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Large-scale distribution and activity patterns of an extremely low-light-adapted population of green sulfur bacteria in the Black Sea


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The Black Sea chemocline represents the largest extant habitat of anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria and harbours a monospecific population of Chlorobium phylotype BS-1. High-sensitivity measurements of underwater irradiance and sulfide revealed that the optical properties of the overlying water column were similar across the Black Sea basin, whereas the vertical profiles of sulfide varied strongly between sampling sites and caused a dome-shaped three-dimensional distribution of the green sulfur bacteria. In the centres of the western and eastern basins the population of BS-1 reached upward to depths of 80 and 95 m, respectively, but were detected only at 145 m depth close to the shelf. Using highly concentrated chemocline samples from the centres of the western and eastern basins, the cells were found to be capable of anoxygenic photosynthesis under in situ light conditions and exhibited a photosynthesis–irradiance curve similar to low-light-adapted laboratory cultures of Chlorobium BS-1. Application of a highly specific RT-qPCR method which targets the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the rrn operon of BS-1 demonstrated that only cells at the central station are physiologically active in contrast to those at the Black Sea periphery. Based on the detection of ITS-DNA sequences in the flocculent surface layer of deep-sea sediments across the Black Sea, the population of BS-1 has occupied the major part of the basin for the last decade. The continued presence of intact but non-growing BS-1 cells at the periphery of the Black Sea indicates that the cells can survive long-distant transport and exhibit unusually low maintenance energy requirements. According to laboratory measurements, Chlorobium BS-1 has a maintenance energy requirement of ∼1.6–4.9·10−15 kJ cell−1 day−1 which is the lowest value determined for any bacterial culture so far. Chlorobium BS-1 thus is particularly well adapted to survival under the extreme low-light conditions of the Black Sea, and can be used as a laboratory model to elucidate general cellular mechanisms of long-term starvation survival. Because of its adaptation to extreme low-light marine environments, Chlorobium BS-1 also represents a suitable indicator for palaeoceanography studies of deep photic zone anoxia in ancient oceans.