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Keywords:

  • Culturability;
  • Halotolerance;
  • Hydrothermal vent;
  • Halomonas;
  • Marinobacter

Abstract

The abundance of halotolerant microorganisms in hydrothermal-vent and pelagic waters in the North and South Pacific was estimated by the most probable number (MPN) technique using a heterotrophic 16% NaCl medium incubated at 20–24°C. Based on these MPNs and direct counts with epifluorescence microscopy to enumerate the total microbial population, salt-tolerant microbes comprised from <0.01 to >28% of the total microbial community. Fourteen isolates from these MPN enrichments were identified by sequencing a portion of the 16S rRNA gene, and all were found to belong to the genera Halomonas and Marinobacter. The response to salt of mesophilic hydrothermal-vent microbial isolates obtained without selecting for salt tolerance was also examined. Forty-one of 65 strains cultured from hydrothermal plume waters, low-temperature hydrothermal fluids, sulfide rock and an animal specimen at ∼2000–2200 m depth from the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge were subjected to increasing concentrations of NaCl, and over half grew at a NaCl concentration that is lethal to many commonly isolated marine bacteria. At least 36 of the 65 isolates (≥55%) grew in the enrichment medium supplemented with 10% NaCl; at least 30 of 65 (≥46%) grew with 16% NaCl; at least 20 of 65 (≥31%) tolerated 22% NaCl. Based on phylogenetic analysis of the 16S rRNA gene in nine of these 65 isolates, four belonged to the genus Halomonas. These Halomonas strains tolerated 22–27% NaCl. It is possible that a majority of the other 16 isolates which grew with 22% NaCl are also Halomonas based on their degree of halotolerance, morphology, and apparent abundance as revealed by MPN enrichments. The four Halomonas strains obtained without selecting for halotolerance were further characterized physiologically and metabolically. Overall, they grew between −1°C and 40°C, were facultative aerobes, oxidized between 49 and 70 organic compounds according to Biolog plate substrate utilization matrices, grew with oligotrophic quantities of carbon (0.002% yeast extract) in liquid media, reduced nitrate to nitrite, and tolerated up to 0.05–3 mM Cd2+. Halomonas is one of the most abundant culturable organisms in the ocean, and its success may be attributed to its metabolic and physiological versatility.