Organic matter processing by microbial communities throughout the Atlantic water column as revealed by metaproteomics

Kristin Bergauer, Antonio Fernandez-Guerra, Juan A. L. Garcia, Richard R. Sprenger, Ramunas Stepanauskas, Maria G. Pachiadaki, Ole N. Jensen, Gerhard J. Herndl

The phylogenetic composition of the heterotrophic microbial community is depth stratified in the oceanic water column down to abyssopelagic layers. In the layers below the euphotic zone, it has been suggested that heterotrophic microbes rely largely on solubilized particulate organic matter as a carbon and energy source rather than on dissolved organic matter. To decipher whether changes in the phylogenetic composition with depth are reflected in changes in the bacterial and archaeal transporter proteins, we generated an extensive metaproteomic and metagenomic dataset of microbial communities collected from 100- to 5,000-m depth in the Atlantic Ocean. By identifying which compounds of the organic matter pool are absorbed, transported, and incorporated into microbial cells, intriguing insights into organic matter transformation in the deep ocean emerged. On average, solute transporters accounted for 23% of identified protein sequences in the lower euphotic and similar to 39% in the bathypelagic layer, indicating the central role of heterotrophy in the dark ocean. In the bathypelagic layer, substrate affinities of expressed transporters suggest that, in addition to amino acids, peptides and carbohydrates, carboxylic acids and compatible solutes may be essential substrates for the microbial community. Key players with highest expression of solute transporters were Alphaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria, and Deltaproteobacteria, accounting for 40%, 11%, and 10%, respectively, of relative protein abundances. The in situ expression of solute transporters indicates that the heterotrophic prokaryotic community is geared toward the utilization of similar organic compounds throughout the water column, with yet higher abundances of transporters targeting aromatic compounds in the bathypelagic realm.

Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, Research Platform Vienna Metabolomics Center
External organisation(s)
Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie, University of Oxford, University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Utrecht University
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106021 Marine biology
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