Microbial biodiversity of thermophilic communities in hot mineral soils of Tramway Ridge, Mount Erebus, Antarctica

Authors

  • Rochelle M. Soo,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, 3240, New Zealand.
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  • Susanna A. Wood,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, 3240, New Zealand.
    2. Cawthron Institute, Private Bag 2, Nelson, 7001, New Zealand.
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  • Joseph J. Grzymski,

    1. Division of Earth and Ecosystem Science, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV, USA.
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  • Ian R. McDonald,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, 3240, New Zealand.
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  • S. Craig Cary

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, 3240, New Zealand.
    2. College of Marine and Earth Studies, University of Delaware, Lewes, DE, USA.
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*E-mail caryc@waikato.ac.nz; Tel. (+64) 7 8384593; Fax (+64) 7 8384976.

Summary

Tramway Ridge, located near the summit of Mount Erebus in Antarctica, is probably the most remote geothermal soil habitat on Earth. Steam fumaroles maintain moist, hot soil environments creating extreme local physicochemical differentials. In this study a culture-independent approach combining automated rRNA intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) and a 16S rRNA gene library was used to characterize soil microbial (Bacterial and Archaeal) diversity along intense physicochemical gradients. Statistical analysis of ARISA data showed a clear delineation between bacterial community structure at sites close to fumaroles and all other sites. Temperature and pH were identified as the primary drivers of this demarcation. A clone library constructed from a high-temperature site led to the identification of 18 novel bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs). All 16S rRNA gene sequences were deep branching and distantly (85–93%) related to other environmental clones. Five of the signatures branched with an unknown group between candidate division OP10 and Chloroflexi. Within this clade, sequence similarity was low, suggesting it contains several yet-to-be described bacterial groups. Five archaeal OTUs were obtained and exhibited high levels of sequence similarity (95–97%) with Crenarchaeota sourced from deep-subsurface environments on two distant continents. The novel bacterial assemblage coupled with the unique archaeal affinities reinvigorates the hypotheses that Tramway Ridge organisms are relics of archaic microbial lineages specifically adapted to survive in this harsh environment and that this site may provide a portal to the deep-subsurface biosphere.

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