National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2002

Temporal changes in archaeal diversity and chemistry in a mid-ocean ridge subseafloor habitat

Huber, J.A., D.A. Butterfield, and J.A. Baross

Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 68(4), 1585–1594, doi: 10.1128/AEM.68.4.1585-1594.2002 (2002)

The temporal variation in archaeal diversity in vent fluids from a midocean ridge subseafloor habitat was examined using PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis and most-probable-number (MPN) cultivation techniques targeting hyperthermophiles. To determine how variations in temperature and chemical characteristics of subseafloor fluids affect the microbial communities, we performed molecular phylogenetic and chemical analyses on diffuse-flow vent fluids from one site shortly after a volcanic eruption in 1998 and again in 1999 and 2000. The archaeal population was divided into particle-attached (>3-µm-diameter cells) and free-living fractions to test the hypothesis that subseafloor microorganisms associated with active hydrothermal systems are adapted for a lifestyle that involves attachment to solid surfaces and formation of biofilms. To delineate between entrained seawater archaea and the indigenous subseafloor microbial community, a background seawater sample was also examined and found to consist only of Group I Crenarchaeota and Group II Euryarchaeota, both of which were also present in vent fluids. The indigenous subseafloor archaeal community consisted of clones related to both mesophilic and hyperthermophilic Methanococcales, as well as many uncultured Euryarchaeota, some of which have been identified in other vent environments. The particle-attached fraction consistently showed greater diversity than the free-living fraction. The fluid and MPN counts indicate that while culturable hyperthermophiles represent less than 1% of the total microbial community, the subseafloor at new eruption sites does support a hyperthermophilic microbial community. The temperature and chemical indicators of the degree of subseafloor mixing appear to be the most important environmental parameters affecting community diversity, and it is apparent that decreasing fluid temperatures correlated with increased entrainment of seawater, decreased concentrations of hydrothermal chemical species, and increased incidence of seawater archaeal sequences.

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