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Microbial Diversity and Sulfur Cycling in an Early Earth Analogue: From Ancient Novelty to Modern Commonality...

by Mircea Podar
Publication Type
Journal
Journal Name
mBio
Publication Date
Volume
13
Issue
2

Life emerged and diversified in the absence of molecular oxygen. The prevailing anoxia and unique sulfur chemistry in the Paleo-, Meso-, and Neoarchean and early Proterozoic eras may have supported microbial communities that differ from those currently thriving on the earth’s surface. Zodletone spring in southwestern Oklahoma represents a unique habitat where spatial sampling could substitute for geological eras namely, from the anoxic, surficial light-exposed sediments simulating a preoxygenated earth to overlaid water column where air exposure simulates oxygen intrusion during the Neoproterozoic era. We document a remarkably diverse microbial community in the anoxic spring sediments, with 340/516 (65.89%) of genomes recovered in a metagenomic survey belonging to 200 bacterial and archaeal families that were either previously undescribed or that exhibit an extremely rare distribution on the current earth. Such diversity is underpinned by the widespread occurrence of sulfite, thiosulfate, tetrathionate, and sulfur reduction and the paucity of sulfate reduction machineries in these taxa. Hence, these processes greatly expand lineages mediating reductive sulfur-cycling processes in the tree of life. An analysis of the overlaying oxygenated water community demonstrated the development of a significantly less diverse community dominated by well-characterized lineages and a prevalence of oxidative sulfur-cycling processes. Such a transition from ancient novelty to modern commonality underscores the profound impact of the great oxygenation event on the earth’s surficial anoxic community. It also suggests that novel and rare lineages encountered in current anaerobic habitats could represent taxa that once thrived in an anoxic earth but have failed to adapt to earth’s progressive oxygenation.