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  1. Abstract

    Not all bacteria are fast growers. In soil as in other environments, bacteria exist along a continuum—from copiotrophs that can grow rapidly under resource-rich conditions to oligotrophs that are adapted to life in the “slow lane.” However, the field of microbiology is built almost exclusively on the study of copiotrophs due, in part, to the ease of studying them in vitro. To begin understanding the attributes of soil oligotrophs, we analyzed three independent datasets that represent contrasts in organic carbon availability. These datasets included 185 samples collected from soil profiles across the USA, 950 paired bulk soil and rhizosphere samples collected across Europe, and soils from a microcosm experiment where carbon availability was manipulated directly. Using a combination of marker gene sequencing and targeted genomic analyses, we identified specific oligotrophic taxa that were consistently more abundant in carbon-limited environments (subsurface, bulk, unamended soils) compared to the corresponding carbon-rich environment (surface, rhizosphere, glucose-amended soils), including members of the Dormibacterota and Chloroflexi phyla. In general, putative soil oligotrophs had smaller genomes, slower maximum potential growth rates, and were under-represented in culture collections. The genomes of oligotrophs were more likely to be enriched in pathways that allow oligotrophs to metabolize a range of energy sources and store carbon, while genes associated with energy-intensive functions like chemotaxis and motility were under-represented. However, few genomic attributes were shared, highlighting that oligotrophs likely use a range of different metabolic strategies and regulatory pathways to thrive in resource-limited soils.

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  2. The environmental preferences of many microbes remain undetermined. This is the case for bacterial pH preferences, which can be difficult to predict a priori despite the importance of pH as a factor structuring bacterial communities in many systems. We compiled data on bacterial distributions from five datasets spanning pH gradients in soil and freshwater systems (1470 samples), quantified the pH preferences of bacterial taxa across these datasets, and compiled genomic data from representative bacterial taxa. While taxonomic and phylogenetic information were generally poor predictors of bacterial pH preferences, we identified genes consistently associated with pH preference across environments. We then developed and validated a machine learning model to estimate bacterial pH preferences from genomic information alone, a model that could aid in the selection of microbial inoculants, improve species distribution models, or help design effective cultivation strategies. More generally, we demonstrate the value of combining biogeographic and genomic data to infer and predict the environmental preferences of diverse bacterial taxa.

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  3. Hydrogenotrophic methanogens are ubiquitous chemoautotrophic archaea inhabiting globally distributed deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems and associated subseafloor niches within the rocky subseafloor, yet little is known about how they adapt and diversify in these habitats. To determine genomic variation and selection pressure within methanogenic populations at vents, we examined five Methanothermococcus single cell amplified genomes (SAGs) in conjunction with 15 metagenomes and 10 metatranscriptomes from venting fluids at two geochemically distinct hydrothermal vent fields on the Mid-Cayman Rise in the Caribbean Sea. We observed that some Methanothermococcus lineages and their transcripts were more abundant than others in individual vent sites, indicating differential fitness among lineages. The relative abundances of lineages represented by SAGs in each of the samples matched phylogenetic relationships based on single-copy universal genes, and genes related to nitrogen fixation and the CRISPR/Cas immune system were among those differentiating the clades. Lineages possessing these genes were less abundant than those missing that genomic region. Overall, patterns in nucleotide variation indicated that the population dynamics of Methanothermococcus were not governed by clonal expansions or selective sweeps, at least in the habitats and sampling times included in this study. Together, our results show that although specific lineages of Methanothermococcus co-exist in these habitats, some outcompete others, and possession of accessory metabolic functions does not necessarily provide a fitness advantage in these habitats in all conditions. This work highlights the power of combining single-cell, metagenomic, and metatranscriptomic datasets to determine how evolution shapes microbial abundance and diversity in hydrothermal vent ecosystems. 
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