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1.  Ecology and evolution of viruses infecting uncultivated SUP05 bacteria as revealed by single-cell- and meta-genomics 
eLife  2014;3:e03125.
Viruses modulate microbial communities and alter ecosystem functions. However, due to cultivation bottlenecks, specific virus–host interaction dynamics remain cryptic. In this study, we examined 127 single-cell amplified genomes (SAGs) from uncultivated SUP05 bacteria isolated from a model marine oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) to identify 69 viral contigs representing five new genera within dsDNA Caudovirales and ssDNA Microviridae. Infection frequencies suggest that ∼1/3 of SUP05 bacteria is viral-infected, with higher infection frequency where oxygen-deficiency was most severe. Observed Microviridae clonality suggests recovery of bloom-terminating viruses, while systematic co-infection between dsDNA and ssDNA viruses posits previously unrecognized cooperation modes. Analyses of 186 microbial and viral metagenomes revealed that SUP05 viruses persisted for years, but remained endemic to the OMZ. Finally, identification of virus-encoded dissimilatory sulfite reductase suggests SUP05 viruses reprogram their host's energy metabolism. Together, these results demonstrate closely coupled SUP05 virus–host co-evolutionary dynamics with the potential to modulate biogeochemical cycling in climate-critical and expanding OMZs.
eLife digest
Microorganisms help to drive a number of processes that recycle energy and nutrients, including elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, around the Earth's ecosystems. Viruses that infect microbes can also affect these cycles by killing and breaking open microbial cells, or by reprogramming the cell's metabolism. However, as there are many different species of microbes and viruses —the vast majority of which cannot easily be grown in the laboratory— little is known about most virus–host interactions in natural ecosystems, especially in the oceans.
In the world's oceans, the concentration of oxygen dissolved in the water changes in different regions and at different depths. ‘Oxygen minimum zones’ occur globally throughout the oceans at depths of 200–1000 meters, and climate change is causing these zones to expand and intensify. Although a lack of oxygen is sometimes considered detrimental to living organisms, oxygen minimum zones appear to be rich with microbial life that is adapted to thrive under oxygen-starved conditions.
Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are one of the most abundant groups of microbes in these oxygen minimum zones, and several of these bacteria are known to influence the recycling of chemical substances. Now, Roux et al. introduce a new method to identify viruses that infect the microbes in this environment, including those microbes that cannot be grown in the laboratory and which have previously remained largely unexplored.
The genomes of 127 individual bacterial cells —collected from an oxygen minimum zone in western Canada— were examined. Roux et al. estimate that about a third of the sulfur-oxidizing bacterial cells are infected by at least one virus, but often multiple viruses infected the same bacterium. Five new genera (groups of one or more species) of viruses were also discovered and found to infect these bacteria. Looking for these new viral sequences in the DNA of this oxygen minimum zone's microbial community revealed that these newly discovered viruses persist in this region over several years. It also revealed that these viruses appear to only be found within the oxygen minimum zone. Roux et al. uncovered that these viruses carry genes that could manipulate how an infected bacterium processes sulfur-containing compounds; this is similar to previous observations showing that other viruses also influence cellular process (such as photosynthesis) in infected bacteria. As such, these newly discovered viruses might also influence the recycling of chemical elements within oxygen minimum zones.
Together, Roux et al.'s findings provide an unprecedented look into a wild virus community using a method that can be generalized to uncover viruses in a data type that is quickly becoming more widespread: single cell genomes. This effort to understand virus–host interactions by looking in the genomes of individual cells now sets the stage for future efforts aimed to uncover the impact of viruses on bacteria in other environments across the globe.
PMCID: PMC4164917  PMID: 25171894
SUP05; bacteriophages; viruses; single cell genomics; oxygen minimum zone; viral dark matter; other
2.  Contrasting Life Strategies of Viruses that Infect Photo- and Heterotrophic Bacteria, as Revealed by Viral Tagging 
mBio  2012;3(6):e00373-12.
Ocean viruses are ubiquitous and abundant and play important roles in global biogeochemical cycles by means of their mortality, horizontal gene transfer, and manipulation of host metabolism. However, the obstacles involved in linking viruses to their hosts in a high-throughput manner bottlenecks our ability to understand virus-host interactions in complex communities. We have developed a method called viral tagging (VT), which combines mixtures of host cells and fluorescent viruses with flow cytometry. We investigated multiple viruses which infect each of two model marine bacteria that represent the slow-growing, photoautotrophic genus Synechococcus (Cyanobacteria) and the fast-growing, heterotrophic genus Pseudoalteromonas (Gammaproteobacteria). Overall, viral tagging results for viral infection were consistent with plaque and liquid infection assays for cyanobacterial myo-, podo- and siphoviruses and some (myo- and podoviruses) but not all (four siphoviruses) heterotrophic bacterial viruses. Virus-tagged Pseudoalteromonas organisms were proportional to the added viruses under varied infection conditions (virus-bacterium ratios), while no more than 50% of the Synechococcus organisms were virus tagged even at viral abundances that exceeded (5 to 10×) that of their hosts. Further, we found that host growth phase minimally impacts the fraction of virus-tagged Synechococcus organisms while greatly affecting phage adsorption to Pseudoalteromonas. Together these findings suggest that at least two contrasting viral life strategies exist in the oceans and that they likely reflect adaptation to their host microbes. Looking forward to the point at which the virus-tagging signature is well understood (e.g., for Synechococcus), application to natural communities should begin to provide population genomic data at the proper scale for predictively modeling two of the most abundant biological entities on Earth.
Viral study suffers from an inability to link viruses to hosts en masse, and yet delineating “who infects whom” is fundamental to viral ecology and predictive modeling. This article describes viral tagging—a high-throughput method to investigate virus-host interactions by combining the fluorescent labeling of viruses for “tagging” host cells that can be analyzed and sorted using flow cytometry. Two cultivated hosts (the cyanobacterium Synechococcus and the gammaproteobacterium Pseudoalteromonas) and their viruses (podo-, myo-, and siphoviruses) were investigated to validate the method. These lab-based experiments indicate that for most virus-host pairings, VT (viral tagging) adsorption is equivalent to traditional infection by liquid and plaque assays, with the exceptions being confined to promiscuous adsorption by Pseudoalteromonas siphoviruses. These experiments also reveal variability in life strategies across these oceanic virus-host systems with respect to infection conditions and host growth status, which highlights the need for further model system characterization to break open this virus-host interaction “black box.”
PMCID: PMC3487772  PMID: 23111870
3.  Major Role of Microbes in Carbon Fluxes during Austral Winter in the Southern Drake Passage 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e6941.
Carbon cycling in Southern Ocean is a major issue in climate change, hence the need to understand the role of biota in the regulation of carbon fixation and cycling. Southern Ocean is a heterogeneous system, characterized by a strong seasonality, due to long dark winter. Yet, currently little is known about biogeochemical dynamics during this season, particularly in the deeper part of the ocean. We studied bacterial communities and processes in summer and winter cruises in the southern Drake Passage. Here we show that in winter, when the primary production is greatly reduced, Bacteria and Archaea become the major producers of biogenic particles, at the expense of dissolved organic carbon drawdown. Heterotrophic production and chemoautotrophic CO2 fixation rates were substantial, also in deep water, and bacterial populations were controlled by protists and viruses. A dynamic food web is also consistent with the observed temporal and spatial variations in archaeal and bacterial communities that might exploit various niches. Thus, Southern Ocean microbial loop may substantially maintain a wintertime food web and system respiration at the expense of summer produced DOC as well as regenerate nutrients and iron. Our findings have important implications for Southern Ocean ecosystem functioning and carbon cycle and its manipulation by iron enrichment to achieve net sequestration of atmospheric CO2.
PMCID: PMC2736376  PMID: 19759822
4.  Infection Paradox: High Abundance but Low Impact of Freshwater Benthic Viruses 
The discovery of an abundant and diverse virus community in oceans and lakes has profoundly reshaped ideas about global carbon and nutrient fluxes, food web dynamics, and maintenance of microbial biodiversity. These roles are exerted through massive viral impact on the population dynamics of heterotrophic bacterioplankton and primary producers. We took advantage of a shallow wetland system with contrasting microhabitats in close proximity to demonstrate that in marked contrast to pelagic systems, viral infection, determined directly by transmission electron microscopy, and consequently mortality of prokaryotes were surprisingly low in benthic habitats in all seasons. This was true even though free viruses were abundant throughout the year and bacterial infection and mortality rates were high in surrounding water. The habitats in which we found this pattern include sediment, decomposing plant litter, and biofilms on aquatic vegetation. Overall, we detected viruses in only 4 of a total of ∼15,000 bacterial cells inspected in these three habitats; for comparison, nearly 300 of ∼5,000 cells suspended in the water column were infected. The strikingly low incidence of impact of phages in the benthos may have important implications, since a major portion of microbial biodiversity and global carbon and nutrient turnover are associated with surfaces. Therefore, if failure to infect benthic bacteria is a widespread phenomenon, then the global role of viruses in controlling microbial diversity, food web dynamics, and biogeochemical cycles would be greatly diminished compared to predictions based on data from planktonic environments.
PMCID: PMC1489317  PMID: 16820485
5.  Unprecedented evidence for high viral abundance and lytic activity in coral reef waters of the South Pacific Ocean 
Despite nutrient-depleted conditions, coral reef waters harbor abundant and diverse microbes; as major agents of microbial mortality, viruses are likely to influence microbial processes in these ecosystems. However, little is known about marine viruses in these rapidly changing ecosystems. Here we examined spatial and short-term temporal variability in marine viral abundance (VA) and viral lytic activity across various reef habitats surrounding Moorea Island (French Polynesia) in the South Pacific. Water samples were collected along four regional cross-reef transects and during a time-series in Opunohu Bay. Results revealed high VA (range: 5.6 × 106–3.6 × 107 viruses ml-1) and lytic viral production (range: 1.5 × 109–9.2 × 1010 viruses l-1 d-1). Flow cytometry revealed that viral assemblages were composed of three subsets that each displayed distinct spatiotemporal relationships with nutrient concentrations and autotrophic and heterotrophic microbial abundances. The results highlight dynamic shifts in viral community structure and imply that each of these three subsets is ecologically important and likely to infect distinct microbial hosts in reef waters. Based on viral-reduction approach, we estimate that lytic viruses were responsible for the removal of ca. 24–367% of bacterial standing stock d-1 and the release of ca. 1.0–62 μg of organic carbon l-1 d-1 in reef waters. Overall, this work demonstrates the highly dynamic distribution of viruses and their critical roles in controlling microbial mortality and nutrient cycling in coral reef water ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC4172022  PMID: 25295032
marine viruses; viral lysis; carbon cycling; coral reefs; South Pacific; microbial mortality; viral abundance; spatial and temporal variability
6.  Marine bacterial, archaeal and protistan association networks reveal ecological linkages 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(9):1414-1425.
Microbes have central roles in ocean food webs and global biogeochemical processes, yet specific ecological relationships among these taxa are largely unknown. This is in part due to the dilute, microscopic nature of the planktonic microbial community, which prevents direct observation of their interactions. Here, we use a holistic (that is, microbial system-wide) approach to investigate time-dependent variations among taxa from all three domains of life in a marine microbial community. We investigated the community composition of bacteria, archaea and protists through cultivation-independent methods, along with total bacterial and viral abundance, and physico-chemical observations. Samples and observations were collected monthly over 3 years at a well-described ocean time-series site of southern California. To find associations among these organisms, we calculated time-dependent rank correlations (that is, local similarity correlations) among relative abundances of bacteria, archaea, protists, total abundance of bacteria and viruses and physico-chemical parameters. We used a network generated from these statistical correlations to visualize and identify time-dependent associations among ecologically important taxa, for example, the SAR11 cluster, stramenopiles, alveolates, cyanobacteria and ammonia-oxidizing archaea. Negative correlations, perhaps suggesting competition or predation, were also common. The analysis revealed a progression of microbial communities through time, and also a group of unknown eukaryotes that were highly correlated with dinoflagellates, indicating possible symbioses or parasitism. Possible ‘keystone' species were evident. The network has statistical features similar to previously described ecological networks, and in network parlance has non-random, small world properties (that is, highly interconnected nodes). This approach provides new insights into the natural history of microbes.
PMCID: PMC3160682  PMID: 21430787
co-occurrence patterns; stramenopiles; dinoflagellates; SAR11; cyanobacteria; time series
7.  Microbial diversity and community structure across environmental gradients in Bransfield Strait, Western Antarctic Peninsula 
The Southern Ocean is currently subject to intense investigations, mainly related to its importance for global biogeochemical cycles and its alarming rate of warming in response to climate change. Microbes play an essential role in the functioning of this ecosystem and are the main drivers of the biogeochemical cycling of elements. Yet, the diversity and abundance of microorganisms in this system remain poorly studied, in particular with regards to changes along environmental gradients. Here, we used amplicon sequencing of 16S rRNA gene tags using primers covering both Bacteria and Archaea to assess the composition and diversity of the microbial communities from four sampling depths (surface, the maximum and minimum of the oxygen concentration, and near the seafloor) at 10 oceanographic stations located in Bransfield Strait [northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP)] and near the sea ice edge (north of the AP). Samples collected near the seafloor and at the oxygen minimum exhibited a higher diversity than those from the surface and oxygen maximum for both bacterial and archaeal communities. The main taxonomic groups identified below 100 m were Thaumarchaeota, Euryarchaeota and Proteobacteria (Gamma-, Delta-, Beta-, and Alphaproteobacteria), whereas in the mixed layer above 100 m Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria (mainly Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria) were found to be dominant. A combination of environmental factors seems to influence the microbial community composition. Our results help to understand how the dynamic seascape of the Southern Ocean shapes the microbial community composition and set a baseline for upcoming studies to evaluate the response of this ecosystem to future changes.
PMCID: PMC4267279  PMID: 25566198
Antarctica; pyrosequencing; microbial community structure; environmental factors; microbial oceanography; climate change
8.  The earliest stages of ecosystem succession in high-elevation (5000 metres above sea level), recently deglaciated soils 
Global climate change has accelerated the pace of glacial retreat in high-latitude and high-elevation environments, exposing lands that remain devoid of vegetation for many years. The exposure of ‘new’ soil is particularly apparent at high elevations (5000 metres above sea level) in the Peruvian Andes, where extreme environmental conditions hinder plant colonization. Nonetheless, these seemingly barren soils contain a diverse microbial community; yet the biogeochemical role of micro-organisms at these extreme elevations remains unknown. Using biogeochemical and molecular techniques, we investigated the biological community structure and ecosystem functioning of the pre-plant stages of primary succession in soils along a high-Andean chronosequence. We found that recently glaciated soils were colonized by a diverse community of cyanobacteria during the first 4–5 years following glacial retreat. This significant increase in cyanobacterial diversity corresponded with equally dramatic increases in soil stability, heterotrophic microbial biomass, soil enzyme activity and the presence and abundance of photosynthetic and photoprotective pigments. Furthermore, we found that soil nitrogen-fixation rates increased almost two orders of magnitude during the first 4–5 years of succession, many years before the establishment of mosses, lichens or vascular plants. Carbon analyses (pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy) of soil organic matter suggested that soil carbon along the chronosequence was of microbial origin. This indicates that inputs of nutrients and organic matter during early ecosystem development at these sites are dominated by microbial carbon and nitrogen fixation. Overall, our results indicate that photosynthetic and nitrogen-fixing bacteria play important roles in acquiring nutrients and facilitating ecological succession in soils near some of the highest elevation receding glaciers on the Earth.
PMCID: PMC2605835  PMID: 18755677
primary succession; nitrogen fixation; cyanobacteria; Peruvian Andes
9.  Functional Biogeography of Ocean Microbes Revealed through Non-Negative Matrix Factorization 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e43866.
The direct “metagenomic” sequencing of genomic material from complex assemblages of bacteria, archaea, viruses and microeukaryotes has yielded new insights into the structure of microbial communities. For example, analysis of metagenomic data has revealed the existence of previously unknown microbial taxa whose spatial distributions are limited by environmental conditions, ecological competition, and dispersal mechanisms. However, differences in genotypes that might lead biologists to designate two microbes as taxonomically distinct need not necessarily imply differences in ecological function. Hence, there is a growing need for large-scale analysis of the distribution of microbial function across habitats. Here, we present a framework for investigating the biogeography of microbial function by analyzing the distribution of protein families inferred from environmental sequence data across a global collection of sites. We map over 6,000,000 protein sequences from unassembled reads from the Global Ocean Survey dataset to protein families, generating a protein family relative abundance matrix that describes the distribution of each protein family across sites. We then use non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) to approximate these protein family profiles as linear combinations of a small number of ecological components. Each component has a characteristic functional profile and site profile. Our approach identifies common functional signatures within several of the components. We use our method as a filter to estimate functional distance between sites, and find that an NMF-filtered measure of functional distance is more strongly correlated with environmental distance than a comparable PCA-filtered measure. We also find that functional distance is more strongly correlated with environmental distance than with geographic distance, in agreement with prior studies. We identify similar protein functions in several components and suggest that functional co-occurrence across metagenomic samples could lead to future methods for de-novo functional prediction. We conclude by discussing how NMF, and other dimension reduction methods, can help enable a macroscopic functional description of marine ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3445553  PMID: 23049741
10.  Relationship between Abundance and Specific Activity of Bacterioplankton in Open Ocean Surface Waters 
Marine microbial communities are complex and dynamic, and their ecology impacts biogeochemical cycles in pelagic ecosystems. Yet, little is known about the relative activities of different microbial populations within genetically diverse communities. We used rRNA as a proxy for activity to quantify the relative specific activities (rRNA/ribosomal DNA [rDNA or rRNA genes]) of the eubacterial populations and to identify locations or clades for which there are uncouplings between specific activity and abundance. After analyzing 1.6 million sequences from 16S rDNA and rRNA (cDNA) libraries from two euphotic depths from a representative site in the Pacific Ocean, we show that although there is an overall positive relationship between the abundances (rDNAs) and activities (rRNAs) among populations of the bacterial community, for some populations these measures are uncoupled. Different ecological strategies are exemplified by the two numerically dominant clades at this site: the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is abundant but disproportionately more active, while the heterotrophic SAR11 is abundant but less active. Other rare populations, such as Alteromonas, have high specific activities in spite of their low abundances, suggesting intense population regulation. More detailed analyses using a complementary quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based approach of measuring relative specific activity for Prochlorococcus populations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans also show that specific activity, but not abundance, reflects the key drivers of light and nutrients in this system; our results also suggest substantial top-down regulation (e.g., grazing, viruses, or organismal interactions) or transport (e.g., mixing, immigration, or emigration) of these populations. Thus, we show here that abundance and specific activity can be uncoupled in open ocean systems and that describing both is critical to characterizing microbial communities and predicting marine ecosystem functioning and responses to change.
PMCID: PMC3536108  PMID: 23087033
11.  Elemental Economy: microbial strategies for optimizing growth in the face of nutrient limitation 
Microorganisms play a dominant role in the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients. They are rightly praised for their facility at fixing both carbon and nitrogen into organic matter, and microbial driven processes have tangibly altered the chemical composition of the biosphere and its surrounding atmosphere. Despite their prodigious capacity for molecular transformations, microorganisms are powerless in the face of the immutability of the elements. Limitations for specific elements, either fleeting or persisting over eons, have left an indelible trace on microbial genomes, physiology, and their very atomic composition. We here review the impact of elemental limitation on microbes, with a focus on selected genetic model systems and representative microbes from the ocean ecosystem. Evolutionary adaptations that enhance growth in the face of persistent or recurrent elemental limitations are evident from genome and proteome analyses. These range from the extreme (such as dispensing with a requirement for a hard to obtain element) to the extremely subtle (changes in protein amino acid sequences that slightly, but significantly, reduce cellular carbon, nitrogen, or sulfur demand). One near universal adaptation is the development of sophisticated acclimation programs by which cells adjust their chemical composition in response to a changing environment. When specific elements become limiting, acclimation typically begins with an increased commitment to acquisition and a concomitant mobilization of stored resources. If elemental limitation persists, the cell implements austerity measures including elemental-sparing and elemental-recycling. Insights into these fundamental cellular properties have emerged from studies at many different levels; including ecology, biological oceanography, biogeochemistry, molecular genetics, genomics, and microbial physiology. Here, we present a synthesis of these diverse studies and attempt to discern some overarching themes.
PMCID: PMC4100946  PMID: 22633059
metal homeostasis; sparing; phosphorus; sulfur; iron; zinc; copper; cyanobacteria; diatom; Chlamydomonas; Bacillus
12.  Metagenomic Profiling of a Microbial Assemblage Associated with the California Mussel: A Node in Networks of Carbon and Nitrogen Cycling 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10518.
Mussels are conspicuous and often abundant members of rocky shores and may constitute an important site for the nitrogen cycle due to their feeding and excretion activities. We used shotgun metagenomics of the microbial community associated with the surface of mussels (Mytilus californianus) on Tatoosh Island in Washington state to test whether there is a nitrogen-based microbial assemblage associated with mussels. Analyses of both tidepool mussels and those on emergent benches revealed a diverse community of Bacteria and Archaea with approximately 31 million bp from 6 mussels in each habitat. Using MG-RAST, between 22.5–25.6% were identifiable using the SEED non-redundant database for proteins. Of those fragments that were identifiable through MG-RAST, the composition was dominated by Cyanobacteria and Alpha- and Gamma-proteobacteria. Microbial composition was highly similar between the tidepool and emergent bench mussels, suggesting similar functions across these different microhabitats. One percent of the proteins identified in each sample were related to nitrogen cycling. When normalized to protein discovery rate, the high diversity and abundance of enzymes related to the nitrogen cycle in mussel-associated microbes is as great or greater than that described for other marine metagenomes. In some instances, the nitrogen-utilizing profile of this assemblage was more concordant with soil metagenomes in the Midwestern U.S. than for open ocean system. Carbon fixation and Calvin cycle enzymes further represented 0.65 and 1.26% of all proteins and their abundance was comparable to a number of open ocean marine metagenomes. In sum, the diversity and abundance of nitrogen and carbon cycle related enzymes in the microbes occupying the shells of Mytilus californianus suggest these mussels provide a node for microbial populations and thus biogeochemical processes.
PMCID: PMC2865538  PMID: 20463896
13.  Interactive effects of global climate change and pollution on marine microbes: the way ahead 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(6):1808-1818.
Global climate change has the potential to seriously and adversely affect marine ecosystem functioning. Numerous experimental and modeling studies have demonstrated how predicted ocean acidification and increased ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can affect marine microbes. However, researchers have largely ignored interactions between ocean acidification, increased UVR and anthropogenic pollutants in marine environments. Such interactions can alter chemical speciation and the bioavailability of several organic and inorganic pollutants with potentially deleterious effects, such as modifying microbial-mediated detoxification processes. Microbes mediate major biogeochemical cycles, providing fundamental ecosystems services such as environmental detoxification and recovery. It is, therefore, important that we understand how predicted changes to oceanic pH, UVR, and temperature will affect microbial pollutant detoxification processes in marine ecosystems. The intrinsic characteristics of microbes, such as their short generation time, small size, and functional role in biogeochemical cycles combined with recent advances in molecular techniques (e.g., metagenomics and metatranscriptomics) make microbes excellent models to evaluate the consequences of various climate change scenarios on detoxification processes in marine ecosystems. In this review, we highlight the importance of microbial microcosm experiments, coupled with high-resolution molecular biology techniques, to provide a critical experimental framework to start understanding how climate change, anthropogenic pollution, and microbiological interactions may affect marine ecosystems in the future.
PMCID: PMC3686211  PMID: 23789087
Climate change; interactive effects; pollution; microbial communities; molecular biology
14.  High Abundances of Potentially Active Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria and Archaea in Oligotrophic, High-Altitude Lakes of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e111560.
Nitrification plays a central role in the nitrogen cycle by determining the oxidation state of nitrogen and its subsequent bioavailability and cycling. However, relatively little is known about the underlying ecology of the microbial communities that carry out nitrification in freshwater ecosystems—and particularly within high-altitude oligotrophic lakes, where nitrogen is frequently a limiting nutrient. We quantified ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) in 9 high-altitude lakes (2289–3160 m) in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA, in relation to spatial and biogeochemical data. Based on their ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) genes, AOB and AOA were frequently detected. AOB were present in 88% of samples and were more abundant than AOA in all samples. Both groups showed >100 fold variation in abundance between different lakes, and were also variable through time within individual lakes. Nutrient concentrations (ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate) were generally low but also varied across and within lakes, suggestive of active internal nutrient cycling; AOB abundance was significantly correlated with phosphate (r2 = 0.32, p<0.1), whereas AOA abundance was inversely correlated with lake elevation (r2 = 0.43, p<0.05). We also measured low rates of ammonia oxidation—indicating that AOB, AOA, or both, may be biogeochemically active in these oligotrophic ecosystems. Our data indicate that dynamic populations of AOB and AOA are found in oligotrophic, high-altitude, freshwater lakes.
PMCID: PMC4234299  PMID: 25402442
15.  The Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition: Northwest Atlantic through Eastern Tropical Pacific 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(3):e77.
The world's oceans contain a complex mixture of micro-organisms that are for the most part, uncharacterized both genetically and biochemically. We report here a metagenomic study of the marine planktonic microbiota in which surface (mostly marine) water samples were analyzed as part of the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling expedition. These samples, collected across a several-thousand km transect from the North Atlantic through the Panama Canal and ending in the South Pacific yielded an extensive dataset consisting of 7.7 million sequencing reads (6.3 billion bp). Though a few major microbial clades dominate the planktonic marine niche, the dataset contains great diversity with 85% of the assembled sequence and 57% of the unassembled data being unique at a 98% sequence identity cutoff. Using the metadata associated with each sample and sequencing library, we developed new comparative genomic and assembly methods. One comparative genomic method, termed “fragment recruitment,” addressed questions of genome structure, evolution, and taxonomic or phylogenetic diversity, as well as the biochemical diversity of genes and gene families. A second method, termed “extreme assembly,” made possible the assembly and reconstruction of large segments of abundant but clearly nonclonal organisms. Within all abundant populations analyzed, we found extensive intra-ribotype diversity in several forms: (1) extensive sequence variation within orthologous regions throughout a given genome; despite coverage of individual ribotypes approaching 500-fold, most individual sequencing reads are unique; (2) numerous changes in gene content some with direct adaptive implications; and (3) hypervariable genomic islands that are too variable to assemble. The intra-ribotype diversity is organized into genetically isolated populations that have overlapping but independent distributions, implying distinct environmental preference. We present novel methods for measuring the genomic similarity between metagenomic samples and show how they may be grouped into several community types. Specific functional adaptations can be identified both within individual ribotypes and across the entire community, including proteorhodopsin spectral tuning and the presence or absence of the phosphate-binding gene PstS.
Author Summary
Marine microbes remain elusive and mysterious, even though they are the most abundant life form in the ocean, form the base of the marine food web, and drive energy and nutrient cycling. We know so little about the vast majority of microbes because only a small percentage can be cultivated and studied in the lab. Here we report on the Global Ocean Sampling expedition, an environmental metagenomics project that aims to shed light on the role of marine microbes by sequencing their DNA without first needing to isolate individual organisms. A total of 41 different samples were taken from a wide variety of aquatic habitats collected over 8,000 km. The resulting 7.7 million sequencing reads provide an unprecedented look at the incredible diversity and heterogeneity in naturally occurring microbial populations. We have developed new bioinformatic methods to reconstitute large portions of both cultured and uncultured microbial genomes. Organism diversity is analyzed in relation to sampling locations and environmental pressures. Taken together, these data and analyses serve as a foundation for greatly expanding our understanding of individual microbial lineages and their evolution, the nature of marine microbial communities, and how they are impacted by and impact our world.
TheSorcerer II GOS expedition, data sampling, and analysis is described. The immense diversity in the sequence data required novel comparative genomic assembly methods, which uncovered genomic differences that marker-based methods could not.
PMCID: PMC1821060  PMID: 17355176
16.  Molecular evidence for an active endogenous microbiome beneath glacial ice 
The ISME Journal  2013;7(7):1402-1412.
Geologic, chemical and isotopic evidence indicate that Earth has experienced numerous intervals of widespread glaciation throughout its history, with roughly 11% of present day Earth's land surface covered in ice. Despite the pervasive nature of glacial ice both today and in Earth's past and the potential contribution of these systems to global biogeochemical cycles, the composition and phylogenetic structure of an active microbial community in subglacial systems has yet to be described. Here, using RNA-based approaches, we demonstrate the presence of active and endogenous archaeal, bacterial and eukaryal assemblages in cold (0–1 °C) subglacial sediments sampled from Robertson Glacier, Alberta, Canada. Patterns in the phylogenetic structure and composition of subglacial sediment small subunit (SSU) ribosomal RNA (rRNA) assemblages indicate greater diversity and evenness than in glacial surface environments, possibly due to facilitative or competitive interactions among populations in the subglacial environment. The combination of phylogenetically more even and more diverse assemblages in the subglacial environment suggests minimal niche overlap and optimization to capture a wider spectrum of the limited nutrients and chemical energy made available from weathering of bedrock minerals. The prevalence of SSU rRNA affiliated with lithoautotrophic bacteria, autotrophic methane producing archaea and heterotrophic eukarya in the subglacial environment is consistent with this hypothesis and suggests an active contribution to the global carbon cycle. Collectively, our findings demonstrate that subglacial environments harbor endogenous active ecosystems that have the potential to impact global biogeochemical cycles over extended periods of time.
PMCID: PMC3695297  PMID: 23486249
archaea; cold; eukarya; methane; RNA; subsurface
17.  Evidence of Microbial Regulation of Biogeochemical Cycles from a Study on Methane Flux and Land Use Change 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(13):4031-4040.
Microbes play an essential role in ecosystem functions, including carrying out biogeochemical cycles, but are currently considered a black box in predictive models and all global biodiversity debates. This is due to (i) perceived temporal and spatial variations in microbial communities and (ii) lack of ecological theory explaining how microbes regulate ecosystem functions. Providing evidence of the microbial regulation of biogeochemical cycles is key for predicting ecosystem functions, including greenhouse gas fluxes, under current and future climate scenarios. Using functional measures, stable-isotope probing, and molecular methods, we show that microbial (community diversity and function) response to land use change is stable over time. We investigated the change in net methane flux and associated microbial communities due to afforestation of bog, grassland, and moorland. Afforestation resulted in the stable and consistent enhancement in sink of atmospheric methane at all sites. This change in function was linked to a niche-specific separation of microbial communities (methanotrophs). The results suggest that ecological theories developed for macroecology may explain the microbial regulation of the methane cycle. Our findings provide support for the explicit consideration of microbial data in ecosystem/climate models to improve predictions of biogeochemical cycles.
PMCID: PMC3697577  PMID: 23624469
18.  Modeling Selective Pressures on Phytoplankton in the Global Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9569.
Our view of marine microbes is transforming, as culture-independent methods facilitate rapid characterization of microbial diversity. It is difficult to assimilate this information into our understanding of marine microbe ecology and evolution, because their distributions, traits, and genomes are shaped by forces that are complex and dynamic. Here we incorporate diverse forces—physical, biogeochemical, ecological, and mutational—into a global ocean model to study selective pressures on a simple trait in a widely distributed lineage of picophytoplankton: the nitrogen use abilities of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus cyanobacteria. Some Prochlorococcus ecotypes have lost the ability to use nitrate, whereas their close relatives, marine Synechococcus, typically retain it. We impose mutations for the loss of nitrogen use abilities in modeled picophytoplankton, and ask: in which parts of the ocean are mutants most disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate, and in which parts are they least disadvantaged? Our model predicts that this selective disadvantage is smallest for picophytoplankton that live in tropical regions where Prochlorococcus are abundant in the real ocean. Conversely, the selective disadvantage of losing the ability to use nitrate is larger for modeled picophytoplankton that live at higher latitudes, where Synechococcus are abundant. In regions where we expect Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations to cycle seasonally in the real ocean, we find that model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Prochlorococcus are less disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate than model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Synechococcus. The model predictions for the selective advantage associated with nitrate use are broadly consistent with the distribution of this ability among marine picocyanobacteria, and at finer scales, can provide insights into interactions between temporally varying ocean processes and selective pressures that may be difficult or impossible to study by other means. More generally, and perhaps more importantly, this study introduces an approach for testing hypotheses about the processes that underlie genetic variation among marine microbes, embedded in the dynamic physical, chemical, and biological forces that generate and shape this diversity.
PMCID: PMC2835739  PMID: 20224766
19.  Eco-Stoichiometric Alterations in Paddy Soil Ecosystem Driven by Phosphorus Application 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e61141.
Agricultural fertilization may change processes of elemental biogeochemical cycles and alter the ecological function. Ecoenzymatic stoichiometric feature plays a critical role in global soil carbon (C) metabolism, driving element cycles, and mediating atmospheric composition in response to agricultural nutrient management. Despite the importance on crop growth, the role of phosphorous (P) in compliance with eco-stoichiometry on soil C and nitrogen (N) sequestration in the paddy field remains poorly understood in the context of climate change. Here, we collected soil samples from a field experiment after 6 years of chemical P application at a gradient of 0 (P-0), 30 (P-30), 60 (P-60), and 90 (P-90) kg ha−1 in order to evaluate the role of P on stoichiometric properties in terms of soil chemical, microbial biomass, and eco-enzyme activities as well as greenhouse gas (GHG: CO2, N2O and CH4) emissions. Continuous P input increased soil total organic C and N by 1.3–9.2% and 3%–13%, respectively. P input induced C and N limitations as indicated by the decreased ratio of C:P and N:P in the soil and microbial biomass. A synergistic mechanism among the ecoenzymatic stoichiometry, which regulated the ecological function of microbial C and N acquisition and were stoichiometrically related to P input, stimulated soil C and N sequestration in the paddy field. The lower emissions of N2O and CH4 under the higher P application (P-60 and P-90) in July and the insignificant difference in N2O emission in August compared to P-30; however, continuous P input enhanced CO2 fluxes for both samplings. There is a technical conflict for simultaneously regulating three types of GHGs in terms of the eco-stoichiometry mechanism under P fertilization. Thus, it is recommended that the P input in paddy fields not exceed 60 kg ha−1 may maximize soil C sequestration, minimize P export, and guarantee grain yields.
PMCID: PMC3646879  PMID: 23667435
20.  Streamlining and Core Genome Conservation among Highly Divergent Members of the SAR11 Clade 
mBio  2012;3(5):e00252-12.
SAR11 is an ancient and diverse clade of heterotrophic bacteria that are abundant throughout the world’s oceans, where they play a major role in the ocean carbon cycle. Correlations between the phylogenetic branching order and spatiotemporal patterns in cell distributions from planktonic ocean environments indicate that SAR11 has evolved into perhaps a dozen or more specialized ecotypes that span evolutionary distances equivalent to a bacterial order. We isolated and sequenced genomes from diverse SAR11 cultures that represent three major lineages and encompass the full breadth of the clade. The new data expand observations about genome evolution and gene content that previously had been restricted to the SAR11 Ia subclade, providing a much broader perspective on the clade’s origins, evolution, and ecology. We found small genomes throughout the clade and a very high proportion of core genome genes (48 to 56%), indicating that small genome size is probably an ancestral characteristic. In their level of core genome conservation, the members of SAR11 are outliers, the most conserved free-living bacteria known. Shared features of the clade include low GC content, high gene synteny, a large hypervariable region bounded by rRNA genes, and low numbers of paralogs. Variation among the genomes included genes for phosphorus metabolism, glycolysis, and C1 metabolism, suggesting that adaptive specialization in nutrient resource utilization is important to niche partitioning and ecotype divergence within the clade. These data provide support for the conclusion that streamlining selection for efficient cell replication in the planktonic habitat has occurred throughout the evolution and diversification of this clade.
The SAR11 clade is the most abundant group of marine microorganisms worldwide, making them key players in the global carbon cycle. Growing knowledge about their biochemistry and metabolism is leading to a more mechanistic understanding of organic carbon oxidation and sequestration in the oceans. The discovery of small genomes in SAR11 provided crucial support for the theory that streamlining selection can drive genome reduction in low-nutrient environments. Study of isolates in culture revealed atypical organic nutrient requirements that can be attributed to genome reduction, such as conditional auxotrophy for glycine and its precursors, a requirement for reduced sulfur compounds, and evidence for widespread cycling of C1 compounds in marine environments. However, understanding the genetic variation and distribution of such pathways and characteristics like streamlining throughout the group has required the isolation and genome sequencing of diverse SAR11 representatives, an analysis of which we provide here.
PMCID: PMC3448164  PMID: 22991429
21.  Community transcriptomic assembly reveals microbes that contribute to deep-sea carbon and nitrogen cycling 
The ISME Journal  2013;7(10):1962-1973.
The deep ocean is an important component of global biogeochemical cycles because it contains one of the largest pools of reactive carbon and nitrogen on earth. However, the microbial communities that drive deep-sea geochemistry are vastly unexplored. Metatranscriptomics offers new windows into these communities, but it has been hampered by reliance on genome databases for interpretation. We reconstructed the transcriptomes of microbial populations from Guaymas Basin, in the deep Gulf of California, through shotgun sequencing and de novo assembly of total community RNA. Many of the resulting messenger RNA (mRNA) contiguous sequences contain multiple genes, reflecting co-transcription of operons, including those from dominant members. Also prevalent were transcripts with only limited representation (2.8 times coverage) in a corresponding metagenome, including a considerable portion (1.2 Mb total assembled mRNA sequence) with similarity (96%) to a marine heterotroph, Alteromonas macleodii. This Alteromonas and euryarchaeal marine group II populations displayed abundant transcripts from amino-acid transporters, suggesting recycling of organic carbon and nitrogen from amino acids. Also among the most abundant mRNAs were catalytic subunits of the nitrite oxidoreductase complex and electron transfer components involved in nitrite oxidation. These and other novel genes are related to novel Nitrospirae and have limited representation in accompanying metagenomic data. High throughput sequencing of 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes and rRNA read counts confirmed that Nitrospirae are minor yet widespread members of deep-sea communities. These results implicate a novel bacterial group in deep-sea nitrite oxidation, the second step of nitrification. This study highlights metatranscriptomic assembly as a valuable approach to study microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC3965313  PMID: 23702516
Archaea; deep sea; transcriptomics; nitrification; Alteromonas; Nitrospirae
22.  Ecological roles of the parasitic phytomyxids (plasmodiophorids) in marine ecosystems – a review 
Marine & freshwater research  2011;62(4):365-371.
Phytomyxea (plasmodiophorids) is an enigmatic group of obligate biotrophic parasites. Most of the known 41 species are associated with terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. However, the potential of phytomyxean species to influence marine ecosystems either directly by causing diseases of their hosts or indirectly as vectors of viruses is enormous, although still unexplored. In all, 20% of the currently described phytomyxean species are parasites of some of the key primary producers in the ocean, such as seagrasses, brown algae and diatoms; however, information on their distribution, abundance and biodiversity is either incomplete or lacking. Phytomyxean species influence fitness by altering the metabolism and/or the reproductive success of their hosts. The resulting changes can (1) have an impact on the biodiversity within host populations, and (2) influence microbial food webs because of altered availability of nutrients (e.g. changed metabolic status of host, transfer of organic matter). Also, phytomyxean species may affect their host populations indirectly by transmitting viruses. The majority of the currently known single-stranded RNA marine viruses structurally resemble the viruses transmitted by phytomyxean species to crops in agricultural environments. Here, we explore possible ecological roles of these parasites in marine habitats; however, only the inclusion of Phytomyxea in marine biodiversity studies will allow estimation of the true impact of these species on global primary production in the oceans.
PMCID: PMC3272469  PMID: 22319023
biodiversity; biotrophic interaction; environmental monitoring; plant pathology; plasmodiophorid; Plasmodiophora; protist; zoospores
23.  The marine nitrogen cycle: recent discoveries, uncertainties and the potential relevance of climate change 
The ocean's nitrogen cycle is driven by complex microbial transformations, including nitrogen fixation, assimilation, nitrification, anammox and denitrification. Dinitrogen is the most abundant form of nitrogen in sea water but only accessible by nitrogen-fixing microbes. Denitrification and nitrification are both regulated by oxygen concentrations and potentially produce nitrous oxide (N2O), a climate-relevant atmospheric trace gas. The world's oceans, including the coastal areas and upwelling areas, contribute about 30 per cent to the atmospheric N2O budget and are, therefore, a major source of this gas to the atmosphere. Human activities now add more nitrogen to the environment than is naturally fixed. More than half of the nitrogen reaches the coastal ocean via river input and atmospheric deposition, of which the latter affects even remote oceanic regions. A nitrogen budget for the coastal and open ocean, where inputs and outputs match rather well, is presented. Furthermore, predicted climate change will impact the expansion of the oceans' oxygen minimum zones, the productivity of surface waters and presumably other microbial processes, with unpredictable consequences for the cycling of nitrogen. Nitrogen cycling is closely intertwined with that of carbon, phosphorous and other biologically important elements via biological stoichiometric requirements. This linkage implies that human alterations of nitrogen cycling are likely to have major consequences for other biogeochemical processes and ecosystem functions and services.
PMCID: PMC3682741  PMID: 23713119
ocean; nitrogen; budget
24.  The Characterization of RNA Viruses in Tropical Seawater Using Targeted PCR and Metagenomics 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01210-14.
Viruses have a profound influence on the ecology and evolution of plankton, but our understanding of the composition of the aquatic viral communities is still rudimentary. This is especially true of those viruses having RNA genomes. The limited data that have been published suggest that the RNA virioplankton is dominated by viruses with positive-sense, single-stranded (+ss) genomes that have features in common with those of eukaryote-infecting viruses in the order Picornavirales (picornavirads). In this study, we investigated the diversity of the RNA virus assemblages in tropical coastal seawater samples using targeted PCR and metagenomics. Amplification of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) genes from fractions of a buoyant density gradient suggested that the distribution of two major subclades of the marine picornavirads was largely congruent with the distribution of total virus-like RNA, a finding consistent with their proposed dominance. Analyses of the RdRp sequences in the library revealed the presence of many diverse phylotypes, most of which were related only distantly to those of cultivated viruses. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that there were hundreds of unique picornavirad-like phylotypes in one 35-liter sample that differed from one another by at least as much as the differences among currently recognized species. Assembly of the sequences in the metagenome resulted in the reconstruction of six essentially complete viral genomes that had features similar to viruses in the families Bacillarna-, Dicistro-, and Marnaviridae. Comparison of the tropical seawater metagenomes with those from other habitats suggests that +ssRNA viruses are generally the most common types of RNA viruses in aquatic environments, but biases in library preparation remain a possible explanation for this observation.
Marine plankton account for much of the photosynthesis and respiration on our planet, and they influence the cycling of carbon and the distribution of nutrients on a global scale. Despite the fundamental importance of viruses to plankton ecology and evolution, most of the viruses in the sea, and the identities of their hosts, are unknown. This report is one of very few that delves into the genetic diversity within RNA-containing viruses in the ocean. The data expand the known range of viral diversity and shed new light on the physical properties and genetic composition of RNA viruses in the ocean.
PMCID: PMC4068258  PMID: 24939887
25.  Expanding the Marine Virosphere Using Metagenomics 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003987.
Viruses infecting prokaryotic cells (phages) are the most abundant entities of the biosphere and contain a largely uncharted wealth of genomic diversity. They play a critical role in the biology of their hosts and in ecosystem functioning at large. The classical approaches studying phages require isolation from a pure culture of the host. Direct sequencing approaches have been hampered by the small amounts of phage DNA present in most natural habitats and the difficulty in applying meta-omic approaches, such as annotation of small reads and assembly. Serendipitously, it has been discovered that cellular metagenomes of highly productive ocean waters (the deep chlorophyll maximum) contain significant amounts of viral DNA derived from cells undergoing the lytic cycle. We have taken advantage of this phenomenon to retrieve metagenomic fosmids containing viral DNA from a Mediterranean deep chlorophyll maximum sample. This method allowed description of complete genomes of 208 new marine phages. The diversity of these genomes was remarkable, contributing 21 genomic groups of tailed bacteriophages of which 10 are completely new. Sequence based methods have allowed host assignment to many of them. These predicted hosts represent a wide variety of important marine prokaryotic microbes like members of SAR11 and SAR116 clades, Cyanobacteria and also the newly described low GC Actinobacteria. A metavirome constructed from the same habitat showed that many of the new phage genomes were abundantly represented. Furthermore, other available metaviromes also indicated that some of the new phages are globally distributed in low to medium latitude ocean waters. The availability of many genomes from the same sample allows a direct approach to viral population genomics confirming the remarkable mosaicism of phage genomes.
Author Summary
Prokaryotic species contain extremely large gene pools (pan-genome) the study of which has been constrained by the difficulties in getting enough cultivated representatives of most of them. The situation of their viruses, also known as phages, that provide part of this genomic diversity and preserve it, is even worse. Here we have found a way to bypass the limitation imposed by pure culture to retrieve phage genomes. We obtained large insert clones (fosmids) from natural communities that are undergoing active viral attack. This has allowed us to triple the number of genomes of marine phages and could be similarly applied to other habitats, shedding light into the biology of the most numerous and least known biological entities on the planet. They exhibit a remarkable degree of variation at one single geographic site but some seem also to be prevalent worldwide. Their frequent mosaicism indicates a high level of promiscuity that goes beyond the already remarkable hybrid nature of prokaryotic genomes.
PMCID: PMC3861242  PMID: 24348267

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