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  1. Abstract

    Investigations of abiotic and biotic contributions to dissolved organic carbon (DOC) are required to constrain microbial habitability in continental subsurface fluids. Here we investigate a large (101–283 mg C/L) DOC pool in an ancient (>1Ga), high temperature (45–55 °C), low biomass (102−104cells/mL), and deep (3.2 km) brine from an uranium-enriched South African gold mine. Excitation-emission matrices (EEMs), negative electrospray ionization (–ESI) 21 tesla Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS), and amino acid analyses suggest the brine DOC is primarily radiolytically oxidized kerogen-rich shales or reefs, methane and ethane, with trace amounts of C3–C6hydrocarbons and organic sulfides. δ2H and δ13C of C1–C3hydrocarbons are consistent with abiotic origins. These findings suggest water-rock processes control redox and C cycling, helping support a meagre, slow biosphere over geologic time. A radiolytic-driven, habitable brine may signal similar settings are good targets in the search for life beyond Earth.

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  2. null (Ed.)
  3. Abstract Background

    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.


    Despite the severe DNA damage in ancient permafrost, the coupling of DNA repair and HTS resulted in a total of 52 MAGs from sediments across a chronosequence (26–120 kyr). These MAGs were compared with those derived from the same samples but without utilizing DNA repair protocols. The MAGs from the youngest stratum showed minimal DNA damage and thus likely originated from viable, active microbial species. Many MAGs from the older and deeper sediment appear related to past aerobic microbial populations that had died upon freezing. MAGs from anaerobic lineages, includingAsgardarchaea, however exhibited minimal DNA damage and likely represent extant living microorganisms that have become adapted to the cryogenic and anoxic environments. The integration of aspartic acid racemization modeling and metaproteomics further constrained the metabolic status of the living microbial populations. Collectively, combining DNA repair protocols with HTS unveiled the adaptive strategies of microbes to long-term survivability in ancient permafrost.


    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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  4. 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. 
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  6. Abstract

    The nematodeHalicephalobus mephistowas originally discovered inhabiting a deep terrestrial aquifer 1.3 km underground.H. mephistocan thrive under conditions of abiotic stress including heat and minimal oxygen, where it feeds on a community of both chemolithotrophic and heterotrophic prokaryotes in an unusual ecosystem isolated from the surface biosphere. Here we report the comprehensive genome and transcriptome of this organism, identifying a signature of adaptation: an expanded repertoire of 70 kilodalton heat-shock proteins (Hsp70) and avrRpt2 induced gene 1 (AIG1) proteins. The expanded Hsp70 genes are transcriptionally induced upon growth under heat stress, and we find that positive selection is detectable in several members of this family. We further show that AIG1 may have been acquired by horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from a rhizobial fungus. Over one-third of the genes ofH. mephistoare novel, highlighting the divergence of this nematode from other sequenced organisms. This work sheds light on the genomic basis of heat tolerance in a complete subterrestrial eukaryotic genome.

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  7. Abstract

    The physical and chemical changes that accompany permafrost thaw directly influence the microbial communities that mediate the decomposition of formerly frozen organic matter, leading to uncertainty in permafrost–climate feedbacks. Although changes to microbial metabolism and community structure are documented following thaw, the generality of post‐thaw assembly patterns across permafrost soils of the world remains uncertain, limiting our ability to predict biogeochemistry and microbial community responses to climate change. Based on our review of the Arctic microbiome, permafrost microbiology, and community ecology, we propose thatAssembly Theoryprovides a framework to better understand thaw‐mediated microbiome changes and the implications for community function and climate feedbacks. This framework posits that the prevalence of deterministic or stochastic processes indicates whether the community is well‐suited to thrive in changing environmental conditions. We predict that on a short timescale and following high‐disturbance thaw (e.g., thermokarst), stochasticity dominates post‐thaw microbiome assembly, suggesting that functional predictions will be aided by detailed information about the microbiome. At a longer timescale and lower‐intensity disturbance (e.g., active layer deepening), deterministic processes likely dominate, making environmental parameters sufficient for predicting function. We propose that the contribution of stochastic and deterministic processes to post‐thaw microbiome assembly depends on the characteristics of the thaw disturbance, as well as characteristics of the microbial community, such as the ecological and phylogenetic breadth of functional guilds, their functional redundancy, and biotic interactions. These propagate across space and time, potentially providing a means for predicting the microbial forcing of greenhouse gas feedbacks to global climate change.

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