Gene expression in the deep biosphere

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Abstract

Scientific ocean drilling has revealed a deep biosphere of widespread microbial life in sub-seafloor sediment. Microbial metabolism in the marine subsurface probably has an important role in global biogeochemical cycles1-3, but deep biosphere activities are not well understood1. Here we describe and analyse the first sub-seafloor metatranscriptomes from anaerobic Peru Margin sediment up to 159 metres below the sea floor, represented by over 1 billion complementary DNA (cDNA) sequence reads. Anaerobic metabolism of amino acids, carbohydrates and lipids seem to be the dominant metabolic processes, and profiles of dissimilatory sulfite reductase (dsr) transcripts are consistent with pore-water sulphate concentration profiles1. Moreover, transcripts involved in cell division increase as a function of microbial cell concentration, indicating that increases in sub-seafloor microbial abundance are a function of cell division across all three domains of life. These data support calculations1and models4of sub-seafloor microbial metabolism and represent the first holistic picture of deep biosphere activities.

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