Cultivable microbial community in 2-km-deep, 20-million-year-old subseafloor coalbeds through ~1000 days anaerobic bioreactor cultivation

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 19;9(1):2305. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-38754-w.


Recent explorations of scientific ocean drilling have revealed the presence of microbial communities persisting in sediments down to ~2.5 km below the ocean floor. However, our knowledge of these microbial populations in the deep subseafloor sedimentary biosphere remains limited. Here, we present a cultivation experiment of 2-km-deep subseafloor microbial communities in 20-million-year-old lignite coalbeds using a continuous-flow bioreactor operating at 40 °C for 1029 days with lignite particles as the major energy source. Chemical monitoring of effluent samples via fluorescence emission-excitation matrices spectroscopy and stable isotope analyses traced the transformation of coalbed-derived organic matter in the dissolved phase. Hereby, the production of acetate and 13C-depleted methane together with the increase and transformation of high molecular weight humics point to an active lignite-degrading methanogenic community present within the bioreactor. Electron microscopy revealed abundant microbial cells growing on the surface of lignite particles. Small subunit rRNA gene sequence analysis revealed that diverse microorganisms grew in the bioreactor (e.g., phyla Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Chloroflexi, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Spirochaetes, Tenericutes, Ignavibacteriae, and SBR1093). These results indicate that activation and adaptive growth of 2-km-deep microbes was successfully accomplished using a continuous-flow bioreactor, which lays the groundwork to explore networks of microbial communities of the deep biosphere and their physiologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioreactors / microbiology*
  • Genes, rRNA / genetics
  • Microbiota / physiology