Comparative Metagenomic Analysis Reveals Mechanisms for Stress Response in Hypoliths from Extreme Hyperarid Deserts.
ABSTRACT: Understanding microbial adaptation to environmental stressors is crucial for interpreting broader ecological patterns. In the most extreme hot and cold deserts, cryptic niche communities are thought to play key roles in ecosystem processes and represent excellent model systems for investigating microbial responses to environmental stressors. However, relatively little is known about the genetic diversity underlying such functional processes in climatically extreme desert systems. This study presents the first comparative metagenome analysis of cyanobacteria-dominated hypolithic communities in hot (Namib Desert, Namibia) and cold (Miers Valley, Antarctica) hyperarid deserts. The most abundant phyla in both hypolith metagenomes were Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria and Bacteroidetes with Cyanobacteria dominating in Antarctic hypoliths. However, no significant differences between the two metagenomes were identified. The Antarctic hypolithic metagenome displayed a high number of sequences assigned to sigma factors, replication, recombination and repair, translation, ribosomal structure, and biogenesis. In contrast, the Namib Desert metagenome showed a high abundance of sequences assigned to carbohydrate transport and metabolism. Metagenome data analysis also revealed significant divergence in the genetic determinants of amino acid and nucleotide metabolism between these two metagenomes and those of soil from other polar deserts, hot deserts, and non-desert soils. Our results suggest extensive niche differentiation in hypolithic microbial communities from these two extreme environments and a high genetic capacity for survival under environmental extremes.
Project description:Global patterns in diversity were estimated for cyanobacteria-dominated hypolithic communities that colonize ventral surfaces of quartz stones and are common in desert environments. A total of 64 hypolithic communities were recovered from deserts on every continent plus a tropical moisture sufficient location. Community diversity was estimated using a combined t-RFLP fingerprinting and high throughput sequencing approach. The t-RFLP analysis revealed desert communities were different from the single non-desert location. A striking pattern also emerged where Antarctic desert communities were clearly distinct from all other deserts. Some overlap in community similarity occurred for hot, cold and tundra deserts. A further observation was that the producer-consumer ratio displayed a significant negative correlation with growing season, such that shorter growing seasons supported communities with greater abundance of producers, and this pattern was independent of macroclimate. High-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA and nifH genes from four representative samples validated the t-RFLP study and revealed patterns of taxonomic and putative diazotrophic diversity for desert communities from the Taklimakan Desert, Tibetan Plateau, Canadian Arctic and Antarctic. All communities were dominated by cyanobacteria and among these 21 taxa were potentially endemic to any given desert location. Some others occurred in all but the most extreme hot and polar deserts suggesting they were relatively less well adapted to environmental stress. The t-RFLP and sequencing data revealed the two most abundant cyanobacterial taxa were Phormidium in Antarctic and Tibetan deserts and Chroococcidiopsis in hot and cold deserts. The Arctic tundra displayed a more heterogenous cyanobacterial assemblage and this was attributed to the maritime-influenced sampling location. The most abundant heterotrophic taxa were ubiquitous among samples and belonged to the Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria. Sequencing using nitrogenase gene-specific primers revealed all putative diazotrophs were Proteobacteria of the orders Burkholderiales, Rhizobiales, and Rhodospirillales. We envisage cyanobacterial carbon input to the system is accompanied by nitrogen fixation largely from non-cyanobacterial taxa. Overall the results indicate desert hypoliths worldwide are dominated by cyanobacteria and that growing season is a useful predictor of their abundance. Differences in cyanobacterial taxa encountered may reflect their adaptation to different moisture availability regimes in polar and non-polar deserts.
Project description:Hypoliths, microbial assemblages found below translucent rocks, provide important ecosystem services in deserts. While several studies have assessed microbial diversity of hot desert hypoliths and whether these communities are metabolically active, the interactions among taxa remain unclear. Here, we assessed the structure, diversity, and co-occurrence patterns of hypolithic communities from the hyperarid Namib Desert by comparing total (DNA) and potentially active (RNA) communities. The potentially active and total hypolithic communities differed in their composition and diversity, with significantly higher levels of Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria in potentially active hypoliths. Several phyla known to be abundant in total hypolithic communities were metabolically inactive, indicating that some hypolithic taxa may be dormant or dead. The potentially active hypolith network was highly modular in structure with almost exclusively positive co-occurrences (>95% of the total) between taxa. Members of the Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria were identified as potential keystone taxa, and exhibited numerous positive co-occurrences with other microbes, suggesting that these groups might have important roles in maintaining network topological structure despite their low abundance.
Project description:The discovery of extensive and complex hypolithic communities in both cold and hot deserts has raised many questions regarding their ecology, biodiversity and relevance in terms of regional productivity. However, most hypolithic research has focused on the bacterial elements of the community. This study represents the first investigation of micro-eukaryotic communities in all three hypolith types. Here we show that Antarctic hypoliths support extensive populations of novel uncharacterized bryophyta, fungi and protists and suggest that well known producer-decomposer-predator interactions may create the necessary conditions for hypolithic productivity in Antarctic deserts.
Project description:How the diverse bacterial communities inhabiting desert soils maintain energy and carbon needs is much debated. Traditionally, most bacteria are thought to persist by using organic carbon synthesized by photoautotrophs following transient hydration events. Recent studies focused on Antarctic desert soils have revealed, however, that some bacteria use atmospheric trace gases, such as hydrogen (H<sub>2</sub>), to conserve energy and fix carbon independently of photosynthesis. In this study, we investigated whether atmospheric H<sub>2</sub> oxidation occurs in four nonpolar desert soils and compared this process to photosynthesis. To do so, we first profiled the distribution, expression, and activities of hydrogenases and photosystems in surface soils collected from the South Australian desert over a simulated hydration-desiccation cycle. Hydrogenase-encoding sequences were abundant in the metagenomes and metatranscriptomes and were detected in actinobacterial, acidobacterial, and cyanobacterial metagenome-assembled genomes. Native dry soil samples mediated H<sub>2</sub> oxidation, but rates increased 950-fold following wetting. Oxygenic and anoxygenic phototrophs were also detected in the community but at lower abundances. Hydration significantly stimulated rates of photosynthetic carbon fixation and, to a lesser extent, dark carbon assimilation. Hydrogenase genes were also widespread in samples from three other climatically distinct deserts, the Namib, Gobi, and Mojave, and atmospheric H<sub>2</sub> oxidation was also greatly stimulated by hydration at these sites. Together, these findings highlight that H<sub>2</sub> is an important, hitherto-overlooked energy source supporting bacterial communities in desert soils. Contrary to our previous hypotheses, however, H<sub>2</sub> oxidation occurs simultaneously rather than alternately with photosynthesis in such ecosystems and may even be mediated by some photoautotrophs.<b>IMPORTANCE</b> Desert ecosystems, spanning a third of the earth's surface, harbor remarkably diverse microbial life despite having a low potential for photosynthesis. In this work, we reveal that atmospheric hydrogen serves as a major previously overlooked energy source for a large proportion of desert bacteria. We show that both chemoheterotrophic and photoautotrophic bacteria have the potential to oxidize hydrogen across deserts sampled across four continents. Whereas hydrogen oxidation was slow in native dry deserts, it increased by three orders of magnitude together with photosynthesis following hydration. This study revealed that continual harvesting of atmospheric energy sources may be a major way that desert communities adapt to long periods of water and energy deprivation, with significant ecological and biogeochemical ramifications.
Project description:Quartz stones are ubiquitous in deserts and are a substrate for hypoliths, microbial colonists of the underside of such stones. These hypoliths thrive where extreme temperature and moisture stress limit the occurrence of higher plant and animal life. Several studies have reported the occurrence of green hypolithic colonization dominated by cyanobacteria. Here, we describe a novel red hypolithic colonization from Yungay, at the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Comparative analysis of green and red hypoliths from this site revealed markedly different microbial community structure as revealed by 16S rRNA gene clone libraries. Green hypoliths were dominated by cyanobacteria (Chroococcidiopsis and Nostocales phylotypes), whilst the red hypolith was dominated by a taxonomically diverse group of chloroflexi. Heterotrophic phylotypes common to all hypoliths were affiliated largely to desiccation-tolerant taxa within the Actinobacteria and Deinococci. Alphaproteobacterial phylotypes that affiliated with nitrogen-fixing taxa were unique to green hypoliths, whilst Gemmatimonadetes phylotypes occurred only on red hypolithon. Other heterotrophic phyla recovered with very low frequency were assumed to represent functionally relatively unimportant taxa.
Project description:Carbon exchange in drylands is typically low, but during significant rainfall events (wet anomalies) drylands act as a C sink. During these anomalies the limitation on C uptake switches from water to nitrogen. In the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the N inventory in soil organic matter available for mineralisation is insufficient to support the observed increase in primary productivity. The C4 grasses that flourish after rainfall events are not capable of N fixation, and so there is no clear mechanism for adequate N fixation in dryland ecosystems to support rapid C uptake. Here we demonstrate that N fixation by photoautotrophic hypolithic communities forms the basis for the N budget for plant productivity events in the Namib Desert. Stable N isotope (?15N) values of Namib Desert hypolithic biomass, and surface and subsurface soils were measured over 3 years across dune and gravel plain biotopes. Hypoliths showed significantly higher biomass and lower ?15N values than soil organic matter. The ?15N values of hypoliths approach the theoretical values for nitrogen fixation. Our results are strongly indicative that hypolithic communities are the foundation of productivity after rain events in the Namib Desert and are likely to play similar roles in other arid environments.
Project description:For tolerating extreme desiccation, cyanobacteria are known to produce both compatible solutes at intracellular level and a copious amount of exopolysaccharides as a protective coat. However, these molecules make cyanobacterial cells refractory to a broad spectrum of cell disruption methods, hindering genome sequencing, and molecular studies. In fact, few genomes are already available from cyanobacteria from extremely desiccated environments such as deserts. In this work, we report the 5.4 Mbp draft genome (with 100% of completeness in 105 contigs) of Gloeocapsopsis sp. UTEX B3054 (subsection I; Order Chroococcales), a cultivable sugar-rich and hardly breakable hypolithic cyanobacterium from the Atacama Desert. Our in silico analyses focused on genomic features related to sugar-biosynthesis and adaptation to dryness. Among other findings, screening of Gloeocapsopsis genome revealed a unique genetic potential related to the biosynthesis and regulation of compatible solutes and polysaccharides. For instance, our findings showed for the first time a novel genomic arrangement exclusive of Chroococcaceae cyanobacteria associated with the recycling of trehalose, a compatible solute involved in desiccation tolerance. Additionally, we performed a comparative genome survey and analyses to entirely predict the highly diverse pool of glycosyltransferases enzymes, key players in polysaccharide biosynthesis and the formation of a protective coat to dryness. We expect that this work will set the fundamental genomic framework for further research on microbial tolerance to desiccation and to a wide range of other extreme environmental conditions. The study of microorganisms like Gloeocapsopsis sp. UTEX B3054 will contribute to expand our limited understanding regarding water optimization and molecular mechanisms allowing extremophiles to thrive in xeric environments such as the Atacama Desert.
Project description:Hypoliths (cryptic microbial assemblages that develop on the undersides of translucent rocks) are significant contributors to regional C and N budgets in both hot and cold deserts. Previous studies in the Dry Valleys of Eastern Antarctica have reported three morphologically distinct hypolithic community types: cyanobacteria dominated (type I), fungus dominated (type II) and moss dominated (type III). Here we present terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses to elucidate the bacterial community structure in hypolithons and the surrounding soils. We show clear and robust distinction in bacterial composition between bulk surface soils and hypolithons. Moreover, the bacterial assemblages were similar in types II and III hypolithons and clearly distinct from those found in type I. Through 16S rRNA gene 454 pyrosequencing, we show that Proteobacteria dominated all three types of hypolithic communities. As expected, Cyanobacteria were more abundant in type I hypolithons, whereas Actinobacteria were relatively more abundant in types II and III hypolithons, and were the dominant group in soils. Using a probabilistic dissimilarity metric and random sampling, we demonstrate that deterministic processes are more important in shaping the structure of the bacterial community found in types II and III hypolithons. Most notably, the data presented in this study suggest that hypolithic bacterial communities establish via a successional model, with the type I hypolithons acting as the basal development state.
Project description:Polar and alpine microbial communities experience a variety of environmental stresses, including perennial cold and freezing; however, knowledge of genomic responses to such conditions is still rudimentary. We analyzed the metagenomes of cyanobacterial mats from Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves, using high-throughput pyrosequencing to test the hypotheses that consortia from these extreme polar habitats were similar in terms of major phyla and subphyla and consequently in their potential responses to environmental stresses. Statistical comparisons of the protein-coding genes showed similarities between the mats from the two poles, with the majority of genes derived from Proteobacteria and Cyanobacteria; however, the relative proportions differed, with cyanobacterial genes more prevalent in the Antarctic mat metagenome. Other differences included a higher representation of Actinobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria in the Arctic metagenomes, which may reflect the greater access to diasporas from both adjacent ice-free lands and the open ocean. Genes coding for functional responses to environmental stress (exopolysaccharides, cold shock proteins, and membrane modifications) were found in all of the metagenomes. However, in keeping with the greater exposure of the Arctic to long-range pollutants, sequences assigned to copper homeostasis genes were statistically (30%) more abundant in the Arctic samples. In contrast, more reads matching the sigma B genes were identified in the Antarctic mat, likely reflecting the more severe osmotic stress during freeze-up of the Antarctic ponds. This study underscores the presence of diverse mechanisms of adaptation to cold and other stresses in polar mats, consistent with the proportional representation of major bacterial groups.
Project description:The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are an extreme polar desert. Mineral soils support subsurface microbial communities and translucent rocks support development of hypolithic communities on ventral surfaces in soil contact. Despite significant research attention, relatively little is known about taxonomic and functional diversity or their inter-relationships. Here we report a combined diversity and functional interrogation for soil and hypoliths of the Miers Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The study employed 16S rRNA fingerprinting and high throughput sequencing combined with the GeoChip functional microarray. The soil community was revealed as a highly diverse reservoir of bacterial diversity dominated by actinobacteria. Hypolithic communities were less diverse and dominated by cyanobacteria. Major differences in putative functionality were that soil communities displayed greater diversity in stress tolerance and recalcitrant substrate utilization pathways, whilst hypolithic communities supported greater diversity of nutrient limitation adaptation pathways. A relatively high level of functional redundancy in both soil and hypoliths may indicate adaptation of these communities to fluctuating environmental conditions.