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Summary

Stromatolites have been present on Earth, at various levels of distribution and diversity, for more than 3 billion years. Today, the best examples of stromatolites forming in hypersaline marine environments are in Hamelin Pool at Shark Bay, Western Australia. Despite their evolutionary significance, little is known about their associated microbial communities. Using a polyphasic approach of culture-dependent and culture-independent methods, we report the discovery of a wide range of microorganisms associated with these biosedimentary structures. There are no comparable reports combining these methodologies in the survey of cyanobacteria, bacteria, and archaea in marine stromatolites. The community was characterized by organisms of the cyanobacterial genera Synechococcus, Xenococcus, Microcoleus, Leptolyngbya, Plectonema, Symploca, Cyanothece, Pleurocapsa and Nostoc. We also report the discovery of potentially free-living Prochloron. The other eubacterial isolates and clones clustered into seven phylogenetic groups: OP9, OP10, Marine A group, Proteobacteria, Low G+C Gram-positive, Planctomycetes and Acidobacteria. We also demonstrate the presence of sequences corresponding to members of halophilic archaea of the divisions Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota and methanogenic archaea of the order Methanosarcinales. This is the first report of such archaeal diversity from this environment. This study provides a better understanding of the microbial community associated with these living rocks.