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Title: Microbial Diversity and Sulfur Cycling in an Early Earth Analogue: From Ancient Novelty to Modern Commonality
ABSTRACT Life emerged and diversified in the absence of molecular oxygen. The prevailing anoxia and unique sulfur chemistry in the Paleo-, Meso-, and Neoarchean and early Proterozoic eras may have supported microbial communities that differ from those currently thriving on the earth’s surface. Zodletone spring in southwestern Oklahoma represents a unique habitat where spatial sampling could substitute for geological eras namely, from the anoxic, surficial light-exposed sediments simulating a preoxygenated earth to overlaid water column where air exposure simulates oxygen intrusion during the Neoproterozoic era. We document a remarkably diverse microbial community in the anoxic spring sediments, with 340/516 (65.89%) of genomes recovered in a metagenomic survey belonging to 200 bacterial and archaeal families that were either previously undescribed or that exhibit an extremely rare distribution on the current earth. Such diversity is underpinned by the widespread occurrence of sulfite, thiosulfate, tetrathionate, and sulfur reduction and the paucity of sulfate reduction machineries in these taxa. Hence, these processes greatly expand lineages mediating reductive sulfur-cycling processes in the tree of life. An analysis of the overlaying oxygenated water community demonstrated the development of a significantly less diverse community dominated by well-characterized lineages and a prevalence of oxidative sulfur-cycling processes. Such a more » transition from ancient novelty to modern commonality underscores the profound impact of the great oxygenation event on the earth’s surficial anoxic community. It also suggests that novel and rare lineages encountered in current anaerobic habitats could represent taxa that once thrived in an anoxic earth but have failed to adapt to earth’s progressive oxygenation. IMPORTANCE Life on earth evolved in an anoxic setting; however, the identity and fate of microorganisms that thrived in a preoxygenated earth are poorly understood. In Zodletone spring, the prevailing geochemical conditions are remarkably similar to conditions prevailing in surficial earth prior to oxygen buildup in the atmosphere. We identify hundreds of previously unknown microbial lineages in the spring and demonstrate that these lineages possess the metabolic machinery to mediate a wide range of reductive sulfur processes, with the capacity to respire sulfite, thiosulfate, sulfur, and tetrathionate, rather than sulfate, which is a reflection of the differences in sulfur-cycling chemistry in ancient versus modern times. Collectively, such patterns strongly suggest that microbial diversity and sulfur-cycling processes in a preoxygenated earth were drastically different from the currently observed patterns and that the Great Oxygenation Event has precipitated the near extinction of a wide range of oxygen-sensitive lineages and significantly altered the microbial reductive sulfur-cycling community on earth. « less
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Sousa, Filipa L.; Schleper, Christa M.
Award ID(s):
2016371 2016423
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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