Metagenomics of Antarctic Marine Sediment Reveals Potential for Diverse Chemolithoautotrophy

Arkadiy I. Garber, Jessica R. Zehnpfennig, Cody S. Sheik, Michael W. Henson, Gustavo A. Ramírez, Andrew R. Mahon, Kenneth M. Halanych, Deric R. Learman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The microbial biogeochemical processes occurring in marine sediment in Antarctica remain underexplored due to limited access. Further, these polar habitats are unique, as they are being exposed to significant changes in their climate. To explore how microbes drive biogeochemistry in these sediments, we performed a shotgun metagenomic survey of marine surficial sediment (0 to 3 cm of the seafloor) collected from 13 locations in western Antarctica and assembled 16 high-quality metagenome assembled genomes for focused interrogation of the lifestyles of some abundant lineages. We observe an abundance of genes from pathways for the utilization of reduced carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen sources. Although organotrophy is pervasive, nitrification and sulfide oxidation are the dominant lithotrophic pathways and likely fuel carbon fixation via the reverse tricarboxylic acid and Calvin cycles. Oxygen-dependent terminal oxidases are common, and genes for reduction of oxidized nitrogen are sporadically present in our samples. Our results suggest that the underlying benthic communities are well primed for the utilization of settling organic matter, which is consistent with findings from highly productive surface water. Despite the genetic potential for nitrate reduction, the net catabolic pathway in our samples remains aerobic respiration, likely coupled to the oxidation of sulfur and nitrogen imported from the highly productive Antarctic water column above. IMPORTANCE The impacts of climate change in polar regions, like Antarctica, have the potential to alter numerous ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles. Increasing temperature and freshwater runoff from melting ice can have profound impacts on the cycling of organic and inorganic nutrients between the pelagic and benthic ecosystems. Within the benthos, sediment microbial communities play a critical role in carbon mineralization and the cycles of essential nutrients like nitrogen and sulfur. Metagenomic data collected from sediment samples from the continental shelf of western Antarctica help to examine this unique system and document the metagenomic potential for lithotrophic metabolisms and the cycles of both nitrogen and sulfur, which support not only benthic microbes but also life in the pelagic zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00770-21
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Program: A.R.M. (CMU award 1043670) and K.M.H. (AU award 1043745) and

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Garber et al.


  • Antarctica
  • Chemolithotrophy
  • Marine microbiology
  • Marine sediment
  • Metagenomics

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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