Research ArticleECOLOGY

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

See allHide authors and affiliations

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

Abstract

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.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text