Evidence for hydrogen oxidation and metabolic plasticity in widespread deep-sea sulfur-oxidizing bacteria

Karthik Anantharaman, John A. Breier, Cody S. Sheik, Gregory J. Dick

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146 Scopus citations


Hydrothermal vents are a well-known source of energy that powers chemosynthesis in the deep sea. Recent work suggests that microbial chemosynthesis is also surprisingly pervasive throughout the dark oceans, serving as a significant CO2 sink even at sites far removed from vents. Ammonia and sulfur have been identified as potential electron donors for this chemosynthesis, but they do not fully account for measured rates of dark primary production in the pelagic water column. Here we use metagenomic and metatranscriptomic analyses to show that deep-sea populations of the SUP05 group of uncultured sulfur-oxidizing Gammaproteobacteria, which are abundant in widespread and diverse marine environments, contain and highly express genes encoding group 1 Ni, Fe hydrogenase enzymes for H2 oxidation. Reconstruction of near-complete genomes of two cooccurring SUP05 populations in hydrothermal plumes and deep waters of the Gulf of California enabled detailed population-specific metatranscriptomic analyses, revealing dynamic patterns of gene content and transcript abundance. SUP05 transcripts for genes involved in H2 and sulfur oxidation aremost abundant in hydrothermal plumes where these electron donors are enriched. In contrast, a second hydrogenase has more abundant transcripts in background deep-sea samples. Coupled with results from a bioenergetic model that suggest that H2 oxidation can contribute significantly to the SUP05 energy budget, these findings reveal the potential importance of H2 as a key energy source in the deep ocean. This study also highlights the genomic plasticity of SUP05, which enables this widely distributed group to optimize its energy metabolism (electron donor and acceptor) to local geochemical conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-335
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2013


  • Guaymas
  • Oxygen minimum zone


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