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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
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract Background

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    Our results indicated that coupling of DNA repair protocols with simultaneous sequencing of iDNA and eDNA fractions enabled the assembly of MAGs from past and living microorganisms in ancient permafrost. The genomic reconstruction from the past and extant microbial populations expanded our understanding about the microbial successions and biogeochemical alterations from the past paleoenvironment to the present-day frozen state. Furthermore, we provided genomic insights into long-term survival mechanisms of microorganisms under cryogenic conditions through geological time. The combined strategies in this study can be extrapolated to examine other ancient non-permafrost environments and constrain the search for past and extant extraterrestrial life in permafrost and ice deposits on Mars.

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