, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 269-282

Geochemical and microbiological evidence for a hydrogen-based, hyperthermophilic subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystem (HyperSLiME) beneath an active deep-sea hydrothermal field

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Abstract

Subsurface microbial communities supported by geologically and abiologically derived hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the Earth’s interior are of great interest, not only with regard to the nature of primitive life on Earth, but as potential analogs for extraterrestrial life. Here, for the first time, we present geochemical and microbiological evidence pointing to the existence of hyperthermophilic subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystem (HyperSLiME) dominated by hyperthermophilic methanogens beneath an active deep-sea hydrothermal field in the Central Indian Ridge. Geochemical and isotopic analyses of gaseous components in the hydrothermal fluids revealed heterogeneity of both concentration and carbon isotopic compositions of methane between the main hydrothermal vent (0.08 mM and −13.8‰ PDB, respectively) and the adjacent divergent vent site (0.2 mM and −18.5‰ PDB, respectively), representing potential subsurface microbial methanogenesis, at least in the divergent vent emitting more 13C-depleted methane. Extremely high abundance of magmatic energy sources such as hydrogen (2.5 mM) in the fluids also encourages a hydrogen-based, lithoautotrophic microbial activity. Both cultivation and cultivation-independent molecular analyses suggested the predominance of Methanococcales members in the superheated hydrothermal emissions and chimney interiors along with the other major microbial components of Thermococcales members. These results imply that a HyperSLiME, consisting of methanogens and fermenters, occurs in this tectonically active subsurface zone, strongly supporting the existence of hydrogen-driven subsurface microbial communities.

Communicated by W.D. Grant