Research ArticleECOLOGY

Microbial dormancy in the marine subsurface: Global endospore abundance and response to burial

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Science Advances  20 Feb 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 2, eaav1024
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav1024


Marine sediments host an unexpectedly large microbial biosphere, suggesting unique microbial mechanisms for surviving burial and slow metabolic turnover. Although dormancy is generally considered an important survival strategy, its specific role in subsurface sediments remains unclear. We quantified dormant bacterial endospores in 331 marine sediment samples from diverse depositional types and geographical origins. The abundance of endospores relative to vegetative cells increased with burial depth and endospores became dominant below 25 m, with an estimated population of 2.5 × 1028 to 1.9 × 1029 endospores in the uppermost kilometer of sediment and a corresponding biomass carbon of 4.6 to 35 Pg surpassing that of vegetative cells. Our data further identify distinct endospore subgroups with divergent resistance to burial and aging. Endospores may shape the deep biosphere by providing a core population for colonization of new habitats and/or through low-frequency germination to sustain slow growth in this environment.

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