Prokaryotic community composition and biogeochemical processes in deep subseafloor sediments from the Peru Margin


  • Editor: Jim Prosser

Correspondence: Gordon Webster, School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, Cardiff University, Main Building, Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3YE, UK. Tel.: +44 (0) 29 20874928; fax:+44 (0) 29 20874326; e-mail:


The community compositions of Bacteria and Archaea were investigated in deep, sub-seafloor sediments from the highly productive Peru Margin (ODP Leg 201, sites 1228 and 1229, c. 25 km apart) down to nearly 200 m below the seafloor using taxonomic (16S rRNA) and functional (mcrA and dsrA) gene markers. Bacterial and archaeal groups identified from clone libraries of 16S rRNA gene sequences at site 1229 agreed well with sequences amplified from bands excised from denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) depth profiles, with the exception of the Miscellaneous Crenarchaeotic Group (MCG). This suggested that the prokaryotic community at site 1228, obtained from DGGE profiling alone, was reliable. Sites were dominated by Bacteria in the Gammaproteobacteria, Chloroflexi (green non-sulphur bacteria) and Archaea in the MCG and South African Gold Mine Euryarchaeotic Group, although community composition changed with depth. The candidate division JS1 was present throughout both sites but was not dominant. The populations identified in the Peru Margin sediments consisted mainly of prokaryotes found in other deep subsurface sediments, and were more similar to communities from the Sea of Okhotsk (pelagic clays) than to those from the low organic carbon Nankai Trough sediments. Despite broad similarities in the prokaryotic community at the two sites, there were some differences, as well as differences in activity and geochemistry. Methanogens (mcrA) within the Methanosarcinales and Methanobacteriales were only found at site 1229 (4 depths analysed), whereas sulphate-reducing prokaryotes (dsrA) were only found at site 1228 (one depth), and these terminal-oxidizing prokaryotes may represent an active community component present at low abundance. This study clearly demonstrates that the deep subsurface sediments of the Peru Margin have a large diverse and metabolically active prokaryotic population.