Reactivation of deep subsurface microbial community in response to methane or methanol amendment

Pauliina Rajala, Malin Bomberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    Microbial communities in deep subsurface environments comprise a large portion of Earth's biomass, but the microbial activity in these habitats is largely unknown. Here, we studied how microorganisms from two isolated groundwater fractures at 180 and 500 m depths of the Outokumpu Deep Drillhole (Finland) responded to methane or methanol amendment, in the presence or absence of sulfate as an additional electron acceptor. Methane is a plausible intermediate in the deep subsurface carbon cycle, and electron acceptors such as sulfate are critical components for oxidation processes. In fact, the majority of the available carbon in the Outokumpu deep biosphere is present as methane. Methanol is an intermediate of methane oxidation, but may also be produced through degradation of organic matter. The fracture fluid samples were incubated in vitro with methane or methanol in the presence or absence of sulfate as electron acceptor. The metabolic response of microbial communities was measured by staining the microbial cells with fluorescent redox sensitive dye combined with flow cytometry, and DNA or cDNA-derived amplicon sequencing. The microbial community of the fracture zone at the 180 m depth was originally considerably more respiratory active and 10-fold more numerous (105 cells ml-1 at 180 m depth and 104 cells ml-1 at 500 m depth) than the community of the fracture zone at the 500 m. However, the dormant microbial community at the 500 m depth rapidly reactivated their transcription and respiration systems in the presence of methane or methanol, whereas in the shallower fracture zone only a small sub-population was able to utilize the newly available carbon source. In addition, the composition of substrate activated microbial communities differed at both depths from original microbial communities. The results demonstrate that OTUs representing minor groups of the total microbial communities play an important role when microbial communities face changes in environmental conditions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number431
    Number of pages13
    JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
    Issue numberMarch
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2017
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • deep biosphere
    • deep life
    • carbon
    • methane
    • methanol
    • methanotrophy


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