Seafloor iron oxide deposits are a common feature of submarine hydrothermal systems. Morphological study of these deposits has led investigators to suggest a microbiological role in their formation, through the oxidation of reduced Fe in hydrothermal fluids. Fe-oxidizing bacteria, including the recently described Zetaproteobacteria, have been isolated from a few of these deposits but generally little is known about the microbial diversity associated with this habitat. In this study, we characterized bacterial diversity in two Fe oxide samples collected on the seafloor of Volcanoes 1 and 19 on the South Tonga Arc. We were particularly interested in confirming the presence of Zetaproteobacteria at these two sites and in documenting the diversity of groups other than Fe oxidizers. Our results (small subunit rRNA gene sequence data) showed a surprisingly high bacterial diversity, with 150 operational taxonomic units belonging to 19 distinct taxonomic groups. Both samples were dominated by Zetaproteobacteria Fe oxidizers. This group was most abundant at Volcano 1, where sediments were richer in Fe and contained more crystalline forms of Fe oxides. Other groups of bacteria found at these two sites include known S- and a few N-metabolizing bacteria, all ubiquitous in marine environments. The low similarity of our clones with the GenBank database suggests that new species and perhaps new families were recovered. The results of this study suggest that Fe-rich hydrothermal sediments, while dominated by Fe oxidizers, can be exploited by a variety of autotrophic and heterotrophic micro-organisms.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.