Microbial metatranscriptomics in a permanent marine oxygen minimum zone


  • Frank J. Stewart,

    1. School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 311 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.
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  • Osvaldo Ulloa,

    1. Departamento de Oceanografía and Centro de Investigación Oceanográfica en el Pacífico Sur-Oriental, Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 160-C, Concepción, Chile.
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  • Edward F. DeLong

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Parsons Laboratory 48, 15 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
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E-mail delong@mit.edu; Tel. (+617) 253 5271.


Simultaneous characterization of taxonomic composition, metabolic gene content and gene expression in marine oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) has potential to broaden perspectives on the microbial and biogeochemical dynamics in these environments. Here, we present a metatranscriptomic survey of microbial community metabolism in the Eastern Tropical South Pacific OMZ off northern Chile. Community RNA was sampled in late austral autumn from four depths (50, 85, 110, 200 m) extending across the oxycline and into the upper OMZ. Shotgun pyrosequencing of cDNA yielded 180 000 to 550 000 transcript sequences per depth. Based on functional gene representation, transcriptome samples clustered apart from corresponding metagenome samples from the same depth, highlighting the discrepancies between metabolic potential and actual transcription. BLAST-based characterizations of non-ribosomal RNA sequences revealed a dominance of genes involved with both oxidative (nitrification) and reductive (anammox, denitrification) components of the marine nitrogen cycle. Using annotations of protein-coding genes as proxies for taxonomic affiliation, we observed depth-specific changes in gene expression by key functional taxonomic groups. Notably, transcripts most closely matching the genome of the ammonia-oxidizing archaeon Nitrosopumilus maritimus dominated the transcriptome in the upper three depths, representing one in five protein-coding transcripts at 85 m. In contrast, transcripts matching the anammox bacterium Kuenenia stuttgartiensis dominated at the core of the OMZ (200 m; 1 in 12 protein-coding transcripts). The distribution of N. maritimus-like transcripts paralleled that of transcripts matching ammonia monooxygenase genes, which, despite being represented by both bacterial and archaeal sequences in the community DNA, were dominated (> 99%) by archaeal sequences in the RNA, suggesting a substantial role for archaeal nitrification in the upper OMZ. These data, as well as those describing other key OMZ metabolic processes (e.g. sulfur oxidation), highlight gene-specific expression patterns in the context of the entire community transcriptome, as well as identify key functional groups for taxon-specific genomic profiling.