In marine sediments archaea often constitute a considerable part of the microbial community, of which the Deep Sea Archaeal Group (DSAG) is one of the most predominant. Despite their high abundance no members from this archaeal group have so far been characterized and thus their metabolism is unknown. Here we show that the relative abundance of DSAG marker genes can be correlated with geochemical parameters, allowing prediction of both the potential electron donors and acceptors of these organisms. We estimated the abundance of 16S rRNA genes from Archaea, Bacteria, and DSAG in 52 sediment horizons from two cores collected at the slow-spreading Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge, using qPCR. The results indicate that members of the DSAG make up the entire archaeal population in certain horizons and constitute up to ~50% of the total microbial community. The quantitative data were correlated to 30 different geophysical and geochemical parameters obtained from the same sediment horizons. We observed a significant correlation between the relative abundance of DSAG 16S rRNA genes and the content of organic carbon (p < 0.0001). Further, significant co-variation with iron oxide, and dissolved iron and manganese (all p < 0.0000), indicated a direct or indirect link to iron and manganese cycling. Neither of these parameters correlated with the relative abundance of archaeal or bacterial 16S rRNA genes, nor did any other major electron donor or acceptor measured. Phylogenetic analysis of DSAG 16S rRNA gene sequences reveals three monophyletic lineages with no apparent habitat-specific distribution. In this study we support the hypothesis that members of the DSAG are tightly linked to the content of organic carbon and directly or indirectly involved in the cycling of iron and/or manganese compounds. Further, we provide a molecular tool to assess their abundance in environmental samples and enrichment cultures.
Keywords: Deep Sea Archaeal Group; Marine Benthic Group B; deep-sea sediment; geochemical correlation; geochemistry; iron reduction; manganese reduction; qPCR.