Metatranscriptomes Reveal That All Three Domains of Life Are Active but Are Dominated by Bacteria in the Fennoscandian Crystalline Granitic Continental Deep Biosphere

Lopez-Fernandez M, Simone D, Wu X, Soler L, Nilsson E, Holmfeldt K, Lantz H, Bertilsson S, Dopson M

MBio 9 (6) - [2018-11-20; online 2018-11-20]

The continental subsurface is suggested to contain a significant part of the earth's total biomass. However, due to the difficulty of sampling, the deep subsurface is still one of the least understood ecosystems. Therefore, microorganisms inhabiting this environment might profoundly influence the global nutrient and energy cycles. In this study, in situ fixed RNA transcripts from two deep continental groundwaters from the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory (a Baltic Sea-influenced water with a residence time of <20 years, defined as "modern marine," and an "old saline" groundwater with a residence time of thousands of years) were subjected to metatranscriptome sequencing. Although small subunit (SSU) rRNA gene and mRNA transcripts aligned to all three domains of life, supporting activity within these community subsets, the data also suggested that the groundwaters were dominated by bacteria. Many of the SSU rRNA transcripts grouped within newly described candidate phyla or could not be mapped to known branches on the tree of life, suggesting that a large portion of the active biota in the deep biosphere remains unexplored. Despite the extremely oligotrophic conditions, mRNA transcripts revealed a diverse range of metabolic strategies that were carried out by multiple taxa in the modern marine water that is fed by organic carbon from the surface. In contrast, the carbon dioxide- and hydrogen-fed old saline water with a residence time of thousands of years predominantly showed the potential to carry out translation. This suggested these cells were active, but waiting until an energy source episodically becomes available.IMPORTANCE A newly designed sampling apparatus was used to fix RNA under in situ conditions in the deep continental biosphere and benchmarks a strategy for deep biosphere metatranscriptomic sequencing. This apparatus enabled the identification of active community members and the processes they carry out in this extremely oligotrophic environment. This work presents for the first time evidence of eukaryotic, archaeal, and bacterial activity in two deep subsurface crystalline rock groundwaters from the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory with different depths and geochemical characteristics. The findings highlight differences between organic carbon-fed shallow communities and carbon dioxide- and hydrogen-fed old saline waters. In addition, the data reveal a large portion of uncharacterized microorganisms, as well as the important role of candidate phyla in the deep biosphere, but also the disparity in microbial diversity when using standard microbial 16S rRNA gene amplification versus the large unknown portion of the community identified with unbiased metatranscriptomes.

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PubMed 30459191

DOI 10.1128/mbio.01792-18

Crossref 10.1128/mbio.01792-18