding the interplay between the geosphere and the early biosphere at large geological timescales. The earliest ore-scale phosphorite depositions formed almost at ∼2.0–2.2 billion years ago bear evidence for the earliest bloom of aerobic life. The cycling of nutrient phosphorus and how it constrained primary productivity in the anaerobic world of Archean–Palaeoproterozoic eons are still open questions. The controversy centers about whether the precipitation of ultrafine ferric oxyhydroxide due to the microbial Fe(II) oxidation in oceans earlier than 1.9 billion years substantially sequestrated phosphate, and whether this process significantly limited the primary productivity of the early biosphere. In this study, we report apatite radial flowers of a few micrometers in the 2728 million-year-old Abitibi banded iron formation and the 2460 million-year-old Kuruman banded iron formation and their similarities to those in the 535 million-year-old Lower Cambrian phosphorite. The lithology of the 535 Million-year-old phosphorite as a biosignature bears abundant biomarkers that reveal the possible similar biogeochemical cycling of phosphorus in the Later Archean and Palaeoproterozoic oceans. These apatite radial flowers represent the primary precipitation of phosphate derived from the phytoplankton blooms in the euphotic zones of Neoarchean and Palaoeproterozoic oceans. The unbiased distributions of the apatite radial flowers within sub-millimeter bands do not support the idea of an Archean Crisis of Phosphate. This is the first report of the microbial mediated mineralization of phosphorus before the Great Oxidation Event when the whole biosphere was still dominated by anaerobic microorganisms.
Banded iron formation; great oxidation event; iron oxide; phosphate; Precambrian; primary productivity
The subseafloor microbial habitat associated with typical unsedimented mid-ocean-ridge hydrothermal vent ecosystems may be limited by the availability of fixed nitrogen, inferred by the low ammonium and nitrate concentrations measured in diffuse hydrothermal fluid. Dissolved N2 gas, the largest reservoir of nitrogen in the ocean, is abundant in deep-sea and hydrothermal vent fluid. In order to test the hypothesis that biological nitrogen fixation plays an important role in nitrogen cycling in the subseafloor associated with unsedimented hydrothermal vents, degenerate PCR primers were designed to amplify the nitrogenase iron protein gene nifH from hydrothermal vent fluid. A total of 120 nifH sequences were obtained from four samples: a nitrogen-poor diffuse vent named marker 33 on Axial Volcano, sampled twice over a period of 1 year as its temperature decreased; a nitrogen-rich diffuse vent near Puffer on Endeavour Segment; and deep seawater with no detectable hydrothermal plume signal. Subseafloor nifH genes from marker 33 and Puffer are related to anaerobic clostridia and sulfate reducers. Other nifH genes unique to the vent samples include proteobacteria and divergent Archaea. All of the nifH genes from the deep-seawater sample are most closely related to the thermophilic, anaerobic archaeon Methanococcus thermolithotrophicus (77 to 83% amino acid similarity). These results provide the first genetic evidence of potential nitrogen fixers in hydrothermal vent environments and indicate that at least two sources contribute to the diverse assemblage of nifH genes detected in hydrothermal vent fluid: nifH genes from an anaerobic, hot subseafloor and nifH genes from cold, oxygenated deep seawater.
Summary: The majority of life on Earth—notably, microbial life—occurs in places that do not receive sunlight, with the habitats of the oceans being the largest of these reservoirs. Sunlight penetrates only a few tens to hundreds of meters into the ocean, resulting in large-scale microbial ecosystems that function in the dark. Our knowledge of microbial processes in the dark ocean—the aphotic pelagic ocean, sediments, oceanic crust, hydrothermal vents, etc.—has increased substantially in recent decades. Studies that try to decipher the activity of microorganisms in the dark ocean, where we cannot easily observe them, are yielding paradigm-shifting discoveries that are fundamentally changing our understanding of the role of the dark ocean in the global Earth system and its biogeochemical cycles. New generations of researchers and experimental tools have emerged, in the last decade in particular, owing to dedicated research programs to explore the dark ocean biosphere. This review focuses on our current understanding of microbiology in the dark ocean, outlining salient features of various habitats and discussing known and still unexplored types of microbial metabolism and their consequences in global biogeochemical cycling. We also focus on patterns of microbial diversity in the dark ocean and on processes and communities that are characteristic of the different habitats.
Viruses are ubiquitous in the oceans and critical components of marine microbial communities, regulating nutrient transfer to higher trophic levels or to the dissolved organic pool through lysis of host cells. Hydrothermal vent systems are oases of biological activity in the deep oceans, for which knowledge of biodiversity and its impact on global ocean biogeochemical cycling is still in its infancy. In order to gain biological insight into viral communities present in hydrothermal vent systems, we developed a method based on deep-sequencing of pulsed field gel electrophoretic bands representing key viral fractions present in seawater within and surrounding a hydrothermal plume derived from Loki's Castle vent field at the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge. The reduction in virus community complexity afforded by this novel approach enabled the near-complete reconstruction of a lambda-like phage genome from the virus fraction of the plume. Phylogenetic examination of distinct gene regions in this lambdoid phage genome unveiled diversity at loci encoding superinfection exclusion- and integrase-like proteins. This suggests the importance of fine-tuning lyosgenic conversion as a viral survival strategy, and provides insights into the nature of host-virus and virus-virus interactions, within hydrothermal plumes. By reducing the complexity of the viral community through targeted sequencing of prominent dsDNA viral fractions, this method has selectively mimicked virus dominance approaching that hitherto achieved only through culturing, thus enabling bioinformatic analysis to locate a lambdoid viral “needle" within the greater viral community “haystack". Such targeted analyses have great potential for accelerating the extraction of biological knowledge from diverse and poorly understood environmental viral communities.
Summary: We have developed a general scenario of prebiotic physicochemical evolution during the Earth's Hadean eon and reviewed the relevant literature. We suggest that prebiotic chemical evolution started in microspaces with membranous walls, where external temperature and osmotic gradients were coupled to free-energy gradients of potential chemical reactions. The key feature of this scenario is the onset of an emergent evolutionary transition within the microspaces that is described by the model of complex vectorial chemistry. This transition occurs at average macromolecular crowding of 20 to 30% of the cell volume, when the ranges of action of stabilizing colloidal forces (screened electrostatic forces, hydration, and excluded volume forces) become commensurate. Under these conditions, the macromolecules divide the interior of microspaces into dynamically crowded macromolecular regions and topologically complementary electrolyte pools. Small ions and ionic metabolites are transported vectorially between the electrolyte pools and through the (semiconducting) electrolyte pathways of the crowded macromolecular regions from their high electrochemical potential (where they are biochemically produced) to their lower electrochemical potential (where they are consumed). We suggest a sequence of tentative transitions between major evolutionary periods during the Hadean eon as follows: (i) the early water world, (ii) the appearance of land masses, (iii) the pre-RNA world, (iv) the onset of complex vectorial chemistry, and (v) the RNA world and evolution toward Darwinian thresholds. We stress the importance of high ionic strength of the Hadean ocean (short Debye's lengths) and screened electrostatic interactions that enabled the onset of the vectorial structure of the cytoplasm and the possibility of life's emergence.
Three distinct physiological types of sulfur-oxidizing bacteria were enriched and isolated from samples collected at several deep-sea hydrothermal vents (2,550 m) of the Galapagos Rift ocean floor spreading center. Twelve strains of the obligately chemolithotrophic genus Thiomicrospira were obtained from venting water and from microbial mats covering surfaces in the immediate vicinity of the vents. From these and other sources two types of obligately heterotrophic sulfur oxidizers were repeatedly isolated that presumably oxidized thiosulfate either to sulfate (acid producing; 9 strains) or to polythionates (base producing; 74 strains). The former were thiobacilli-like, exhibiting a thiosulfate-stimulated increase in growth and CO2 incorporation, whereas the latter were similar to previously encountered pseudomonad-like heterotrophs. The presence of chemolithotrophic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria in the sulfide-containing hydrothermal water supports the hypothesis that chemosynthesis provides a substantial primary food source for the rich populations of invertebrates found in the immediate vicinity of the vents.
Deep-sea hydrothermal ecosystems are considered oases of life in oceans. Since the discovery of these ecosystems in the late 1970s, many endemic species of Bacteria, Archaea, and other organisms, such as annelids and crabs, have been described. Considerable knowledge has been acquired about the diversity of (micro)organisms in these ecosystems, but the diversity of fungi has not been studied to date. These organisms are considered key organisms in terrestrial ecosystems because of their ecological functions and especially their ability to degrade organic matter. The lack of knowledge about them in the sea reflects the widely held belief that fungi are terrestrial organisms. The first inventory of such organisms in deep-sea hydrothermal environments was obtained in this study. Fungal diversity was investigated by analyzing the small-subunit rRNA gene sequences amplified by culture-independent PCR using DNA extracts from hydrothermal samples and from a culture collection that was established. Our work revealed an unsuspected diversity of species in three of the five fungal phyla. We found a new branch of Chytridiomycota forming an ancient evolutionary lineage. Many of the species identified are unknown, even at higher taxonomic levels in the Chytridiomycota, Ascomycota, and Basidiomycota. This work opens the way to new studies of the diversity, ecology, and physiology of fungi in oceans and might stimulate new prospecting for biomolecules. From an evolutionary point of view, the diversification of fungi in the oceans can no longer be ignored.
A recent study has demonstrated that deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic have rich and unusual animal communities. This discovery highlights the importance of the Antarctic benthos for biological understanding.
The diversity of many marine benthic groups is unlike that of most other taxa. Rather than declining from the tropics to the poles, much of the benthos shows high diversity in the Southern Ocean. Moreover, many species are unique to the Antarctic region. Recent work has shown that this is also true of the communities of Antarctic deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Vent ecosystems have been documented from many sites across the globe, associated with the thermally and chemically variable habitats found around these, typically high temperature, streams that are rich in reduced compounds and polymetallic sulphides. The animal communities of the East Scotia Ridge vent ecosystems are very different to those elsewhere, though the microbiota, which form the basis of vent food webs, show less differentiation. Much of the biological significance of deep-sea hydrothermal vents lies in their biodiversity, the diverse biochemistry of their bacteria, the remarkable symbioses among many of the marine animals and these bacteria, and the prospects that investigations of these systems hold for understanding the conditions that may have led to the first appearance of life. The discovery of diverse and unusual Antarctic hydrothermal vent ecosystems provides opportunities for new understanding in these fields. Moreover, the Antarctic vents south of 60°S benefit from automatic conservation under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Antarctic Treaty. Other deep-sea hydrothermal vents located in international waters are not protected and may be threatened by growing interests in deep-sea mining.
Indian Ocean hydrothermal vents are believed to represent a novel biogeographic province, and are host to many novel genera and families of animals, potentially indigenous to Indian Ocean hydrothermal systems. In particular, since its discovery in 2001, much attention has been paid to a so-called ‘scaly-foot’ gastropod because of its unique iron-sulfide-coated dermal sclerites and the chemosynthetic symbioses in its various tissues. Despite increasing interest in the faunal assemblages at Indian Ocean hydrothermal vents, only two hydrothermal vent fields have been investigated in the Indian Ocean. Here we report two newly discovered hydrothermal vent fields, the Dodo and Solitaire fields, which are located in the Central Indian Ridge (CIR) segments 16 and 15, respectively. Chemosynthetic faunal communities at the Dodo field are emaciated in size and composition. In contrast, at the Solitaire field, we observed faunal communities that potentially contained almost all genera found at CIR hydrothermal environments to date, and even identified previously unreported taxa. Moreover, a new morphotype of ‘scaly-foot’ gastropod has been found at the Solitaire field. The newly discovered ‘scaly-foot’ gastropod has similar morphological and anatomical features to the previously reported type that inhabits the Kairei field, and both types of ‘scaly-foot’ gastropods genetically belong to the same species according to analyses of their COI gene and nuclear SSU rRNA gene sequences. However, the new morphotype completely lacks an iron-sulfide coating on the sclerites, which had been believed to be a novel feature restricted to ‘scaly-foot’ gastropods. Our new findings at the two newly discovered hydrothermal vent sites provide important insights into the biodiversity and biogeography of vent-endemic ecosystems in the Indian Ocean.
Transform faults are geological structures that interrupt the continuity of mid-ocean ridges and can act as dispersal barriers for hydrothermal vent organisms. In the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, it has been hypothesized that long transform faults impede gene flow between the northern and the southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) and disconnect a northern from a southern biogeographic province. To test if there is a barrier effect in the equatorial Atlantic, we examined phylogenetic relationships of chemosynthetic bivalves and their bacterial symbionts from the recently discovered southern MAR hydrothermal vents at 5°S and 9°S. We examined Bathymodiolus spp. mussels and Abyssogena southwardae clams using the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene as a phylogenetic marker for the hosts and the bacterial 16S rRNA gene as a marker for the symbionts. Bathymodiolus spp. from the two southern sites were genetically divergent from the northern MAR species B. azoricus and B. puteoserpentis but all four host lineages form a monophyletic group indicating that they radiated after divergence from their northern Atlantic sister group, the B. boomerang species complex. This suggests dispersal of Bathymodiolus species from north to south across the equatorial belt. 16S rRNA genealogies of chemoautotrophic and methanotrophic symbionts of Bathymodiolus spp. were inconsistent and did not match the host COI genealogy indicating disconnected biogeography patterns. The vesicomyid clam Abyssogena southwardae from 5°S shared an identical COI haplotype with A. southwardae from the Logatchev vent field on the northern MAR and their symbionts shared identical 16S phylotypes, suggesting gene flow across the Equator. Our results indicate genetic connectivity between the northern and southern MAR and suggest that a strict dispersal barrier does not exist.
An obligately anaerobic spirochete, designated strain GS-2, was selectively isolated from samples collected at a deep-sea (2,550 m) hydrothermal vent of the Galapagos Rift ocean floor spreading center. The morphological and physiological characteristics of strain GS-2 resembled those of Spirochaeta strains. However, strain GS-2 failed to grow consistently in any liquid medium tested. In addition, strain GS-2 grew more slowly and to lower yields than other Spirochaeta species. The occurrence of obligately anaerobic bacteria in hydrothermal vents indicates that the water in at least some of the vent areas is anoxic. The presence of strain GS-2 shows that these areas are favorable for anaerobic marine spirochetes.
It is still not clear how prebiotic replicators evolved towards the complexity found in present day organisms. Within the most realistic scenario for prebiotic evolution, known as the RNA world hypothesis, such complexity has arisen from replicators consisting solely of RNA. Within contemporary life, remarkably many RNAs are involved in modifying other RNAs. In hindsight, such RNA-RNA modification might have helped in alleviating the limits of complexity posed by the information threshold for RNA-only replicators. Here we study the possible role of such self-modification in early evolution, by modeling the evolution of protocells as evolving replicators, which have the opportunity to incorporate these mechanisms as a molecular tool. Evolution is studied towards a set of 25 arbitrary ‘functional’ structures, while avoiding all other (misfolded) structures, which are considered to be toxic and increase the death-rate of a protocell. The modeled protocells contain a genotype of different RNA-sequences while their phenotype is the ensemble of secondary structures they can potentially produce from these RNA-sequences. One of the secondary structures explicitly codes for a simple sequence-modification tool. This ‘RNA-adapter’ can block certain positions on other RNA-sequences through antisense base-pairing. The altered sequence can produce an alternative secondary structure, which may or may not be functional. We show that the modifying potential of interacting RNA-sequences enables these protocells to evolve high fitness under high mutation rates. Moreover, our model shows that because of toxicity of misfolded molecules, redundant coding impedes the evolution of self-modification machinery, in effect restraining the evolvability of coding structures. Hence, high mutation rates can actually promote the evolution of complex coding structures by reducing redundant coding. Protocells can successfully use RNA-adapters to modify their genotype-phenotype mapping in order to enhance the coding capacity of their genome and fit more information on smaller sized genomes.
Hydrothermal chimneys are a globally dispersed habitat on the seafloor associated with mid-ocean ridge (MOR) spreading centers. Active, hot, venting sulfide structures from MORs have been examined for microbial diversity and ecology since their discovery in the mid-1970s, and recent work has also begun to explore the microbiology of inactive sulfides—structures that persist for decades to millennia and form moderate to massive deposits at and below the seafloor. Here we used tag pyrosequencing of the V6 region of the 16S rRNA and full-length 16S rRNA sequencing on inactive hydrothermal sulfide chimney samples from 9°N on the East Pacific Rise to learn their bacterial composition, metabolic potential, and succession from venting to nonventing (inactive) regimes. Alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gammaproteobacteria and members of the phylum Bacteroidetes dominate all inactive sulfides. Greater than 26% of the V6 tags obtained are closely related to lineages involved in sulfur, nitrogen, iron, and methane cycling. Epsilonproteobacteria represent <4% of the V6 tags recovered from inactive sulfides and 15% of the full-length clones, despite their high abundance in active chimneys. Members of the phylum Aquificae, which are common in active vents, were absent from both the V6 tags and full-length 16S rRNA data sets. In both analyses, the proportions of alphaproteobacteria, betaproteobacteria, and members of the phylum Bacteroidetes were greater than those found on active hydrothermal sulfides. These shifts in bacterial population structure on inactive chimneys reveal ecological succession following cessation of venting and also imply a potential shift in microbial activity and metabolic guilds on hydrothermal sulfides, the dominant biome that results from seafloor venting.
Hydrothermal chimneys are globally dispersed seafloor habitats associated with mid-ocean ridge spreading centers. Active, hot, venting chimneys have been examined for microbial ecology since their discovery in the late 1970s, but the microbiology of inactive chimneys, which may persist for thousands of years, has only recently been explored. We studied bacterial diversity on inactive hydrothermal sulfide chimney samples from 9°N on the East Pacific Rise to learn their bacterial community composition, potential ecological roles, and succession from active venting to inactive chimneys. Many bacteria on inactive sulfide chimneys are closely related to lineages involved in sulfur, nitrogen, iron, and methane cycling, and two common groups found on active chimneys are nearly absent from inactive vents, where they were replaced by groups likely involved in the elemental cycling mentioned above. Our findings reveal that ecological succession occurs on hydrothermal sulfides after active venting ceases and also imply a potential shift in microbial metabolic guilds.
Many of the properties of bilayer membranes composed of simple single-chain amphiphiles seem to be well-suited for a potential role as primitive cell membranes. However, the spontaneous formation of membranes from such amphiphiles is a concentration-dependent process in which a significant critical aggregate concentration (cac) must be reached. Since most scenarios for the prebiotic synthesis of fatty acids and related amphiphiles would result in dilute solutions well below the cac, the identification of mechanisms that would lead to increased local amphiphile concentrations is an important aspect of defining reasonable conditions for the origin of cellular life. Narrow, vertically oriented channels within the mineral precipitates of hydrothermal vent towers have previously been proposed to act as natural Clusius−Dickel thermal diffusion columns, in which a strong transverse thermal gradient concentrates dilute molecules through the coupling of thermophoresis and convection. Here we experimentally demonstrate that a microcapillary acting as a thermal diffusion column can concentrate a solution of oleic acid. Upon concentration, self-assembly of large vesicles occurs in regions where the cac is exceeded. We detected vesicle formation by fluorescence microscopy of encapsulated dye cargoes, which simultaneously concentrated in our channels. Our findings suggest a novel means by which simple physical processes could have led to the spontaneous formation of cell-like structures from a dilute prebiotic reservoir.