SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Summary

The frontiers of eukaryote life in nature are still unidentified. In this study, we analysed protistan communities in the hypersaline (up to 365 g l−1 NaCl) anoxic L'Atalante deep-sea basin located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Targeting 18S ribosomal RNA retrieved from the basin's lower halocline (3501 m depth) we detected 279 protistan sequences that grouped into 42 unique phylotypes (99% sequence similarity). Statistical analyses revealed that these phylotypes account only for a proportion of the protists inhabiting this harsh environment with as much as 50% missed by this survey. Most phylotypes were affiliated with ciliates (45%), dinoflagellates (21%), choanoflagelates (10%) and uncultured marine alveolates (6%). Sequences from other taxonomic groups like stramenopiles, Polycystinea, Acantharea and Euglenozoa, all of which are typically found in non-hypersaline deep-sea systems, are either missing or very rare in our cDNA clone library. Although many DHAB sequences fell within previously identified environmental clades, a large number branched relatively deeply. Phylotype richness, community membership and community structure differ significantly from a deep seawater reference community (3499 m depth). Also, the protistan community in the L'Atalante basin is distinctively different from any previously described hypersaline community. In conclusion, we hypothesize that extreme environments may exert a high selection pressure possibly resulting in the evolution of an exceptional and distinctive assemblage of protists. The deep hypersaline anoxic basins in the Mediterranean Sea provide an ideal platform to test for this hypothesis and are promising targets for the discovery of undescribed protists with unknown physiological capabilities.