Halophilic Archaea determined from geothermal steam vent aerosols

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Hydrothermal vents, known as ‘fumaroles’, are ubiquitous features of geothermal areas. Although their geology has been extensively characterized, little is known about the subsurface microbial ecology of fumaroles largely because of the difficulty in collecting sufficient numbers of cells from boiling steam water for DNA extraction and culture isolation. Here we describe the first collection, molecular analysis and isolation of microbes from fumarole steam waters in Russia (Kamchatka) and the USA (Hawaii, New Mexico, California and Wyoming). Surprisingly, the steam vent waters from all the fumaroles contained halophilic Archaea closely related to the Haloarcula spp. found in non-geothermal salt mats, saline soils, brine pools and salt lakes around the world. Microscopic cell counting estimated the cell dispersal rate at approximately 1.6 × 109 cells year−1 from a single fumarole. We also managed to enrich microbes in high-salt media from every vent sample, and to isolate Haloarcula from a Yellowstone vent in a 20% salt medium after a month-long incubation, demonstrating both salt tolerance and viability of cells collected from high-temperature steam. Laboratory tests determined that microbes enriched in salt media survived temperatures greater than 75°C for between 5 and 30 min during the collection process. Hawaiian fumaroles proved to contain the greatest diversity of halophilic Archaea with four new lineages that may belong to uncultured haloarchaeal genera. This high diversity may have resulted from the leaching of salts and minerals through the highly porous volcanic rock, creating a chemically complex saline subsurface.

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