Colonization of subsurface microbial observatories deployed in young ocean crust

Beth N. Orcutt, Wolfgang Bach, Keir Becker, Andrew T. Fisher, Michael Hentscher, Brandy M. Toner, C. Geoffrey Wheat, Katrina J. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

92 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Oceanic crust comprises the largest hydrogeologic reservoir on Earth, containing fluids in thermodynamic disequilibrium with the basaltic crust. Little is known about microbial ecosystems that inhabit this vast realm and exploit chemically favorable conditions for metabolic activities. Crustal samples recovered from ocean drilling operations are often compromised for microbiological assays, hampering efforts to resolve the extent and functioning of a subsurface biosphere. We report results from the first in situ experimental observatory systems that have been used to study subseafloor life. Experiments deployed for 4 years in young (3.5 Ma) basaltic crust on the eastern flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge record a dynamic, post-drilling response of crustal microbial ecosystems to changing physical and chemical conditions. Twisted stalks exhibiting a biogenic iron oxyhydroxide signature coated the surface of mineral substrates in the observatories; these are biosignatures indicating colonization by iron oxidizing bacteria during an initial phase of cool, oxic, iron-rich conditions following observatory installation. Following thermal and chemical recovery to warmer, reducing conditions, the in situ microbial structure in the observatory shifted, becoming representative of natural conditions in regional crustal fluids. Firmicutes, metabolic potential of which is unknown but may involve N or S cycling, dominated the post-rebound bacterial community. The archaeal community exhibited an extremely low diversity. Our experiment documented in situ conditions within a natural hydrological system that can pervade over millennia, exemplifying the power of observatory experiments for exploring the subsurface basaltic biosphere, the largest but most poorly understood biotope on Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)692-703
Number of pages12
JournalISME Journal
Volume5
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2011

Fingerprint

microbial ecology
drilling
Oceans and Seas
Ecosystem
colonization
Iron
observatory
oceans
iron oxyhydroxides
iron
crust
Firmicutes
biotopes
ocean
Thermodynamics
bacterial communities
thermodynamics
Minerals
Hot Temperature
biosphere

Keywords

  • deep biosphere
  • geomicrobiology
  • hydrothermal
  • observatory
  • oceanic crust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Microbiology

Cite this

Orcutt, B. N., Bach, W., Becker, K., Fisher, A. T., Hentscher, M., Toner, B. M., ... Edwards, K. J. (2011). Colonization of subsurface microbial observatories deployed in young ocean crust. ISME Journal, 5(4), 692-703. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2010.157

Colonization of subsurface microbial observatories deployed in young ocean crust. / Orcutt, Beth N.; Bach, Wolfgang; Becker, Keir; Fisher, Andrew T.; Hentscher, Michael; Toner, Brandy M.; Wheat, C. Geoffrey; Edwards, Katrina J.

In: ISME Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4, 04.2011, p. 692-703.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Orcutt, BN, Bach, W, Becker, K, Fisher, AT, Hentscher, M, Toner, BM, Wheat, CG & Edwards, KJ 2011, 'Colonization of subsurface microbial observatories deployed in young ocean crust', ISME Journal, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 692-703. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2010.157
Orcutt, Beth N. ; Bach, Wolfgang ; Becker, Keir ; Fisher, Andrew T. ; Hentscher, Michael ; Toner, Brandy M. ; Wheat, C. Geoffrey ; Edwards, Katrina J. / Colonization of subsurface microbial observatories deployed in young ocean crust. In: ISME Journal. 2011 ; Vol. 5, No. 4. pp. 692-703.
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