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1.  Metagenomic and geochemical characterization of pockmarked sediments overlaying the Troll petroleum reservoir in the North Sea 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:203.
Pockmarks (depressions in the seabed) have been discovered throughout the world’s oceans and are often related to hydrocarbon seepage. Although high concentrations of pockmarks are present in the seabed overlaying the Troll oil and gas reservoir in the northern North Sea, geological surveys have not detected hydrocarbon seepage in this area at the present time. In this study we have used metagenomics to characterize the prokaryotic communities inhabiting the surface sediments in the Troll area in relation to geochemical parameters, particularly related to hydrocarbon presence. We also investigated the possibility of increased potential for methane oxidation related to the pockmarks. Five metagenomes from pockmarks and plain seabed sediments were sequenced by pyrosequencing (Roche/454) technology. In addition, two metagenomes from seabed sediments geologically unlikely to be influenced by hydrocarbon seepage (the Oslofjord) were included. The taxonomic distribution and metabolic potential of the metagenomes were analyzed by multivariate analysis and statistical comparisons to reveal variation within and between the two sampling areas.
The main difference identified between the two sampling areas was an overabundance of predominantly autotrophic nitrifiers, especially Nitrosopumilus, and oligotrophic marine Gammaproteobacteria in the Troll metagenomes compared to the Oslofjord. Increased potential for degradation of hydrocarbons, especially aromatic hydrocarbons, was detected in two of the Troll samples: one pockmark sample and one from the plain seabed. Although presence of methanotrophic organisms was indicated in all samples, no overabundance in pockmark samples compared to the Oslofjord samples supports no, or only low level, methane seepage in the Troll pockmarks at the present time.
Given the relatively low content of total organic carbon and great depths of hydrocarbon containing sediments in the Troll area, it is possible that at least part of the carbon source available for the predominantly autotrophic nitrifiers thriving in this area originates from sequential prokaryotic degradation and oxidation of hydrocarbons to CO2. By turning CO2 back into organic carbon this subcommunity could play an important environmental role in these dark oligotrophic sediments. The oxidation of ammonia to nitrite and nitrate in this process could further increase the supply of terminal electron acceptors for hydrocarbon degradation.
PMCID: PMC3478177  PMID: 22966776
2.  A metagenomic study of methanotrophic microorganisms in Coal Oil Point seep sediments 
BMC Microbiology  2011;11:221.
Methane oxidizing prokaryotes in marine sediments are believed to function as a methane filter reducing the oceanic contribution to the global methane emission. In the anoxic parts of the sediments, oxidation of methane is accomplished by anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME) living in syntrophy with sulphate reducing bacteria. This anaerobic oxidation of methane is assumed to be a coupling of reversed methanogenesis and dissimilatory sulphate reduction. Where oxygen is available aerobic methanotrophs take part in methane oxidation. In this study, we used metagenomics to characterize the taxonomic and metabolic potential for methane oxidation at the Tonya seep in the Coal Oil Point area, California. Two metagenomes from different sediment depth horizons (0-4 cm and 10-15 cm below sea floor) were sequenced by 454 technology. The metagenomes were analysed to characterize the distribution of aerobic and anaerobic methanotrophic taxa at the two sediment depths. To gain insight into the metabolic potential the metagenomes were searched for marker genes associated with methane oxidation.
Blast searches followed by taxonomic binning in MEGAN revealed aerobic methanotrophs of the genus Methylococcus to be overrepresented in the 0-4 cm metagenome compared to the 10-15 cm metagenome. In the 10-15 cm metagenome, ANME of the ANME-1 clade, were identified as the most abundant methanotrophic taxon with 8.6% of the reads. Searches for particulate methane monooxygenase (pmoA) and methyl-coenzyme M reductase (mcrA), marker genes for aerobic and anaerobic oxidation of methane respectively, identified pmoA in the 0-4 cm metagenome as Methylococcaceae related. The mcrA reads from the 10-15 cm horizon were all classified as originating from the ANME-1 clade.
Most of the taxa detected were present in both metagenomes and differences in community structure and corresponding metabolic potential between the two samples were mainly due to abundance differences.
The results suggests that the Tonya Seep sediment is a robust methane filter, where taxa presently dominating this process could be replaced by less abundant methanotrophic taxa in case of changed environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC3197505  PMID: 21970369

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