Extensive carbon isotopic heterogeneity among methane seep microbiota

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SummaryTo assess and study the heterogeneity of δ13C values for seep microorganisms of the Eel River Basin, we studied two principally different sample sets: sediments from push cores and artificial surfaces colonized over a 14 month in situ incubation. In a single sediment core, the δ13C compositions of methane seep-associated microorganisms were measured and the relative activity of several metabolisms was determined using radiotracers. We observed a large range of archaeal δ13C values (> 50‰) in this microbial community. The δ13C of ANME-1 rods ranged from −24‰ to −87‰. The δ13C of ANME-2 sarcina ranged from −18‰ to −75‰. Initial measurements of shell aggregates were as heavy as −19.5‰ with none observed to be lighter than −57‰. Subsequent measurements on shell aggregates trended lighter reaching values as 13C-depleted as −73‰. The observed isotopic trends found for mixed aggregates were similar to those found for shell aggregates in that the initial measurements were often enriched and the subsequent analyses were more 13C-depleted (with values as light as −56‰). The isotopic heterogeneity and trends observed within taxonomic groups suggest that ANME-1 and ANME-2 sarcina are capable of both methanogenesis and methanotrophy. In situ microbial growth was investigated by incubating a series of slides and silicon (Si) wafers for 14 months in seep sediment. The experiment showed ubiquitous growth of bacterial filaments (mean δ13C = −38 ± 3‰), suggesting that this bacterial morphotype was capable of rapid colonization and growth.

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