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Abstract

Despite the importance of oolitic depositional systems as indicators of climate and reservoirs of inorganic C, little is known about the microbial functional diversity, structure, composition, and potential metabolic processes leading to precipitation of carbonates. To fill this gap, we assess the metabolic gene carriage and extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) development in microbial communities associated with oolitic carbonate sediments from the Bahamas Archipelago. Oolitic sediments ranging from high-energy ‘active’ to lower energy ‘non-active’ and ‘microbially stabilized’ environments were examined as they represent contrasting depositional settings, mostly influenced by tidal flows and wave-generated currents. Functional gene analysis, which employed a microarray-based gene technology, detected a total of 12 432 of 95 847 distinct gene probes, including a large number of metabolic processes previously linked to mineral precipitation. Among these, gene-encoding enzymes for denitrification, sulfate reduction, ammonification, and oxygenic/anoxygenic photosynthesis were abundant. In addition, a broad diversity of genes was related to organic carbon degradation, and N2 fixation implying these communities has metabolic plasticity that enables survival under oligotrophic conditions. Differences in functional genes were detected among the environments, with higher diversity associated with non-active and microbially stabilized environments in comparison with the active environment. EPS showed a gradient increase from active to microbially stabilized communities, and when combined with functional gene analysis, which revealed genes encoding EPS-degrading enzymes (chitinases, glucoamylase, amylases), supports a putative role of EPS-mediated microbial calcium carbonate precipitation. We propose that carbonate precipitation in marine oolitic biofilms is spatially and temporally controlled by a complex consortium of microbes with diverse physiologies, including photosynthesizers, heterotrophs, denitrifiers, sulfate reducers, and ammonifiers.