Salinity constraints on subsurface archaeal diversity and methanogenesis in sedimentary rock rich in organic matter

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Jul;73(13):4171-9. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02810-06. Epub 2007 Apr 27.


The diversity of microorganisms active within sedimentary rocks provides important controls on the geochemistry of many subsurface environments. In particular, biodegradation of organic matter in sedimentary rocks contributes to the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and other elements and strongly impacts the recovery and quality of fossil fuel resources. In this study, archaeal diversity was investigated along a salinity gradient spanning 8 to 3,490 mM Cl(-) in a subsurface shale rich in CH(4) derived from biodegradation of sedimentary hydrocarbons. Shale pore waters collected from wells in the main CH(4)-producing zone lacked electron acceptors such as O(2), NO(3)(-), Fe(3+), or SO(4)(2-). Acetate was detected only in high-salinity waters, suggesting that acetoclastic methanogenesis is inhibited at Cl(-) concentrations above approximately 1,000 mM. Most-probable-number series revealed differences in methanogen substrate utilization (acetate, trimethylamine, or H(2)/CO(2)) associated with chlorinity. The greatest methane production in enrichment cultures was observed for incubations with salinity at or close to the native pore water salinity of the inoculum. Restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses of archaeal 16S rRNA genes from seven wells indicated that there were links between archaeal communities and pore water salinity. Archaeal clone libraries constructed from sequences from 16S rRNA genes isolated from two wells revealed phylotypes similar to a halophilic methylotrophic Methanohalophilus species and a hydrogenotrophic Methanoplanus species at high salinity and a single phylotype closely related to Methanocorpusculum bavaricum at low salinity. These results show that several distinct communities of methanogens persist in this subsurface, CH(4)-producing environment and that each community is adapted to particular conditions of salinity and preferential substrate use and each community induces distinct geochemical signatures in shale formation waters.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / classification
  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Archaea / isolation & purification
  • Archaea / metabolism*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Genes, Archaeal
  • Genetic Variation
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Michigan
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Archaeal / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sodium Chloride / analysis
  • Soil / analysis*
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Water Microbiology


  • DNA Primers
  • Organic Chemicals
  • RNA, Archaeal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Soil
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Methane

Associated data

  • GENBANK/DQ830727
  • GENBANK/DQ830728
  • GENBANK/DQ830729
  • GENBANK/DQ830730
  • GENBANK/DQ830731
  • GENBANK/DQ830732
  • GENBANK/DQ830733
  • GENBANK/DQ830734
  • GENBANK/DQ830735