Microbial metabolism has the potential to impact the evolutionary ecology of a system across various spatial and temporal scales ranging from the scope of a single cell, ecosystem, to the earth as a whole. Understanding how microbial communities function is critical to unraveling how they underpin human health, and predicting global ecosystem dynamics, especially in the context of environmental perturbations like anthropogenic global change. The broad goal of our research is to unravel how (i) fine-scale genomic diversity impacts microbial community structure and function across various environments, (ii) individual microbes function in a community context, and (iii) microbes impact biogeochemical cycling at various spatial and temporal scales.
Evolutionary ecology of microbial sulfur metabolism. Microorganisms control and modulate transformations associated with the element sulfur in natural and engineered systems. Sulfur plays a central role in biochemistry, impacts carbon and nitrogen turnover in various environments, and is critical to maintaining the health of oceans in the future. We use biotic sulfur transformations as a model to study the evolution and ecology of microbial energy metabolism. These processes are abundant across both aerobic (sulfur oxidation) and anaerobic environments (sulfate reduction). We utilize a combination of fieldwork, laboratory experiments, and multi-omics based approaches to investigate the microbiology of sulfureous environments such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents, freshwater ecosystems, and the human gut.
Microbial community interactions. Recent advances in DNA sequencing and bioinformatics approaches have enabled the recovery of thousands of strain-resolved microbial genomes from a single ecosystem thereby providing a window into fine scale microbial interactions and metabolic networks in complex communities. Broadly, we are interested in studying three types of interactions in microbial communities using sulfur transformations as a model – virus-microbe, microbe-microbe, and microbial “metabolic handoffs”. We focus on virus-microbe interactions involving “auxiliary metabolic genes”, which are host-derived genes utilized by viruses in selfishly altering microbial metabolism. We also study microbe-microbe interactions, and “metabolic handoffs” primarily focused on dissimilatory sulfur metabolism. We seek to quantify and predict the impact of such interactions on biogeochemical cycling at cellular, ecosystem, and global scales.
A critical step in the biogeochemical cycle of sulfur on Earth is microbial sulfate reduction, yet organisms from relatively few lineages have been implicated in this process. Previous studies using functional marker genes have detected abundant, novel dissimilatory sulfite reductases (DsrAB) that could confer the capacity for microbial sulfite/sulfate reduction but were not affiliated with known organisms. Thus, the identity of a significant fraction of sulfate/sulfite-reducing microbes has remained elusive. Here we report the discovery of the capacity for sulfate/sulfite reduction in the genomes of organisms from 13 bacterial and archaeal phyla, thereby more than doubling the number of microbial phyla associated with this process. Eight of the 13 newly identified groups are candidate phyla that lack isolated representatives, a finding only possible given genomes from metagenomes. Organisms from Verrucomicrobia and two candidate phyla, Candidatus Rokubacteria and Candidatus Hydrothermarchaeota, contain some of the earliest evolved dsrAB genes. The capacity for sulfite reduction has been laterally transferred in multiple events within some phyla, and a key gene potentially capable of modulating sulfur metabolism in associated cells has been acquired by putatively symbiotic bacteria. We conclude that current functional predictions based on phylogeny significantly underestimate the extent of sulfate/sulfite reduction across Earth's ecosystems. Understanding the prevalence of this capacity is integral to interpreting the carbon cycle because sulfate reduction is often coupled to turnover of buried organic carbon. Our findings expand the diversity of microbial groups associated with sulfur transformations in the environment and motivate revision of biogeochemical process models based on microbial community composition.
An enormous diversity of previously unknown bacteria and archaea has been discovered recently, yet their functional capacities and distributions in the terrestrial subsurface remain uncertain. Here, we continually sampled a CO-driven geyser (Colorado Plateau, Utah, USA) over its 5-day eruption cycle to test the hypothesis that stratified, sandstone-hosted aquifers sampled over three phases of the eruption cycle have microbial communities that differ both in membership and function. Genome-resolved metagenomics, single-cell genomics and geochemical analyses confirmed this hypothesis and linked microorganisms to groundwater compositions from different depths. Autotrophic Candidatus "Altiarchaeum sp." and phylogenetically deep-branching nanoarchaea dominate the deepest groundwater. A nanoarchaeon with limited metabolic capacity is inferred to be a potential symbiont of the Ca. "Altiarchaeum". Candidate Phyla Radiation bacteria are also present in the deepest groundwater and they are relatively abundant in water from intermediate depths. During the recovery phase of the geyser, microaerophilic Fe- and S-oxidizers have high in situ genome replication rates. Autotrophic Sulfurimonas sustained by aerobic sulfide oxidation and with the capacity for N fixation dominate the shallow aquifer. Overall, 104 different phylum-level lineages are present in water from these subsurface environments, with uncultivated archaea and bacteria partitioned to the deeper subsurface.
spp. distantly related to thermophilic, sulfate-reducing species are regularly observed in environmental surveys of anoxic marine and freshwater habitats. Here we present a metaproteogenomic analysis of bacterium Nbg-4 as a representative of this clade. Its genome was assembled from replicated metagenomes of rice paddy soil that was used to grow rice in the presence and absence of gypsum (CaSO·2HO). Nbg-4 encoded the full pathway of dissimilatory sulfate reduction and showed expression of this pathway in gypsum-amended anoxic bulk soil as revealed by parallel metaproteomics. In addition, Nbg-4 encoded the full pathway of dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonia (DNRA), with expression of its first step being detected in bulk soil without gypsum amendment. The relative abundances of Nbg-4 were similar under both treatments, indicating that Nbg-4 maintained stable populations while shifting its energy metabolism. Whether Nbg-4 is a strict sulfate reducer or can couple sulfur oxidation to DNRA by operating the pathway of dissimilatory sulfate reduction in reverse could not be resolved. Further genome reconstruction revealed the potential to utilize butyrate, formate, H, or acetate as an electron donor; the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway was expressed under both treatments. Comparison to publicly available genome bins revealed the pathway for dissimilatory sulfate reduction also in related recovered from groundwater. Subsequent phylogenomics showed that such microorganisms form a novel genus within the , with Nbg-4 as a representative species. Based on the widespread occurrence of this novel genus, we propose for Nbg-4 the name " Sulfobium mesophilum," gen. nov., sp. nov. Rice paddies are indispensable for the food supply but are a major source of the greenhouse gas methane. If it were not counterbalanced by cryptic sulfur cycling, methane emission from rice paddy fields would be even higher. However, the microorganisms involved in this sulfur cycling are little understood. By using an environmental systems biology approach with Italian rice paddy soil, we could retrieve the population genome of a novel member of the phylum This microorganism encoded the full pathway of dissimilatory sulfate reduction and expressed it in anoxic paddy soil under sulfate-enriched conditions. Phylogenomics and comparison to the results of environmental surveys showed that such microorganisms are actually widespread in freshwater and marine environments. At the same time, they represent an undiscovered genus within the little-explored phylum Our results will be important for the design of enrichment strategies and postgenomic studies to further understanding of the contribution of these novel spp. to the global sulfur cycle.
We report the 4.55-Mbp genome of " Fluviicola riflensis" () that was manually curated to completion from Illumina data. " Fluviicola riflensis" is a facultative anaerobe. Its ability to grow over a range of O levels may favor its proliferation in an aquifer adjacent to the Colorado River in the United States.
Geological sequestration in deep underground repositories is the prevailing proposed route for radioactive waste disposal. After the disposal of radioactive waste in the subsurface, H may be produced by corrosion of steel and, ultimately, radionuclides will be exposed to the surrounding environment. To evaluate the potential for microbial activities to impact disposal systems, we explored the microbial community structure and metabolic functions of a sediment-hosted ecosystem at the Horonobe Underground Research Laboratory, Hokkaido, Japan. Overall, we found that the ecosystem hosted organisms from diverse lineages, including many from the phyla that lack isolated representatives. The majority of organisms can metabolize H, often via oxidative [NiFe] hydrogenases or electron-bifurcating [FeFe] hydrogenases that enable ferredoxin-based pathways, including the ion motive Rnf complex. Many organisms implicated in H metabolism are also predicted to catalyze carbon, nitrogen, iron and sulfur transformations. Notably, iron-based metabolism is predicted in a novel lineage of Actinobacteria and in a putative methane-oxidizing ANME-2d archaeon. We infer an ecological model that links microorganisms to sediment-derived resources and predict potential impacts of microbial activity on H consumption and retardation of radionuclide migration.
Remediation of industrial wastewater is important for preventing environmental contamination and enabling water reuse. Biological treatment for one industrial contaminant, thiocyanate (SCN), relies upon microbial hydrolysis, but this process is sensitive to high loadings. To examine the activity and stability of a microbial community over increasing SCN loadings, we established and operated a continuous-flow bioreactor fed increasing loadings of SCN. A second reactor was fed ammonium sulfate to mimic breakdown products of SCN. Biomass was sampled from both reactors for metagenomics and metaproteomics, yielding a set of genomes for 144 bacteria and one rotifer that constituted the abundant community in both reactors. We analyzed the metabolic potential and temporal dynamics of these organisms across the increasing loadings. In the SCN reactor, Thiobacillus strains capable of SCN degradation were highly abundant, whereas the ammonium sulfate reactor contained nitrifiers and heterotrophs capable of nitrate reduction. Key organisms in the SCN reactor expressed proteins involved in SCN degradation, sulfur oxidation, carbon fixation, and nitrogen removal. Lower performance at higher loadings was linked to changes in microbial community composition. This work provides an example of how meta-omics can increase our understanding of industrial wastewater treatment and inform iterative process design and development.
The origin and cellular complexity of eukaryotes represent a major enigma in biology. Current data support scenarios in which an archaeal host cell and an alphaproteobacterial (mitochondrial) endosymbiont merged together, resulting in the first eukaryotic cell. The host cell is related to Lokiarchaeota, an archaeal phylum with many eukaryotic features. The emergence of the structural complexity that characterizes eukaryotic cells remains unclear. Here we describe the 'Asgard' superphylum, a group of uncultivated archaea that, as well as Lokiarchaeota, includes Thor-, Odin- and Heimdallarchaeota. Asgard archaea affiliate with eukaryotes in phylogenomic analyses, and their genomes are enriched for proteins formerly considered specific to eukaryotes. Notably, thorarchaeal genomes encode several homologues of eukaryotic membrane-trafficking machinery components, including Sec23/24 and TRAPP domains. Furthermore, we identify thorarchaeal proteins with similar features to eukaryotic coat proteins involved in vesicle biogenesis. Our results expand the known repertoire of 'eukaryote-specific' proteins in Archaea, indicating that the archaeal host cell already contained many key components that govern eukaryotic cellular complexity.
CRISPR-Cas systems provide microbes with adaptive immunity by employing short DNA sequences, termed spacers, that guide Cas proteins to cleave foreign DNA. Class 2 CRISPR-Cas systems are streamlined versions, in which a single RNA-bound Cas protein recognizes and cleaves target sequences. The programmable nature of these minimal systems has enabled researchers to repurpose them into a versatile technology that is broadly revolutionizing biological and clinical research. However, current CRISPR-Cas technologies are based solely on systems from isolated bacteria, leaving the vast majority of enzymes from organisms that have not been cultured untapped. Metagenomics, the sequencing of DNA extracted directly from natural microbial communities, provides access to the genetic material of a huge array of uncultivated organisms. Here, using genome-resolved metagenomics, we identify a number of CRISPR-Cas systems, including the first reported Cas9 in the archaeal domain of life, to our knowledge. This divergent Cas9 protein was found in little-studied nanoarchaea as part of an active CRISPR-Cas system. In bacteria, we discovered two previously unknown systems, CRISPR-CasX and CRISPR-CasY, which are among the most compact systems yet discovered. Notably, all required functional components were identified by metagenomics, enabling validation of robust in vivo RNA-guided DNA interference activity in Escherichia coli. Interrogation of environmental microbial communities combined with in vivo experiments allows us to access an unprecedented diversity of genomes, the content of which will expand the repertoire of microbe-based biotechnologies.
Manganese (Mn) oxides are highly reactive minerals that influence the speciation, mobility, bioavailability and toxicity of a wide variety of organic and inorganic compounds. Although Mn(II)-oxidizing bacteria are known to catalyze the formation of Mn oxides, little is known about the organisms responsible for Mn oxidation in situ, especially in engineered environments. Mn(II)-oxidizing bacteria are important in drinking water systems, including in biofiltration and water distribution systems. Here, we used cultivation dependent and independent approaches to investigate Mn(II)-oxidizing bacteria in drinking water sources, a treatment plant and associated distribution system. We isolated 29 strains of Mn(II)-oxidizing bacteria and found that highly similar 16S rRNA gene sequences were present in all culture-independent datasets and dominant in the studied drinking water treatment plant. These results highlight a potentially important role for Mn(II)-oxidizing bacteria in drinking water systems, where biogenic Mn oxides may affect water quality in terms of aesthetic appearance, speciation of metals and oxidation of organic and inorganic compounds. Deciphering the ecology of these organisms and the factors that regulate their Mn(II)-oxidizing activity could yield important insights into how microbial communities influence the quality of drinking water.
The subterranean world hosts up to one-fifth of all biomass, including microbial communities that drive transformations central to Earth's biogeochemical cycles. However, little is known about how complex microbial communities in such environments are structured, and how inter-organism interactions shape ecosystem function. Here we apply terabase-scale cultivation-independent metagenomics to aquifer sediments and groundwater, and reconstruct 2,540 draft-quality, near-complete and complete strain-resolved genomes that represent the majority of known bacterial phyla as well as 47 newly discovered phylum-level lineages. Metabolic analyses spanning this vast phylogenetic diversity and representing up to 36% of organisms detected in the system are used to document the distribution of pathways in coexisting organisms. Consistent with prior findings indicating metabolic handoffs in simple consortia, we find that few organisms within the community can conduct multiple sequential redox transformations. As environmental conditions change, different assemblages of organisms are selected for, altering linkages among the major biogeochemical cycles.
The tree of life is one of the most important organizing principles in biology(1). Gene surveys suggest the existence of an enormous number of branches(2), but even an approximation of the full scale of the tree has remained elusive. Recent depictions of the tree of life have focused either on the nature of deep evolutionary relationships(3-5) or on the known, well-classified diversity of life with an emphasis on eukaryotes(6). These approaches overlook the dramatic change in our understanding of life's diversity resulting from genomic sampling of previously unexamined environments. New methods to generate genome sequences illuminate the identity of organisms and their metabolic capacities, placing them in community and ecosystem contexts(7,8). Here, we use new genomic data from over 1,000 uncultivated and little known organisms, together with published sequences, to infer a dramatically expanded version of the tree of life, with Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya included. The depiction is both a global overview and a snapshot of the diversity within each major lineage. The results reveal the dominance of bacterial diversification and underline the importance of organisms lacking isolated representatives, with substantial evolution concentrated in a major radiation of such organisms. This tree highlights major lineages currently underrepresented in biogeochemical models and identifies radiations that are probably important for future evolutionary analyses.
As in many deep underground environments, the microbial communities in subsurface high-CO ecosystems remain relatively unexplored. Recent investigations based on single-gene assays revealed a remarkable variety of organisms from little studied phyla in Crystal Geyser (Utah, USA), a site where deeply sourced CO -saturated fluids are erupted at the surface. To provide genomic resolution of the metabolisms of these organisms, we used a novel metagenomic approach to recover 227 high-quality genomes from 150 microbial species affiliated with 46 different phylum-level lineages. Bacteria from two novel phylum-level lineages have the capacity for CO fixation. Analyses of carbon fixation pathways in all studied organisms revealed that the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway and the Calvin-Benson-Bassham Cycle occurred with the highest frequency, whereas the reverse TCA cycle was little used. We infer that this, and selection for form II RuBisCOs, are adaptions to high CO -concentrations. However, many autotrophs can also grow mixotrophically, a strategy that confers metabolic versatility. The assignment of 156 hydrogenases to 90 different organisms suggests that H is an important inter-species energy currency even under gaseous CO -saturation. Overall, metabolic analyses at the organism level provided insight into the biochemical cycles that support subsurface life under the extreme condition of CO saturation.
Five closely related populations of bacteria from the Candidate Phylum (CP) Peregrinibacteria, part of the bacterial Candidate Phyla Radiation (CPR), were sampled from filtered groundwater obtained from an aquifer adjacent to the Colorado River near the town of Rifle, CO, USA. Here, we present the first complete genome sequences for organisms from this phylum. These bacteria have small genomes and, unlike most organisms from other lineages in the CPR, have the capacity for nucleotide synthesis. They invest significantly in biosynthesis of cell wall and cell envelope components, including peptidoglycan, isoprenoids via the mevalonate pathway, and a variety of amino sugars including perosamine and rhamnose. The genomes encode an intriguing set of large extracellular proteins, some of which are very cysteine-rich and may function in attachment, possibly to other cells. Strain variation in these proteins is an important source of genotypic variety. Overall, the cell envelope features, combined with the lack of biosynthesis capacities for many required cofactors, fatty acids, and most amino acids point to a symbiotic lifestyle. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that these bacteria likely represent a new class within the Peregrinibacteria phylum, although they ultimately may be recognized as members of a separate phylum. We propose the provisional taxonomic assignment as 'Candidatus Peribacter riflensis', Genus Peribacter, Family Peribacteraceae, Order Peribacterales, Class Peribacteria in the phylum Peregrinibacteria.
Current understanding of microorganism-virus interactions, which shape the evolution and functioning of Earth's ecosystems, is based primarily on cultivated organisms. Here we investigate thousands of viral and microbial genomes recovered using a cultivation-independent approach to study the frequency, variety and taxonomic distribution of viral defence mechanisms. CRISPR-Cas systems that confer microorganisms with immunity to viruses are present in only 10% of 1,724 sampled microorganisms, compared with previous reports of 40% occurrence in bacteria and 81% in archaea. We attribute this large difference to the lack of CRISPR-Cas systems across major bacterial lineages that have no cultivated representatives. We correlate absence of CRISPR-Cas with lack of nucleotide biosynthesis capacity and a symbiotic lifestyle. Restriction systems are well represented in these lineages and might provide both non-specific viral defence and access to nucleotides.
Ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO) is a critical yet severely inefficient enzyme that catalyses the fixation of virtually all of the carbon found on Earth. Here, we report a functional metagenomic selection that recovers physiologically active RubisCO molecules directly from uncultivated and largely unknown members of natural microbial communities. Selection is based on CO2 -dependent growth in a host strain capable of expressing environmental deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), precluding the need for pure cultures or screening of recombinant clones for enzymatic activity. Seventeen functional RubisCO-encoded sequences were selected using DNA extracted from soil and river autotrophic enrichments, a photosynthetic biofilm and a subsurface groundwater aquifer. Notably, three related form II RubisCOs were recovered which share high sequence similarity with metagenomic scaffolds from uncultivated members of the Gallionellaceae family. One of the Gallionellaceae RubisCOs was purified and shown to possess CO2 /O2 specificity typical of form II enzymes. X-ray crystallography determined that this enzyme is a hexamer, only the second form II multimer ever solved and the first RubisCO structure obtained from an uncultivated bacterium. Functional metagenomic selection leverages natural biological diversity and billions of years of evolution inherent in environmental communities, providing a new window into the discovery of CO2 -fixing enzymes not previously characterized.
Microbial processes within deep-sea hydrothermal plumes affect ocean biogeochemistry on global scales. In rising hydrothermal plumes, a combination of microbial metabolism and particle formation processes initiate the transformation of reduced chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen, methane, iron, manganese and ammonia that are abundant in hydrothermal vent fluids. Despite the biogeochemical importance of this rising portion of plumes, it is understudied in comparison to neutrally buoyant plumes. Here we use metagenomics and bioenergetic modeling to describe the abundance and genetic potential of microorganisms in relation to available electron donors in five different hydrothermal plumes and three associated background deep-sea waters from the Eastern Lau Spreading Center located in the Western Pacific Ocean. Three hundred and thirty one distinct genomic 'bins' were identified, comprising an estimated 951 genomes of archaea, bacteria, eukarya and viruses. A significant proportion of these genomes is from novel microorganisms and thus reveals insights into the energy metabolism of heretofore unknown microbial groups. Community-wide analyses of genes encoding enzymes that oxidize inorganic energy sources showed that sulfur oxidation was the most abundant and diverse chemolithotrophic microbial metabolism in the community. Genes for sulfur oxidation were commonly present in genomic bins that also contained genes for oxidation of hydrogen and methane, suggesting metabolic versatility in these microbial groups. The relative diversity and abundance of genes encoding hydrogen oxidation was moderate, whereas that of genes for methane and ammonia oxidation was low in comparison to sulfur oxidation. Bioenergetic-thermodynamic modeling supports the metagenomic analyses, showing that oxidation of elemental sulfur with oxygen is the most dominant catabolic reaction in the hydrothermal plumes. We conclude that the energy metabolism of microbial communities inhabiting rising hydrothermal plumes is dictated by the underlying plume chemistry, with a dominant role for sulfur-based chemolithoautotrophy.