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Title: Predominance of Anaerobic, Spore-Forming Bacteria in Metabolically Active Microbial Communities from Ancient Siberian Permafrost
ABSTRACT The prevalence of microbial life in permafrost up to several million years (Ma) old has been well documented. However, the long-term survivability, evolution, and metabolic activity of the entombed microbes over this time span remain underexplored. We integrated aspartic acid (Asp) racemization assays with metagenomic sequencing to characterize the microbial activity, phylogenetic diversity, and metabolic functions of indigenous microbial communities across a ∼0.01- to 1.1-Ma chronosequence of continuously frozen permafrost from northeastern Siberia. Although Asp in the older bulk sediments (0.8 to 1.1 Ma) underwent severe racemization relative to that in the youngest sediment (∼0.01 Ma), the much lower d -Asp/ l -Asp ratio (0.05 to 0.14) in the separated cells from all samples suggested that indigenous microbial communities were viable and metabolically active in ancient permafrost up to 1.1 Ma. The microbial community in the youngest sediment was the most diverse and was dominated by the phyla Actinobacteria and Proteobacteria . In contrast, microbial diversity decreased dramatically in the older sediments, and anaerobic, spore-forming bacteria within Firmicutes became overwhelmingly dominant. In addition to the enrichment of sporulation-related genes, functional genes involved in anaerobic metabolic pathways such as fermentation, sulfate reduction, and methanogenesis were more abundant in the older sediments. Taken together, the predominance of spore-forming bacteria and associated anaerobic metabolism in the older sediments suggest that a subset of the original indigenous microbial community entrapped in the permafrost survived burial over geological time. IMPORTANCE Understanding the long-term survivability and associated metabolic traits of microorganisms in ancient permafrost frozen millions of years ago provides a unique window into the burial and preservation processes experienced in general by subsurface microorganisms in sedimentary deposits because of permafrost’s hydrological isolation and exceptional DNA preservation. We employed aspartic acid racemization modeling and metagenomics to determine which microbial communities were metabolically active in the 1.1-Ma permafrost from northeastern Siberia. The simultaneous sequencing of extracellular and intracellular genomic DNA provided insight into the metabolic potential distinguishing extinct from extant microorganisms under frozen conditions over this time interval. This in-depth metagenomic sequencing advances our understanding of the microbial diversity and metabolic functions of extant microbiomes from early Pleistocene permafrost. Therefore, these findings extend our knowledge of the survivability of microbes in permafrost from 33,000 years to 1.1 Ma.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1442262 1460058
NSF-PAR ID:
10121400
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Volume:
85
Issue:
15
ISSN:
0099-2240
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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    Total DNA (intracellular, iDNA and extracellular, eDNA) from ancient permafrost records the mixed genetic repository of the past and present microbial populations through geological time. Given the exceptional preservation of eDNA under perennial frozen conditions, typical metagenomic sequencing of total DNA precludes the discrimination between fossil and living microorganisms in ancient cryogenic environments. DNA repair protocols were combined with high throughput sequencing (HTS) of separate iDNA and eDNA fraction to reconstruct metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from ancient microbial DNA entrapped in Siberian coastal permafrost.

    Results

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