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Keywords:

  • prokaryotes;
  • activity;
  • biodiversity;
  • community composition;
  • deep biosphere;
  • marine subsurface sediments

Abstract

The deep subseafloor biosphere supports a diverse population of prokaryotes belonging to the Bacteria and Archaea. Most of the taxonomic groups identified by molecular methods contain mainly uncultured phylotypes. Despite this several cultured strains have been isolated from this habitat, but they probably do not represent the majority of the population. Evidence is starting to suggest that some of the activities measured, such as sulphate reduction and methanogenesis, reflected in geochemical profiles, are carried out by a small subset of the community detected by molecular methods. It is further possible that heterotrophy may be the most important mode of metabolism in subsurface sediments and heterotrophic microorganisms could dominate the uncultured prokaryotic population. Although, heterotrophy is limited by the increasing recalcitrance of organic matter with depth, this may be counteracted by thermal activation of buried organic matter providing additional substrates at depth.