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  1. Persistent cold temperatures, a paucity of nutrients, freeze-thaw cycles, and the strongly seasonal light regime make Antarctica one of Earth’s least hospitable surface environments for complex life. Cyanobacteria, however, are well-adapted to such conditions and are often the dominant primary producers in Antarctic inland water environments. In particular, the network of meltwater ponds on the ‘dirty ice’ of the McMurdo Ice Shelf is an ecosystem with extensive cyanobacteria-dominated microbial mat accumulations. This study investigated intact polar lipids (IPLs), heterocyte glycolipids (HGs), and bacteriohopanepolyols (BHPs) in combination with 16S and 18S rRNA gene diversity in microbial mats of twelve ponds in this unique polar ecosystem. To constrain the effects of nutrient availability, temperature and freeze-thaw cycles on the lipid membrane composition, lipids were compared to stromatolite-forming cyanobacterial mats from ice-covered lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys as well as from (sub)tropical regions and hot springs. The 16S rRNA gene compositions of the McMurdo Ice Shelf mats confirm the dominance of Cyanobacteria and Proteobacteria while the 18S rRNA gene composition indicates the presence of Ochrophyta, Chlorophyta, Ciliophora, and other microfauna. IPL analyses revealed a predominantly bacterial community in the meltwater ponds, with archaeal lipids being barely detectable. IPLs are dominated by glycolipids and phospholipids, followed by aminolipids. The high abundance of sugar-bound lipids accords with a predominance of cyanobacterial primary producers. The phosphate-limited samples from the (sub)tropical, hot spring, and Lake Vanda sites revealed a higher abundance of aminolipids compared to those of the nitrogen-limited meltwater ponds, affirming the direct affects that N and P availability have on IPL compositions. The high abundance of polyunsaturated IPLs in the Antarctic microbial mats suggests that these lipids provide an important mechanism to maintain membrane fluidity in cold environments. High abundances of HG keto-ols and HG keto-diols, produced by heterocytous cyanobacteria, further support these findings and reveal a unique distribution compared to those from warmer climates. 
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  2. Bacterial hopanoid lipids are ubiquitous in the geologic record and serve as biomarkers for reconstructing Earth’s climatic and biogeochemical evolution. Specifically, the abundance of 2-methylhopanoids deposited during Mesozoic ocean anoxic events (OAEs) and other intervals has been interpreted to reflect proliferation of nitrogen-fixing marine cyanobacteria. However, there currently is no conclusive evidence for 2-methylhopanoid production by extant marine cyanobacteria. As an alternative explanation, here we report 2-methylhopanoid production by bacteria of the genusNitrobacter, cosmopolitan nitrite oxidizers that inhabit nutrient-rich freshwater, brackish, and marine environments. The model organismNitrobacter vulgarisproduced only trace amounts of 2-methylhopanoids when grown in minimal medium or with added methionine, the presumed biosynthetic methyl donor. Supplementation of cultures with cobalamin (vitamin B12) increased nitrite oxidation rates and stimulated a 33-fold increase of 2-methylhopanoid abundance, indicating that the biosynthetic reaction mechanism is cobalamin dependent. BecauseNitrobacterspp. cannot synthesize cobalamin, we postulate that they acquire it from organisms inhabiting a shared ecological niche—for example, ammonia-oxidizing archaea. We propose that during nutrient-rich conditions, cobalamin-based mutualism intensifies upper water column nitrification, thus promoting 2-methylhopanoid deposition. In contrast, anoxia underlying oligotrophic surface ocean conditions in restricted basins would prompt shoaling of anaerobic ammonium oxidation, leading to low observed 2-methylhopanoid abundances. The first scenario is consistent with hypotheses of enhanced nutrient loading during OAEs, while the second is consistent with the sedimentary record of Pliocene–Pleistocene Mediterranean sapropel events. We thus hypothesize that nitrogen cycling in the Pliocene–Pleistocene Mediterranean resembled modern, highly stratified basins, whereas no modern analog exists for OAEs.

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  3. Abstract

    Hopanoid lipids, bacteriohopanols and bacteriohopanepolyols, are membrane components exclusive to bacteria. Together with their diagenetic derivatives, they are commonly used as biomarkers for specific bacterial groups or biogeochemical processes in the geologic record. However, the sources of hopanoids to marine and freshwater environments remain inadequately constrained. Recent marker gene studies suggest a widespread potential for hopanoid biosynthesis in marine bacterioplankton, including nitrifying (i.e., ammonia‐ and nitrite‐oxidizing) bacteria. To explore their hopanoid biosynthetic capacities, we studied the distribution of hopanoid biosynthetic genes in the genomes of cultivated and uncultivated ammonia‐oxidizing (AOB), nitrite‐oxidizing (NOB), and complete ammonia‐oxidizing (comammox) bacteria, finding that biosynthesis of diverse hopanoids is common among seven of the nine presently cultivated clades of nitrifying bacteria. Hopanoid biosynthesis genes are also conserved among the diverse lineages of bacterial nitrifiers detected in environmental metagenomes. We selected seven representative NOB isolated from marine, freshwater, and engineered environments for phenotypic characterization. All tested NOB produced diverse types of hopanoids, with some NOB producing primarily diploptene and others producing primarily bacteriohopanepolyols. Relative and absolute abundances of hopanoids were distinct among the cultures and dependent on growth conditions, such as oxygen and nitrite limitation. Several novel nitrogen‐containing bacteriohopanepolyols were tentatively identified, of which the so called BHP‐743.6 was present in all NOB. Distinct carbon isotopic signatures of biomass, hopanoids, and fatty acids in four tested NOB suggest operation of the reverse tricarboxylic acid cycle inNitrospiraspp. andNitrospina gracilisand of the Calvin–Benson–Bassham cycle for carbon fixation inNitrobacter vulgarisandNitrococcus mobilis. We suggest that the contribution of hopanoids by NOB to environmental samples could be estimated by their carbon isotopic compositions. The ubiquity of nitrifying bacteria in the ocean today and the antiquity of this metabolic process suggest the potential for significant contributions to the geologic record of hopanoids.

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